Comparison shopping engines: Marketing in the real world

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Nicholas Ward
Nicholas Ward

Search marketers who try to buy each and every branded and non-branded term remotely pertinent to their Web site have a distinct advantage over everyone else. But let's take a step back from this fairy-tale world filled with unicorns, elves and race cars that run on compliments. In reality, there are pesky things like budgets and ROI goals, not to mention competitors and the resulting cost per clicks.

Non-branded terms are competitive in paid search — and by competitive, I mean expensive. In light of the realities of competitive keyword management, what's a real-life (and not the aforementioned fantastical life) marketer to do? I suggest looking into a comparison shopping engine (CSE).

CSEs have many parallels with traditional search engines. In particular, CSEs are evolving to become more like product-based search engines. It begs the question, what's the difference between a shopping engine and a search engine? The answer depends on who is asking. For users, the two continue to blend as search boxes, results pages and sponsored links become the average experience for both. However, marketers continue to look at CSEs and search engines separately.

It is difficult to argue their disparity when shopping results appear on search engines and vice versa. However, the differences are definitely there. Instead of existing at the keyword level, CSE campaigns generally start and end at the product level. While many CSEs are moving to product-level bidding, the standard is still a flat cost-per-click (CPC) model that provides fairly consistent and predictable results. Because of this, many CSEs rank products by query relevance alone. Once the differences are understood, there is a final important similarity one can take advantage of: CSEs are some of the most trafficked sites online. It is this reach that you'll want to make use of to fill in the gaps of your search campaigns.

There are a few ways for marketers to take advantage of CSEs' reach. Start off by researching what the CSEs are bidding on desired terms. Create relationships with those that are consistently present. You should also look into optimizing products to appear on CSE landing pages and broad queries. Ensure that the terms users are searching for are in the title and descriptions of products. Then, communicate with CSE partners on their search strategy. Negotiate the ability to limit bids on key branded terms. This will prevent impact on existing pay-per-click campaigns.

Simplified, the tactic is to use CSE landing pages as extensions of one's own Web site and to ensure that products are appearing when users are searching for desirable terms. This balance of paid search and feeds requires visibility into product data and possibly some additional data optimization.
 
There is an additional benefit to leveraging CSEs to drive non-branded or semi-branded traffic: Users filter and segment themselves at shopping engines, often making themselves more valuable to advertisers by the time they leave than at first click. For example, a user may enter the process via a broad term search, use the CSE for research and be ready to purchase by the time they make it to your site.

With a sound CSE strategy, some competitive research and a bit of product-level optimization, marketers can save money on the front lines and still benefit from the new customers and high volume driven by non-branded search. It's not exactly magic, but it is a sound way to stretch your budget, grow your revenue and exceed your ROI goals. And that's no fairy tale.

Nicholas@rangeonlinemedia.com

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