Barriers to Personalization

Recently, I stumbled onto survey results from marketers regarding “data-related headaches,” published by a reputable source. What surprised me the most was not the list of the pain points, but the way marketers expressed the severity of pains. They collectively answered that “moving data among different silos” and “gaining a

Recently, I stumbled onto survey results from marketers regarding “data-related headaches,” published by a reputable source. What surprised me the most was not the list of the pain points, but the way marketers expressed the severity of pains. They collectively answered that “moving data among different silos” and “gaining a single customer view” gave them the most severe headaches, while “personalization” brought not-so-severe pain. That gave me an “oh, really?” moment. Then they put “contextualization” (of data, I assume) and “turning data into insights, and insights into actionable segments” right in the middle.

From a data and analytics specialist’s point of view, it seems like marketers have no idea where the pains originated. Simply, proper personalization is not possible without the 360-degree view of a customer and insights derived from the data. So, in my opinion, the severity list seems completely backward. And it is just unbelievable that marketers “think” that they are performing some type of personalization without much of a headache.

During the past few months, I have been emphasizing the importance of personalization in modern marketing (refer to “Personalization Is About the Person”), and data and analytical steps to achieve such goals (refer to “Road to Personalization”). I’ve said similar lines many times before, but let me repeat: Proper personalization is not possible without understanding the target individuals as people. If marketers are thinking that buying some fancy software and putting transaction- and event-level data through it are the end of their jobs, they cannot be more wrong. Such activity often leads to “personally annoying people,” not impressing customers with relevant messages. If they were to automate such a rudimentary practice? Well, they are going to end up annoying their customers and prospects on a regular basis.

If you as a marketer are having a hard time stomaching what I am saying here, please then take a look at your inbox, which is filled with irrelevant messages — as it is for a consumer. Aren’t they filled with the kinds that you would purge mercilessly, as in “highlight all, then delete”? How many messages are really relevant and timely to you? Maybe one out of 300 to 400? Even the ones that are based on some tidbits of information that you left behind purposefully or accidently become really annoying after the third time you see the same darn message stemming from them. Ok, I get that some marketers think that they know me, but could they please not overdo it by turning on some expensive personalization engine on an autopilot mode from day one?

As I emphasized in my previous columns, personalization is about the person. Putting event-level or transaction data into a personalization engine is like putting unrefined oil into a high-performance engine. Not a recommended course of action, for sure. And don’t blame the engineer when things break down, even though the salesperson who sold you that engine probably claimed that it would make all of your marketing dreams come true.

Regardless, I think we can safely agree that personalization must start with the data. Unfortunately, not all data are created equal or are of the same quality (refer to “Chicken or the Egg? Data or Analytics?”). In fact, most data are utterly inadequate for high-level personalization that does not annoy people. So yes, the fact that marketers think that creating a single customer view out of all types of data from different silos is indeed important and difficult is a good sign. A critical change always starts with the recognition of a problem. It is just that marketers should never think that personalization engines could magically help them skip that painful step of data hygiene and consolidation.

If the data management were the first hurdle on the way to decent personalization, then the second challenge that marketers often face would be the analytical part of the journey. Deriving insights out of data and turning such insights into actionable segments require advanced-level analytical skills. Here again, automated machines do not perform the human part of the equation. Some marketers may have procured some automated modeling engine (again, with much fanfare as a magical tool). But who will set the goals of models and define the target for each model (refer to “Data Deep Dive: The Art of Targeting”)? Who will connect the dots between resultant personas and segments to actual offers and messages that customers and prospects get to see?

Even for cases where marketers must respond to a customer’s need immediately (e.g., for buyers who are specifically looking for a specific product right now), the rules of engagement (i.e., customer journey mapping) must be set up based on clear business objectives, as well as mathematical equations. Humans, not so surprisingly, can smell the sign of not-humanness from miles away, through even digital channels.

Top 3 Mistakes to Avoid When Blogging to Generate Leads

Blogging to generate leads can feel overwhelming. We’re being bombarded with “must dos” from content marketing experts who make it seem effortless. What’s their trick? It’s a practical, refreshing approach to blogging. Here are three pitfalls to avoid and a proven system to create leads. Let’s start with busting a popular myth: Blogging to generate leads demands LOTS of blog content.

Blogging to generate leads can feel overwhelming. We’re being bombarded with “must dos” from content marketing experts who make it seem effortless. What’s their trick? It’s a practical, refreshing approach to blogging. Here are three pitfalls to avoid and a proven system to create leads.

Let’s start with busting a popular myth: Blogging to generate leads demands LOTS of blog content.

No. 1: Writing Frequently at the Cost of Proper Form
Yes, we need to blog frequently and “have a rhythm.” However, the pressure to crank out a tons of blog posts causes problems. In the rush to “just do it” we often forget effective blogging fundamentals. We forget to:

  • start with customers pains, goals, fears, ambitions or cravings and
  • structure blog posts to teach, guide or answer in ways that
  • creates hunger for more of what we have to offer (a lead generation offer).

Beware: Investing too much time and energy in writing frequently can torpedo you. Tired of the stress of wondering, “Am I blogging enough?” Give up the habit!

Focus on following the structure outlined above. Form the habit. Start putting this process to work for you.

No. 2: Losing Visibility by Forgetting Google Authorship
In its effort to clean up the Web, Google launched Authorship. The essence of becoming a recognized Author with Google is all about one thing:

Giving authors of high quality blog articles (you) more exposure.

Here’s how. Google gives maximum attention to registered Authors by including a photo next to ALL blog posts appearing in its index. This grabs eyes. This beats out competing writers who aren’t Authors.

This drives more leads to your page!

You’re losing visibility if you’re not aligned with Google via Authorship.

No. 3: Investing Too Much Time Writing ‘Epic Content’
For a long while, I invested time writing blog posts that convert leads really well. Every single post I made “counted.” However, Google would only rank them on page 1 sometimes.

This wasted my time. I was literally writing great articles that nobody would ever read. Ouch.

Even more frustrating, sometimes Google does rank our articles—yet nobody clicks. Ugh!

So here’s the fix: Invest time in getting ranked on page 1 or 2 first. THEN, monitor for visitor traffic … and THEN tweak to optimize lead generation from your post.

I don’t recommend writing total crap. However, take the pressure off. Write, first, for search engine ranking. Use an effective blog post writing template (that generates leads) but don’t over-invest your precious time.

Here’s how to get into the habit. For example, let’s assume you:

  • completed keyword research—you know what customer pain, fear or goal you’ll address in your post;
  • understand and practice the 3-step system summarized in No.1 above; and
  • know how to make an effective call to action and are ready to earn leads.

You know how to get prospects to your site and what to do with them once there. You’re armed and dangerous. You can earn attention with magnetic headlines, get prospects to read and act on your post.

This blogging system is quality-intensive. But it can be a trap!

It’s very easy to over-invest time in a post that nobody will ever read. So write to get found in search engines first. Be diligent about structure (for search engine and human discovery). However, don’t over-do it. Wait.

Protect your time investment. First, write to be discovered. Don’t neglect proper form but don’t over-invest in polishing … optimizing it for peak lead generation performance. Good luck!

How to Craft a Compelling Offer for Search Engine Marketing

The best way to motivate a click online is to make a compelling offer and provide an urgent call to action. This is not news to Internet marketers. But when it comes to search engine advertising, like Google AdWords, you need to think about your offer and call to action a bit differently. The secret is coming up with an offer that attracts qualified prospects, to maintain conversion rates—instead of bringing in tire-kickers who are only interested in getting a quick deal, and won’t actually buy.

The best way to motivate a click online is to make a compelling offer and provide an urgent call to action. This is not news to Internet marketers. But when it comes to search engine advertising, like Google AdWords, you need to think about your offer and call to action a bit differently. The secret is coming up with an offer that attracts qualified prospects, to maintain conversion rates—instead of bringing in tire-kickers who are only interested in getting a quick deal, and won’t actually buy.

Two important considerations undergird this point:

  1. You only have 95 characters, spread over four lines of type, to play with.
  2. Since you are paying for each click, your ROI depends more on quality than on quantity.

In direct marketing offer theory, this is called managing the “offer equation,” which says that response quality is inversely related to response quantity. In other words, the sweeter the offer, the higher the response, and the less likely the respondents are to become profitable customers. Conversely, a lower response brings in a more committed prospect, one who is likely to prove more valuable over time—just costlier to acquire.

So the ideal in search engine advertising is to identify an attractive offer that also qualifies. And, it needs to be very simple, so it can be communicated with minimal investment of your precious 95 characters.

Here are some excellent offers that serve both purposes: simplicity and quality control:

  • Free shipping. A great way to differentiate yourself in a highly competitive environment. Free shipping is very appealing to prospective buyers, but because it is only redeemed on purchase, it’s successful in the equation management game.
  • Free trial. Another classic equation management tactic. Only people who are serious about your product will be likely to take it on trial. But you still get the power of the word “free.” In the tech world, a free software download has been a proven winner of this type.
  • Free gift with purchase. Another way to motivate conversion, versus mere click-through, and easy to explain. But it does take up a bit more real estate than free shipping or free trial.
  • Free information. Always a popular and productive offer in business markets, where buyers need detailed information as part of their purchase process. Examples include a free case study, research report, or white paper. Qualifies beautifully.

To be avoided are generous offers that motivate high response but poor quality. A free mug or t-shirt, with no strings attached, for example. Unless you can otherwise qualify the target with a highly selective keyword or phrase.

Have you come up with a compelling offer to motivate quality responses in B-to-B search engine advertising? Let’s share ideas.

A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

SEO Vs. PPC: 5 ‘Power Tips’ to Drive Organic Traffic to Your Website

OK, so you have a website. Blood, sweat and tears (as well as cash!) have gone into getting this thing up and running. You’ve used all your creative juices to get the words just right. And you added some nice graphics to make the site aesthetically pleasing. Now what? A website is of little use if nobody can find it. It’s kind of like having a telephone book ad with no contact information … it’s practically useless.

OK, so you have a website. Blood, sweat and tears (as well as cash!) have gone into getting this thing up and running. You’ve used all your creative juices to get the words just right. And you added some nice graphics to make the site aesthetically pleasing. Now what?

A website is of little use if nobody can find it. It’s kind of like having a telephone book ad with no contact information … it’s practically useless.

Mastering organic search ranking has proven to be a fundamental part of the online marketing mix. (By “organic,” I mean the “natural,” as opposed to “paid/PPC,” listing that appears when someone conducts a search on Google or other search engines. Optimal placement is typically within the first 20 listings or three pages.)

Search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO)—the ability to increase your site’s visibility in organic search listings and refine the content structure on the site itself—are critical for market awareness and customer acquisition.

An eye-tracking study showed that about 50 percent of viewers begin their search scan at the top of the organic listing results. Other studies show that about 70 percent of Web surfers click on organic listings before they click on a sponsored link.

Don’t let your site get lost in the Internet Black Hole, when there are five simple ways to help boost your website’s traffic and optimization.

1. Create online buzz about your site, product or service. You can do this by generating free online press releases. There are distribution services on the Web that offer no-cost packages, sites such as PRlog.org, Free-press-release.com and others. You can also post a link to your news release to targeted social marketing sites like LinkedIn (relevant groups), Facebook, Twitter as well as high-traffic blogs.

2. Initiate a relevant inbound link program. Set up a reciprocal link page or blog roll (a listing of URLs on a blog, as opposed to a website) that can house links from industry sites. Contact these sites to see if they’d be willing to swap links with you—a link to your site for a link to theirs. Relevance, rank and quality are key when selecting link-building partner sites. Search engines shun link harvesting (collecting links from random websites that have no relevance to your site), so these links should be from sites that are similar in nature to your business.

3. Give Web searchers great content and a link back to your site. Upload original, “UVA” (useful, valuable and actionable) and relevant editorial to high quality content directories such as eZinearticles.com, ArticlesBase.com and Goarticles.com. There are also more niche directories that focus on topics like health and investing. This is a great way to increase market awareness, as well as establish an inbound link to your site. Content should be targeted to the directory and audience you want to get in front of. There is also a syndication opportunity, as third-party sites may come across your article when doing a Web search and republish your content on their own websites. As long as third parties give your site editorial attribution and a link, getting them to republish your content is just another distribution channel for you to consider. For more information how to effectively master content marketing, search engine algorithms and Google updates, read my blog entry titled, “Is the ‘A’ in SONAR (article marketing) still a viable tactic with search engines and the Farmer/PANDA updates?

4. Website pages should be keyword-rich and related to your business.
Make a list of your top 10 to 15 keywords and variations of those words and incorporate them into the copy on your site (avoiding the obvious repetition of words). Search engines crawl Web pages from top to bottom, so your strongest keywords should be in that order on your home page and sub-pages (the most relevant on the top, the least relevant on the bottom).

You’ll want to do the same for your tagging. Make sure your title tags (the descriptions at the top of each page) and meta tags are unique and chock full of keywords. And your alt tags/alt attributions (images) should have relevant descriptions, as well.

5. List your site in online directories and classified sites by related category or region. This is an effective way to increase exposure and get found by prospects searching specifically for information on your product or service by keyword topic. Popular directories (like Business.com) typically have a nominal fee. But there are many other directories and classified sites (like Dmoz.org, Info.com, Superpages.com and Craigslist.org) that are free and can be targeted by location and product (offer) type.

Most important, before you start your SEO initiatives, don’t forget to establish a baseline for your site so you can measure pre- vs. post-SEO tactics. Upload a site counter (which counts the number of visits to your website), obtain your site’s traffic ranking at Alexa.com or Quantcast.com, or get your site’s daily visit average (from Google Analytics or another application)—and then chart your weekly progress in Excel.

Understand that with organic search, it may take several months for a site to be optimized and gain search engine traction … so be patient. You will eventually see results. And if you set up your website correctly to harness the surge of traffic you will receive, you can also monetize the traffic visits for lead generation or sales.

Myths and Misconceptions: The Real Truth About Content Marketing and the Search Engines: Part II

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying things such as: “Google doesn’t like content or article marketing since they changed their algorithms” and “article directories are not useful for search engine marketing and link-building efforts anymore.” I like to remind people of a few fundamental rules of online marketing, specifically involving content, that virtually never changes and is extremely helpful to know (and do!) … Previously, I provided the first three rules, here are the last three:

[Editor’s note: This is Part Two of a two-part series.]

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying things such as: “Google doesn’t like content or article marketing since they changed their algorithms” and “article directories are not useful for search engine marketing and link-building efforts anymore.”

I like to remind people of a few fundamental rules of online marketing, specifically involving content, that virtually never changes and is extremely helpful to know (and do!) … Previously, I provided the first three rules, here are the last three:

4. Targeted Link-Building. Links, whether it’s a one way back link or a reciprocal back link, are still links. Quality links help SEO, and that is indisputable. But, again, there’s some ground rules to do it right within best practices … and do it wrong. Links should be quality links, and by that I mean on sites that have relevant content and a synergistic audience to your own. It should also be a site with a good traffic rank. I prefer to do linkbuilding manually and do it strategically. I research sites that are synergistic in all ways to the site I’m working with (albeit one-way or reciprocal links). Doing it manually allows more targeted selection and control over where you want your links to go. Manual selection and distribution can also lead to other opportunities down the road with those sites you’re building relationships with, including cross-marketing or editorial efforts such as editorial contributions, revenue shares and more. In my view, this approach is both linkbuilding and relationship building.

5. Location, Location, Location. Where you link to is important. When doing SONAR or content marketing, I always tell clients to deep link—that is, not just link to their home page—which, to me, doesn’t make any sense anyway, as there’s too many distractions on a home page. Readers need a simple, direct call to action. Keep them focused. It’s always smarter to link to your source article, which should be on one of your subpages, such as the newsletter archive page or press release page. Now you have a connection. The article/content excerpt you pushed out is appearing in the SERPs (search engine result pages) and its redirect links to the full version on your archive or press page. You’ve satisfied the searcher’s expectations by not doing a “bait and switch.” There’s relevance and continuity. And to help monetize that traffic, that newsletter archive or press Web page (which you’re driving the traffic to), the background should contain fixed elements to “harness” the traffic it will be getting for list growth and cross-selling, such as fixed lead gen boxes, text ads, banner ads, editorial notes and more. These elements should blend with your overall format, not being to obnoxious, but being easily seen.

6. Catalyst Content. It’s always important to make sure you publish the content on your website first … I call this your “catalyst content.” This is the driving source which all other inbound marketing will occur and be focused around. Your website articles should be dated and be formatted similar to a news feed or blog. Also, posting timely press releases will work favorably, as they will be viewed by Google and human readers as the latest news (again favorable to Google’s latest “freshness” update). At the same time, send your content out via email (i.e. ezine) to your in-house list before external marketing channels see it. This helps from an SEO standpoint, but also helps with credibility and bonding with your subscribers and regular website visitors, as they should get your information before the masses.

There you go. My best practices for marketing with content. I don’t practice nor condone “black hat” marketing tactics. I’ve always been lucky enough to work for top publishers and clients who put out great, original content.

It really does all boil down to the quality of the content when you talk about any form of article and search engine marketing. Content is king, and when you have strong editorial, along with being a “creatively strategic” thinker, you don’t need to engage in “black hat” or questionable SEO/SEM.

Algorithms are always changing. It’s good to be aware of the latest news, trends and techniques, but also not to put your your eggs in one basket and build your entire online marketing strategy based on the “current” algorithms. Using solid content, analyzing your website’s visitor and usage patterns and keeping general best practices in mind are staple components that will always play an important role in content marketing.

Myths and Misconceptions: The Real Truth About Content Marketing and the Search Engines: Part I

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying things such as: “Google doesn’t like content or article marketing since they changed their algorithms” and “article directories are not useful for search engine marketing and link-building efforts anymore.” I like to remind people of a few fundamental rules of online marketing, specifically involving content, that virtually never changes and is extremely helpful to know (and do!).

[Editor’s note: This is Part One of a two-part series.]

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying things such as: “Google doesn’t like content or article marketing since they changed their algorithms” and “article directories are not useful for search engine marketing and link-building efforts anymore.”

I like to remind people of a few fundamental rules of online marketing, specifically involving content, that virtually never changes and is extremely helpful to know (and do!).

1. “Mix” it up. It’s always a smart thing to have a diversified online marketing mix. I suggest to clients to look at their online marketing plan like a pie, and each slice is a tactical allocation—organic and paid strategies. As with your financial planning ventures (such as with your retirement account), it’s always safer to diversify than put all your eggs in one basket. The same holds true for your online marketing plan. Mix it up and keep it diversified. Some allocations may be smaller than others, based on budget, objective and other variables. But it’s good to spread it out across many tactics and online marketing channels, such as organic search, paid search, social media, online PR, content marketing, etc. Then if one tactic is a laggard and others are leaders, it all balances out in the end. This also helps compensate for algorithmic “bumps in the road” that may temporarily affect your search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) efforts.

2. Doing It “Right” Can’t Be Wrong. Google and other search engines often change their algorithms to keep search results relevant and fresh to related queries, as well as impact unscrupulous “black hat” practicing marketers who use no-no tactics such as gateway pages, keyword stuffing, link baiting, link farming, content farming and more. These are the folks who link to irrelevant sites with irrelevant content to the equivalent of content spamming. For compliant content marketers or those using the SONAR Content Distribution Model, the core strategy is to leverage high-quality, useful content through synchronized, synergistic and relevant online distribution. SONAR and content marketing, when implemented correctly, include “white hat” SEO principles. And if you’re using quality, original content with either of those marketing tactics and distributing your content to targeted, relevant sites, you really can’t go wrong.

3. Quality And Relevance Are Key! According to Webpronews.com, when Google released their official statement about the algorithm change in 2011, the Farmer/Panda update was aimed to help more quality websites be higher in the search results versus content farms with irrelevant, unbeneficial content based on the keywords being searched. Article directories may have initially been stuck in the cross-hairs losing some initial value. But, again, if you are putting out “UVA” (useful, valuable, actionable) content into numerous organic online channels, the diversity and balance will offset any temporary side-effects which may occur versus doing article directory marketing by itself. Based on my experience, if you push out quality, original content in several places—including article directories—your articles should appear in pages 1-5 of Google search results. And with Google’s latest “freshness” update, the most timely and relevant content should appear in descending order by date from the top of the search results. Quality and relevance are key.

Next week, I’ll detail the last three fundamental rules of online marketing, specifically involving content.

Applying Paid Search Optimization Techniques Beyond the Search Engine Results Page

In 2010, Forrester’s The Future of Search Marketing report predicted that “search marketing will become an umbrella term that applies to using any targeted media to help an advertiser get found.” Forrester was right. It’s now clear that search isn’t limited to being a channel.

In 2010, Forrester’s The Future of Search Marketing report predicted that “search marketing will become an umbrella term that applies to using any targeted media to help an advertiser get found.” Forrester was right. It’s now clear that search isn’t limited to being a channel.

Search is the science of understanding intent and acting on it to efficiently connect people to your brand — no matter if that connection is made on a search engine, social networking site, display network, affiliate network or other emerging medium. To foster these connections, search engine marketing best practices can be extended well beyond the search engine results page.

First, I’ll consider how traditional paid search techniques can be applied to display advertising to drive new-to-file customers. Like search, biddable display provides advertisers with targeting capabilities to find the right customer at the right price. While search marketers create segmentation via keywords to find the right audience, display marketers create segmentation via data sources.

For example, during back-to-school season this past year, one of Performics’ apparel retailer clients sought to efficiently boost year-over-year daily sales though performance display. Like we do with search campaigns, we restructured the retailer’s display campaign at a more granular level (31 different ads in 2011 versus 6 ads in 2010) to support product/offer testing.

The restructure revealed deeper audience insights, helping us buy only the impressions we wanted (i.e., the right placements at the right price). We also increased relevance through site retargeting (i.e., serving display ads to people who visited the advertiser’s website but didn’t take action). These strategies resulted in a 211 percent year-over-year increase in average daily sales at a 120 percent return on investment.

Likewise, paid search techniques can be applied to social media advertising. The obvious paid search/Facebook similarities are that Facebook cost-per-click ads are bid based, keyword triggered by likes/interests in users’ profiles and optimized through copy/creative testing. The obvious paid search/Twitter similarities are that Promoted Tweets are bid based, triggered by Twitter users’ search keywords and optimized through copy testing.

There are also less obvious similarities. For example, using paid search campaign structure best practices to boost Twitter followers via Promoted Accounts, which enable advertisers to recommend their account to particular Twitter users who may be interested in following them. For an advertiser’s account to be recommended, the advertiser targets Twitter users via keywords and bids on a cost-per-follower (CPF) basis. One of Performics’ clients sought to use Promoted Accounts to increase followers at a low CPF.

Borrowing from paid search, Performics restructured and relaunched the client’s Promoted Accounts campaign. We increased the account’s size from one campaign to 11 campaigns to include more granular, demographically relevant keywords. Like in paid search, more targeted keywords caused Twitter’s algorithm to recommend our client’s account to a more relevant Twitter audience. Post-optimization, the client achieved a 1,473 percent increase in followers at a 69 percent decrease in CPF.

Search will surely continue to evolve well beyond typing keywords in a search box (think asking Siri to find you an answer or using a mobile augmented reality app to see product reviews while walking through a store). Notwithstanding this evolution, time-tested paid search optimization techniques relentlessly focused on structuring campaigns to deliver the most relevant audiences at the lowest cost will always drive performance.

Genuine Strategies to Outsmart Paid Search Counterfeiters

According to MarkMonitor, counterfeiters sold $135 billion in goods online in 2010. Many counterfeiters are now using paid search to engage U.S. consumers. Search engines make this possible by allowing third parties — potentially counterfeiters — to bid on others’ trademarks (e.g., Coach bags, Oakley sunglasses, Rosetta Stone). Search engines prohibit advertisers from promoting counterfeit goods, but smart counterfeiters regularly evade the engines. Offshore counterfeiters also evade U.S. law enforcement, which only has jurisdiction to seize domestic domains. As a result, some high-end retailers and software providers are being forced to wage a constant paid search battle against counterfeiters.

According to MarkMonitor, counterfeiters sold $135 billion in goods online in 2010. Many counterfeiters are now using paid search to engage U.S. consumers. Search engines make this possible by allowing third parties – potentially counterfeiters — to bid on others’ trademarks (e.g., Coach bags, Oakley sunglasses, Rosetta Stone). Search engines prohibit advertisers from promoting counterfeit goods, but smart counterfeiters regularly evade the engines. Offshore counterfeiters also evade U.S. law enforcement, which only has jurisdiction to seize domestic domains. As a result, some high-end retailers and software providers are being forced to wage a constant paid search battle against counterfeiters.

Let’s look at Coach, a brand susceptible to counterfeiting. According to Coach’s website, the only sites that sell authentic Coach products are Coach.com, Macys.com,Nordstrom.com and Dillards.com. However, according to Google’s search engine results page (SERP), searchers can buy authentic Coach products from sites like Cosaletoday.info, Aomart.info, Alibuys.info and Bestaomall.info.

Actually, the domain names of the counterfeiter sites don’t even matter; every time Google removes an ad, the counterfeiter puts the same content on a different domain and buys a new ad. Controlling counterfeiter paid search ads is like a game of Whac-A-Mole — every time one is eliminated, a new one pops up.

A “Coach bags” Google query on May 26 I conducted illustrates the paid search visibility that some counterfeiters can achieve. Although rare, the results showed an instance where the top three advertisers are all Coach counterfeiters. Coach’s official website was found in the sixth position.

The most interesting aspect of this example is the position of the counterfeiters’ ads in the top sponsored box and above Coach’s own ad. Google has stated that for an ad to display in the top sponsored box it must meet a high quality score threshold. It’s unlikely these ads — which contain misspellings and are obviously suspect — have high quality scores. Thus brands cannot rely on quality score alone to keep counterfeiters from the top of the SERP. Brands must employ sophisticated strategies to outsmart paid search counterfeiters, including the following:

Powerful monitoring and workflow technology: Brands that are susceptible to counterfeiters must monitor their keywords in real time, 24/7. This requires powerful technology that not only identifies when a counterfeiter is bidding on your brand, but automatically does something about it.

When your trademark monitoring technology identifies a counterfeiter, how long does it take to you or your team to:
1. contact the search engine to remove the listing;
2. increase your bid to ensure you’re running above the counterfeiter until the engine removes the ad; and
3. ease back bids once the counterfeiter’s ad has been removed?

Best-in-class performance marketers optimize the campaign management process to scale across keywords and publishers by combining business intelligence tools with trademark monitoring and workflow automation technology. While speed to market and quality of implementation are important success factors when trying to blunt the competition, it’s critical when a counterfeiter is bidding on your brand.

Multidomain distribution strategies: Brands should consider SERP domination strategies to overpower counterfeiters’ ads. For instance, most luxury retailers sell via channel partners like department stores. These retailers could employ paid search co-op strategies where they provide their channel partners with money to bid on the retailer’s brand. For instance, a retailer could bid on its brand in conjunction with four channel partners, effectively pushing counterfeiters below the fold. This strategy requires clear communication with channel partners, as well as bidding rules and monitoring to avoid cost-per-click (CPC) inflation.

“Official” ad copy: Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of ad copy that contains your trademark symbol and the phrase “official store.” Searchers seeking the real product will look for this kind of copy.

As you can see, complicated paid search challenges require sophisticated, customized solutions. This blog only scratches the surface on how to deal with counterfeiters and other unauthorized parties who bid on your trademarks. Do you have a complicated search challenge? If so, leave a comment below or send me an email at craig.greenfield@performics.com.

What’s In Store for Search via Didit’s Kevin Lee

At a great presentation I attended last week during the Direct Marketing Club of New York’s monthly luncheon, Kevin Lee, CEO and founder of search marketing agency Didit, demonstrated what paid search marketing campaigns gain from using “power segmentation” and direct marketing data.

At a great presentation I attended last week during the Direct Marketing Club of New York’s monthly luncheon, Kevin Lee, CEO and founder of search marketing agency Didit, demonstrated what paid search marketing campaigns gain from using “power segmentation” and direct marketing data.

Lee also discussed 2009-2010 search campaign priorities for marketers, especially since right now there are fewer searchers than in recent years in many industry segments due to the economy. The priorities he cited include the following:

  • cherry-pick the very best clicks;
  • eliminate the waste in your campaign — especially if you’ve had budget cuts; experiment wisely;
  • use retargeting if your campaign and site visits amount to greater than 40,000 visitors a month; and
  • test promotions, ad copy and landing pages regularly.

Search engines will most likely add tools to their interfaces over the next two years, Lee said, which will add complexity to search engine marketing. With this in mind, he said marketers should watch for several trends:

  • keyword-targeted contextual display advertising;
  • retargeted search display ads and text ad retargeting; and
  • keyword-targeted video and rich media.

One thing was clear from Lee’s speech: Search engine marketing will be evolving over the next few years, and the smart marketers will be the ones that keep abreast of these changes.

Are you doing anything differently with your search engine marketing programs right now? Plan to next year? Let us know by posting a comment here.

Is Cuil Cool?

Perhaps the biggest announcement in the interactive space this week was from Cuil (pronounced COOL), a technology company that unveiled its search offering, also called Cuil. An old Irish word for knowledge, Cuil was developed by a team with extensive history in search.

Perhaps the biggest announcement in the interactive space this week was from Cuil (pronounced COOL), a technology company that unveiled its search offering, also called Cuil. An old Irish word for knowledge, Cuil was developed by a team with extensive history in search.

According to its press release, the company is led by husband-and-wife team Tom Costello and Anna Patterson. Costello developed search engines at Stanford University and IBM; Patterson got her training at Google where she was the architect of the company’s search index and led a Web page ranking team.

They refused to accept the limitations of current search technology and dedicated themselves to building a more comprehensive search engine. Together with Russell Power, Anna’s former Google colleague, they founded Cuil to let users “explore the Internet more fully and discover its true potential,” according to a company statement.

Cuil reportedly combines the biggest Web index — 120 billion Web pages — with content-based relevance methods, results organized by ideas, and complete user privacy. This is supposed to give users a richer display of results. It offers organizing features, such as tabs to clarify subjects, images to identify topics and search refining suggestions to help guide users to the results they seek.

The conversation about the search engine reached fever pitch in the blogosphere this week, with some experts saying Cuil should be taken seriously, and others saying it is a poor search engine with little relevance and technical issues.

I guess we’ll have to see what the future holds for the search engine. If Cuil does take off, then marketers may need to rethink their search engine optimization strategies. At present, however, it’s probably best to cool your heels. There are too many issues that will need to be addressed if Cuil is to make any sort of impact on search engine optimization.