Online Exclusive: How to Structure Search Management

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Today, we wanted to take a break from our usual soapbox to go behind the scenes -- to explain how one search firm (our own) actually structures its search management. We find that there are three key areas of every campaign -- strategy, analytics and technology -- and that by designing our management to deliver on all three, we can help our clients best.

What a search campaign looks like. To explain why our management structure makes sense, we should explain what a search campaign actually looks like. A search campaign is really the interaction between a few different things:

· The goals that you have for your business overall.

· The people you're trying to sell to and how they behave -- both within search and outside of it.

· The search marketplace -- that fast-moving, real-time auction that contains thousands, tens of thousands or even millions of variables at any given time, like the list of available keywords, the prices for those terms and the number of competitors bidding on them.

· The initiatives that actually comprise your campaign -- like the specific keywords, ads and landing pages that you choose to employ. (Those initiatives produce their own set of variables and their own set of questions -- like which keywords, ads and landing pages will work together best.)

Let's say, for example, you're a tax preparation software firm (a seasonal example). Now let's say one of your marketing channels is search.

· Your goals might include driving many software package downloads for ROI; capturing market share by driving more conversions than you need for ROI alone; and/or driving e-mail newsletter signups for brand engagement.

· The people you're trying to sell to, obviously, will be people looking to do their taxes. But there might be subgroups you're looking to sell to more -- like wealthy people or small businesses, who have more taxes to file and who are willing to pay more money for a given software package. Maybe you're also interested in attracting people who are likely to file for an extension, who might be likely to need an extra helping hand with their tax prep and also might engage with your product over a longer period of time (past April 15).You might be most interested in attracting people who are likely to update your product again next year.

· What does the tax software search marketplace look like? Here are a few variables to consider. In February, there were 74,490 searches for the term "tax software" within the Yahoo system; for March and the first half of April, the numbers will likely end up much higher. At the time of this writing, the search term "tax software" goes for a maximum bid price of $2.37 within the Yahoo system; "tax software 2006" (a less popular term) goes for a maximum bid of 70 cents. Also at the time of this writing, there are more than 60 advertisers within Google bidding on the term "tax software" -- each and every one of whom would be very, very happy to end up at top rankings on that term.

· Your initiatives might include bidding more heavily on cheap terms -- like "tax software 2006" -- or on more expensive ones like "tax software." They also might include using ad copy that focuses on getting customers a good tax refund, on the ease of use of your software or on something else. And in terms of landing page choice, consider this: Google finds 69,100 pages within -- any one of those pages could, in theory, be an appropriate landing page for a given keyword. One of your many initiatives needs to be matching your every keyword and search ad to the appropriate landing page within your own site.

All of this is a lot to handle. We find that it's best to break campaign management into three separate management areas:

· Strategy creates a roadmap for what the entire campaign -- from deciding what your broader goals are, to working out the day-to-day initiatives that let you meet them. A strategy might be as broad as deciding to display category pages to one set of searchers and product pages to another; it might be as specific as deciding that, at 5 p.m. today, you'll bid 2 cents/click extra on the term "form 1040."

· Unless you understand what your audience's behavior is, what the search marketplace looks like now, where the marketplace is trending, how well your initiatives are faring and how the marketplace will respond to your every move, any strategy you create will just be a shot in the dark. That's why you have to analyze your current metrics and develop new tests all the time -- in other words, you need the best possible analytics. Analytics will be what tells you the relative worth of different landing pages, what times of day and year should be the best for bidding on the term "form 1040," and everything else you need to know about your campaign.

· In the midst of the many variables your campaign faces, humans aren't fast enough to implement initiatives or gather information in a truly useful way. That's why you need good search technology to do all the legwork for you. If you don't have good technology, you won't be able to create good analytics and powerful strategies. Hampered by your own inability, you'll also end up thinking much smaller about the kinds of opportunity that search actually offers. So you need good technology to win; and lack of good technology can lull you into thinking you're doing much better than you actually are.

We find it's very useful to apply the breakdown of strategy, analytics and technology both within the approach of the campaign management team and within the larger company organizational structure on the backend. That way the company as a whole gets the best possible capability in all three areas, those capabilities converge within each campaign and our clients get the best results for their spend.

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