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.

Affiliate Governance in Paid Search: Asserting Control to Boost Overall Performance

Your affiliate marketing and paid search programs are intrinsically linked. For instance, your brand uses paid search to generate leads, while at the same time your affiliates use paid search to generate leads for you. Paid search and affiliate marketing success often depends on integrating your paid search program with your affiliates’ programs. This can be accomplished through affiliate governance.

Your affiliate marketing and paid search programs are intrinsically linked. For instance, your brand uses paid search to generate leads, while at the same time your affiliates use paid search to generate leads for you. Paid search and affiliate marketing success often depends on integrating your paid search program with your affiliates’ programs. This can be accomplished through affiliate governance.

Affiliate governance requires a flexible operating framework that can be used to relay core messages to your affiliates. Affiliates manage their search efforts independently, yet must be directed to follow brand standards and best practices. Affiliate governance strategies help in two ways:

  1. they prevent affiliates from competing with your brand in paid search; and
  2. they foster brand/affiliate collaboration to boost paid search visibility.

Preventing Competition
Competing with your affiliates in paid search can raise cost per clicks (CPCs). It can also raise overall cost per acquisition (CPA). For example, your affiliates could be generating leads through paid search and charging you commission for those leads in situations where you should be generating the lead yourself, therefore avoiding paying said commission.

This not only inflates overall CPA, but also results in inaccurate revenue attribution, skewing the data needed to make future channel investment decisions. The affiliate network Atrinsic recently analyzed hundreds of advertisers running affiliate campaigns and estimated an average of 40 percent of revenue attribution per advertiser is inaccurate.

To avoid competition and attributing revenue to the wrong source, set some paid search ground rules for your affiliates. For example, prohibit your affiliates from bidding above you (or bidding at all) on your brand terms. While nearly all major brands prohibit most affiliates from bidding on their trademarked terms, the majority of brands do allow a few affiliates to have limited search privileges. This reduces competition, subsequently reducing CPCs. It also increases the possibility that searchers will click on your ad before an affiliate’s ad, potentially saving you a commission.

However, allowing affiliates to outbid you on particular brand terms can actually improve efficiency. For example, assume Old Navy is running a Groupon promotion. A person searching for “Old Navy coupons” probably isn’t looking for OldNavy.com, but rather a coupon site. They likely wouldn’t convert from Old Navy’s ad. Thus, Old Navy would improve efficiency by allowing Groupon to bid above it for “Old Navy coupons.” Searchers would land where they want, and Groupon — not Old Navy — would pay for the clicks. Of course, affiliate bid governance rules require a test-and-learn approach to determine which rules work best in each situation.

Once you’ve set the ground rules, ensure that affiliates abide by them. This requires affiliate-monitoring technology. Monitoring technology should be able to identify whether your affiliates are doing the following:

  • following bidding guidelines;
  • using your trademarks correctly in ad copy;
  • following landing page guidelines; and
  • fostering collaboration.

Affiliate governance not only prevents conflict, it fosters collaboration. The goal is to ensure that your brand dominates the paid search results for brand queries, pushing down potential competitors who are bidding on your brand. For example, search engines don’t allow advertisers to serve more than one ad per query. To supplement your one ad, organize affiliates to serve ads that promote your brand, boost brand awareness and drown out your competition. You can also increase visibility for generic queries by communicating collaborative keyword and messaging strategies to your affiliates.

Affiliate governance uncovers opportunities where affiliate marketing interests should yield to paid search interests, and visa versa, to boost overall search and affiliate performance. Overall success is therefore most likely achieved when you have one entity responsible for the combined performance of the channels. Ask yourself, “How can we integrate search and affiliate to increase overall leads, conversions and efficiency?”

In the end, performance is all that matters.

Blurring the Lines Between Paid and Natural Search Listings: The Impact on Search Performance

Over the past few months, Google has made some subtle changes to the look of its top position sponsored listings. These changes have, in the aggregate, made top sponsored listings look remarkably like natural search listings.

Over the past few months, Google has made some subtle changes to the look of its top position sponsored listings. These changes have, in the aggregate, made top sponsored listings look remarkably like natural search listings.

In January, for instance, Google lowercased the display URL for all paid search ads (e.g., Example.com became example.com). The new lowercase display URL now matches natural search URLs. A few weeks later, Google began allowing top position paid search advertisers to move the first line of description ad text into the title of the listing. This can be done for any listing by placing punctuation at the end of the first description line. By moving the first description line into the title, the paid search title looks more like a natural search title.

Other recent changes have helped top position paid search ads blend into natural search results. These changes include the lightening of the paid search box’s color and a change to the box’s right-side label from “Sponsored Listings” to the less noticeable “Ad.”

What do these changes mean for paid and natural search performance? Performics’ 2010 Search Engine Results Page (SERP) Insights Study found that two-thirds of searchers know the difference between paid and natural search results. However, in light of Google’s recent changes, fewer searchers may be able to tell the paid and natural listings apart.

Many searchers click on natural search listings because they believe natural search is less biased than paid search. Yet, as the lines between paid and natural search listings blur, searchers may be more likely to click on a top position paid listing. Thus, paid search clickthrough rates (CTRs) may rise while natural search CTRs may fall. Performics’ 2010 SERP Insights Study also found that 20 percent of searchers frequently or always click on paid search ads. This year could be a different story.

In light of these changes, advertisers should pay close attention to both paid and natural search CTRs, especially for brand queries. For example, most advertisers run a top position paid search ad and rank first naturally for their brand name. Google’s changes could divert clicks from the natural listing to the paid listing, which means advertisers will be paying for clicks that they used to get for free.

This is fine if the cost per order/lead from paid search remains at or above goal, but if click costs rise and order sales and leads don’t, advertisers need to refine their paid search campaigns. This includes employing landing page optimization strategies as well as testing paid search site links to better direct searchers to the exact page they’re looking for.

It’s generally easier to use paid search rather than natural search to direct a searcher to a defined landing page that’s optimized to drive conversions. Thus boosting paid search CTRs — even at the expense of natural search CTRs — can drive more conversions. The key is ensuring that paid search landing pages are optimized.

It’s clear that Google’s changes blur the lines between paid and natural search listings. Will Bing and other engines follow suit? That remains to be seen, but in response to this change on the industry’s leading engine, advertisers now have an opportunity to boost paid search CTRs. Advertisers must be strategic about their programs and remember that in order to stay efficient, they must ensure that more clicks ultimately yield more sales/leads.

Have you seen a difference in your search programs as a result of these blurred lines? Have questions about how it might impact your campaigns? Contact me at craig.greenfield@performics.com.