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.

5 Ways to Make Your Product Copy “Pop”

Yesterday, I got a call from a highly frustrated e-commerce marketer: “We have a smart in-house SEO and our platform is solid. The problem is, our product pages aren’t ranking. What are we doing wrong?”

Yesterday, I got a call from a highly frustrated e-commerce marketer: “We have a smart in-house SEO and our platform is solid. The problem is, our product pages aren’t ranking. What are we doing wrong?”

I surfed over to their site and noticed a major problem. Their product content was pulled directly from the manufacturers’ copy.

That may not sound like a big deal. But it is. Here’s why.

Imagine that you’re an e-commerce retailer selling, say, a high-end ergonomic office chair. And let’s say that you upload the exact verbiage that appears on the manufacturer’s site (which is the “official” product description).

Sure, this sounds like an easy way to go. After all, rewriting or “tweaking” thousands of product pages sounds like a daunting task. But here’s the problem …

Chances are, many of your competitors are using the exact same strategy—and their Web page copy will read exactly like yours. Exactly.

Suddenly, seeing prime search engine rankings is that much harder. You’re not just competing with other companies that sell the same product. Your company is competing in the search engines with hundreds (or thousands) of companies with the exact same sales copy.

Who do you think is going to be No. 1 for that product search? Unless you’re the manufacturer, it’s probably not your company; your site sounds the same as everyone else. Heck, your product page may not even position in the top 100 search results with that strategy.

The “winner” will be the company that spent the time to wordsmith its content—and make its product copy “pop.”

A huge untapped opportunity for a plethora of e-commerce sites is revamping (or significantly tweaking) their product copy. Think about it: Product-label copy isn’t keyphrase-rich. It’s not constructed to maximize its search engine ranking potential. Nor is it necessarily targeted towards your customer base.

In short, it’s great as offline product copy. But for online … not so much.

The key is to spend time writing your product copy in a way that pops off the page. You need to include the product specs and features, yes—and that may mean using some existing product copy.

But it also means having a savvy content marketing strategy in mind so your product copy does well with search engines and your customers.

Here are some things you can do:

1. Include user reviews. Reviews provide fantastic user-generated content, and they often naturally use the main page keyphrases (for instance, people would probably include a brand/product name like “Kodak EasyShare C180” in their review). Reviews provide your company “free” additional content that’s a huge value-add to your site visitors. Plus, keyphrase research shows that people search for “product review” keyphrases. Why not give your customers what they want to read?

2. Want to keep the product spec copy? Give yourself the best of both worlds. Include the product copy, but add some paragraphs to make the page keyphrase-rich, benefit-heavy and unique. You don’t have to wax poetic and write more than 1,000 words. Depending on what you’re selling, a paragraph or two is ideal. But those paragraphs can have a tremendous effect on your rankings and conversions.

3. Are certain products highly important to your bottom line? Completely rewrite those product pages. Yes, it’s a pain and yes, it can be expensive. At the same time, you’re ensuring the product copy is laser-focused towards your target audience. Companies that have created product pages from scratch often see better conversions compared to pages that weren’t rewritten.

4. Create a compelling, clickable title. Remember that your first opportunity isn’t when a customer hits your site—it’s the search engine results page. If you create titles like:

Kodak EasyShare C180 – 25% off and free shipping

… you’ll probably see better clickthroughs than with a title that reads:

Kodak EasyShare C180 – Buycameras.com

5. Don’t forget to weave in benefit statements. Remember, buying anything—from a new office chair to heavy machinery—means appealing to “what’s in it for your customer.” Focus your product copy on how your product will help your prospect. Will it save them money? Help them work more efficiently? Increase revenues? Penning specific benefit statements can transform your so-so copy into a high converting powerhouse.

Altering your product copy can seem overwhelming, especially when you have thousands of SKUs. But with the right content marketing strategy, you can have content that “pops” off the page—and see top-positioned content that converts like crazy.

Melissa Campanelli’s The View From Here: Promoted Tweets, A Marketer’s Dream?

Well, it’s finally happened. Earlier this week, after several months of buzz on the blogosphere, Twitter launched its Promoted Tweets program, a new advertising strategy that delivers contextually relevant ads in a user’s search results. At launch, advertising partners include Best Buy, Bravo, Red Bull, Sony Pictures, Starbucks and Virgin America.

Well, it’s finally happened. Earlier this week, after several months of buzz on the blogosphere, Twitter launched its Promoted Tweets program, a new advertising strategy that delivers contextually relevant ads in a user’s search results. At launch, advertising partners include Best Buy, Bravo, Red Bull, Sony Pictures, Starbucks and Virgin America.

“Promoted Tweets are clearly labeled as ‘promoted,’ but in every other respect they will first exist as regular tweets and will be organically sent to the timelines of those who follow a brand,” according to an April 13 blog post on Twitter by Twitter co-founder Biz Stone. Users can retweet, reply or bookmark the messages, which are called out at the top of some Twitter.com search results pages.

Twitter is working hard to distance Promoted Tweets from other sponsored ad programs, such as Google AdWords, in my opinion. In his blog post, Stone wrote, “since all Promoted Tweets are organic Tweets, there is not a single ‘ad’ in our Promoted Tweets platform that isn’t already an organic part of Twitter. This is distinct from both traditional search advertising and more recent social advertising.”

There is one big difference between a promoted tweet and a regular tweet, Stone said: “Promoted Tweets must meet a higher bar — they must resonate with users. That means if users don’t interact with a Promoted Tweet to allow us to know that the Promoted Tweet is resonating with them, such as replying to it, favoriting it or retweeting it, the Promoted Tweet will disappear.”

A home run?
Advertisers and users are cautiously enthusiastic about Promoted Tweets, at least according to what I’ve read in the blogosphere this week.

They’re not sure whether the program will succeed, especially since corporations can already use Twitter to advertise to a targeted audience just by having Twitter followers. Why should they buy a promoted ad when they’re already interacting with customers and prospects? Others are concerned that Twitter-based advertising is similar to unsolicited email.

Two things are clear, though: One, users and advertisers are curious about the program and will be watching it closely in the days and weeks to come. And two, this program was created to generate revenue for Twitter beyond the search deals it’s signed with major search engines.

What do you think? Will you be experimenting with Promoted Tweets? If so, let us know. We’d love to follow up and do a bigger story on this.

5 Ways Marketers Mess Up Their Content Marketing Campaigns

I hear it all the time: “We tried content marketing and this ‘SEO copywriting stuff.’ But it didn’t work for us.” When I dig a little deeper, I unearth an important fact: The campaign didn’t work because the marketer got in its own way—and unfortunately, this fumbling caused its campaign to fail.

I hear it all the time: “We tried content marketing and this ‘SEO copywriting stuff.’ But it didn’t work for us.”

When I dig a little deeper, I unearth an important fact: The campaign didn’t work because the marketer got in its own way—and unfortunately, this fumbling caused its campaign to fail.

Let’s face it, marketers don’t mean to set themselves up for content marketing failure. Their intentions are good … but then something (politics, confusion, a “bright idea”) stops real results dead in their tracks. Instead of moving forward, the marketer inadvertently destroys any chances of search marketing success. As a result, it finds itself back at square one. With nothing to show for it.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, you’re not alone. Here are five of the most common ways I see smart marketers mess up their content marketing campaigns:

1. Not including a content marketing specialist in your online marketing meetings.
If I had a dollar for every time I asked, “How does this piece of content fit into your overarching content marketing strategy” and heard the answer, “Um, we just thought it was a good idea,” I’d be driving a shiny new Bentley instead of a well-loved Volvo.

I ranted about this in the post, “Just Hire a Content Marketing Strategist, Already,” on my SEO Copywriting.com blog. Content marketing experts can help you “see” your copy in a different way, so you can make smart, strategic choices. Can certain articles be repurposed? Can you “optimize” some content rather than rewrite it? These are questions to ask every quarter … and there’s an expert for that. Besides, if you’re going to spend the time and money it takes to build out content, shouldn’t you be sure that it supports (and doesn’t hurt) your other marketing efforts?

2. Writing copy solely for the purpose of search engine rankings.
Once upon a time, I created what I thought was a well-written article series for a client. The marketer loved the copy, approved it and proceeded to add 500, keyphrase-stuffed additional words. When I asked why, the response was, “Well, we added that for search engines.” Ouch.

Neither the search engines, nor your prospects, are going to reward you for nonsensical, keyphrase-stuffed content. Not to mention, how comfortable are you with having obviously bad copy on your site? Content marketing (and SEO copywriting) means writing for your prospects first, and the search engines second. Remember, the search engines don’t pay your bills. Your prospects do.

3. Deleting large chunks of content without checking with the content strategist.
Ah, the content review process. It’s not uncommon for marketers to make some tweaks to a Web page proposed by their content marketing specialist; many times, those tweaks improve the messaging. It’s a good thing. Unless, it’s … not.

The caveat here is that SEO content is written in a highly strategic fashion. Sometimes, a keyword really does need to be in a certain place for maximum search engine benefit. Rather than uploading edited copy that may not be effective after the changes, check with your strategist first. You can decide if the copy “tweaks” are worth it, and develop a solution that satisfies both search engines and prospects.

4. Not uploading pages.
Although this seems like a “no duh” tip, it’s amazing how many companies “forget” to upload their Web pages. Maybe it’s because IT got swamped, so adding new pages become a secondary priority. Or perhaps there was a staffing change, and the person spearheading the SEO initiative was transferred to another department. Sadly, spending the time (and effort) to create copy and not uploading it is a very common issue for many marketers.

If this has happened to you (or you’re afraid it will,) create an internal editorial calendar. Get everyone together who is involved in the content campaign (including IT people, since they’re the ones responsible for uploading the content), and set up some firm deadlines. Sometimes, what looks like inaction is only because other tasks seem more urgent (not because they really are). When you can attach a deadline to tasks, that urgency level is increased.

5. Tweaking titles without checking with your content marketing strategist.
This. Point. Is. Huge. Tweaking optimized titles without checking with your consultant first literally can unravel your SEO content efforts. Why? It’s because the page title is crucial for two reasons.

From a search perspective, the title helps the search engines understand what the page is about. If there aren’t keyphrases in the title, you’re hobbling your chances that the page will position well. And from the marketing perspective, a well-written title is like a headline, temping folks to click on your listing instead of the nine others on the search engine results page. Upsetting that “keyword and marketing balance” can have repercussions, so don’t title tweak (or make any other content marketing changes) without really knowing what you’re doing, m-kay? The health of your campaign depends upon it.

Is Your Catalog Site Missing the SEO Copywriting Boat?

Yesterday, the marketing coordinator for a well-known catalog site contacted me about SEO copywriting services. “Our product pages aren’t ranking,” she said. “We heard we should ‘add keyphrases to our copy,’ but we’re afraid that keyphrases will make the copy sound spammy.” Ah yes, the old “keyphrases are bad” myth.

Yesterday, the marketing coordinator for a well-known catalog site contacted me about SEO copywriting services.

“Our product pages aren’t ranking,” she said. “We heard we should ‘add keyphrases to our copy,’ but we’re afraid that keyphrases will make the copy sound spammy.”

Ah, yes, the old “keyphrases are bad” myth. If this was expressed in a mathematical equation, it would look something like this:

Keyphrases + Content = Bad Copy That Doesn’t Convert

And that’s just not true. In fact, adding keyphrases into site copy can do more than help the page position in the search engines (although that, by itself, is a huge benefit). Good SEO copywriting is seamless. It’s powerful. And yes—despite those pesky keyphrases—it can help conversions. I discussed this quite a bit in a previous post called, “SEO Copywriting Is Dead. Long Live SEO Copywriting,” on my site’s blog.

Unfortunately, scads of catalog marketers are missing out on search engine rankings. Rather than realizing that a Web site is a completely different medium (requiring a different approach), they instead upload their print catalogs’ text and images without changing a word of copy. Then, when they check their search engine rankings, they’re convinced that “this SEO stuff doesn’t work.” When told they have to change their copy to make this “SEO stuff work,” they jump back in alarm: “Why should we change our copy when we already spent a lot of money writing it for our catalog?”

Um, because you wrote it for your catalog … not for an online environment. Those are two different marketing avenues. People don’t have to search for your products when they have your catalog in their hand, they can just flip to a page. But if you want folks to find your pages in the search engines, you’ll need to play the search engine game … and play it well.

But heck, don’t take my word for it. Let’s take a peek at a “traditional” brick-and-mortar site that does it right: Brookstone.

Brookstone is a master at creating value-added, intelligent content that also happens to be keyphrase rich. Its product pages are written from scratch, with keyphrases skillfully woven into the body copy. User-generated product reviews help encourage conversions (people feel more comfortable about making a buying decision when they can read what other people like and don’t like about a product). Brookstone includes a well-produced product video. Heck, even its product names like “Tranquil Moments Sleep Sound Therapy System” and “Fold-A-Way Rowing Machine” contain keyphrases.

Does it work? Heck, yes. Brookstone’s “Fold-A-Way Rowing Machine” page is positioning in Google’s top 10. As is its “Sleep Sound Therapy System” page.

And go figure … the site copy can’t be considered “spammy” in the least.

Some takeaways to consider with your own catalog/e-commerce site are:

  1. Is your product copy directly uploaded from your print catalog—or is it the “standard” product description appearing on the product packaging? A smart rule: If you see multiple sites with the same product copy, rewrite yours so it’s completely original. Yes, it’s time consuming. But this one act alone can immediately differentiate you from the hundreds (or thousands) of other sites offering the same thing.
  2. Know that user reviews are good for more than just reviewing the product; they can be incredible helpful for search engine positions. Every time someone posts a review, it provides your site “free content” that you didn’t have to source somewhere else.
  3. Keyphrase usage matters. You don’t want to repeat your keyphrase incessantly within your copy. But it is important to research your keyphrases, set a keyphrase strategy and use keyphrases on the page. Otherwise, your page probably won’t be found.

At the end of the day, catalog sites can definitely benefit from smart SEO copywriting techniques. Not only do SEO copywriting strategies help your pages position better in the engines, the additional, in-depth information gives your prospects the information they want (which, ultimately, encourages conversions). Everyone wins.

Why You Should Beware the ‘Quick SEO Copywriting Fix’

The question comes up during almost every conference at which I present: “I hear what you’re saying about writing quality content. But I need immediate results. What’s a quick SEO copywriting fix I can try?”

The question comes up during almost every conference at which I present.

“I hear what you’re saying about writing quality content. But I need immediate results. What’s a quick SEO copywriting fix I can try?”

I understand this mindset. I really do. Now that the recession is easing its iron grip on marketing budgets, companies are trying to make up for lost time. Now, more than ever, forward-thinking businesses have the opportunity to make a huge impact on their search engine rankings. And they’re doing what they can, where they can—as fast as they can.

But here’s the thing. There is no “quick SEO copywriting fix.” There’s no “easy way to get to the top of the search engines” like the spam e-mails promise. You can’t wave a magic algorithmic wand and transform your copy into search engine goodness.

You just have to roll your sleeves, do the hard work and get it done.

Unfortunately, many companies fall prey to this quick fix mentality and do stupid things that mess up their SEO campaigns, branding or both. For instance:

  • Building out stand-alone “SEO pages” geared to pull rankings

  • Hiring $10/post bloggers to write keyphrase-stuffed posts

  • Tweeting incessantly about their products or services without becoming a part of the Twitter community

Although these folks feel like progress is quickly being made (“Woo-hoo, now we have 50, poorly-written posts about legal services”), what they don’t realize is the unforeseen consequences. Poorly written content doesn’t convert. “Stand-alone” pages typically are over-optimized messes that search engines ignore. Splattering your sales message all over Twitter makes your firm look like a spammer.

So, what can you do to start seeing the search results (and conversions) you crave? I am so glad you asked …

1. Evaluate your existing content. Every marketer can leverage its own low-hanging fruit and focus on what specifically matters for its site. For some sites, penning new page titles can drive amazing results. For others, keyphrase editing (adding keyphrases to existing content) may be appropriate. Consider bringing in a consultant for this part of the process. The reason? The consultant doesn’t “own” the copy and can see it with fresh eyes. Because he’s not close to it, he can notice opportunities your marketing department may not.

2. Check your keyphrase research. It’s easy to let your keyphrase research stagnate when you don’t have the time (or funds) to spend on your site. Now that you’re planning a content overhaul, it’s crucial to examine what other keyphrases opportunities you can leverage – especially keyphrases that represent the research phase of the buy cycle. Research tools like WordStream, Keyword Discovery and Wordtracker can help you see what phrases people type into the search box to find products and services like yours.

3. Develop a (workable) content schedule and budget. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your site won’t be rewritten overnight. Work on your most important pages first, and set up a schedule where you’ll work on a certain number of pages a month. Or, if you know that writing content in-house isn’t your style, hire an experienced SEO copywriter and have him help. Creating content in baby steps is completely OK – and gives you the satisfaction of seeing continued improvement.

It’s tempting to fall prey to the SEO copywriting quick fix. But when you take strategic baby steps and focus on what’s really important to your site’s success, you’ll finally realize the search ranking (and conversions) you crave.

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.