All Aboard the SEM Train

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Over the past year or so, I have had the good fortune of knowing Roman Godzich, a man with an incredible sense of wit that is only outweighed by his search engine marketing knowledge. As the vice president of e-business for Rail Europe, Godzich has his search strategy down to a science.

One of the biggest brands you might not have heard of, Rail Europe offers the most comprehensive selection of European rail products to the North American market . Let's just say that the online business touches about 1 million customers every year. Oh, and his search budget is north of 50 percent of online spending.

"Search has become so vital to us," Mr. Godzich said. "On our public site, search delivers over half of our sales."

For all the SEMs out there about to send him a lovely pitch letter, hold your keystroke. Mr. Godzich and his team actually execute all paid and natural search in-house. Granted, the team benefits from Mr. Godzich's history of having built a search engine, but as he himself said, "We started in search six years ago, when the only alternative to in-house was out-house."

And while he agrees that there will always be marketers with a need to outsource, he is wary of those with a shotgun approach.

"Some players kill everything and count the bodies later," Mr. Godzich said.

He is a bit more methodical. His golden rule for advertisers: tracking, tracking and more tracking. He adds that there is no point to search if you aren't measuring. He is also a fan of running tests.

"During the low season I was constantly perturbed by the question of people researching at work and buying at home," Mr. Godzich said. "So I ran a test. I shut down a set of keywords during the day to see the effect on sales at night."

He did this three times with the same results. He then ran the same test in reverse, shutting down a set of keywords in the evening. Sure enough, the pattern was clear.

"This leads me to think that engines have a wider reach than we realize," Mr. Godzich said. "If you want to be present at time of purchase, you have to be there at the time of consideration."

Think this is far fetched? Remember that Mr. Godzich is a man who tracks everything. For every set of keywords, there is an "entropy" formula. He knows how many sales each set should bring in, and judges keywords on the cost of sales, as a percentage "Are customers worth it at 5 percent? 6 percent?" as he will ask himself.

On the subject of branding and engine reach, he points out that natural search results are critical. In addition to ranking high, he urges marketers to make sure the title and description support the brand. He has found that if consumers recognize your brand in that URL, they are much more likely to click on a sponsored link when ready to buy.

With a conductor like Mr. Godzich, this search train is running full steam ahead. He said this would not be the case without his director of online marketing, a staff of two, and of course "many, many spreadsheets." All aboard

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