Search Engine Guide: Buying Keywords Balances Art and Science

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Buying keywords on search engines can be daunting for the uninitiated and even for search veterans. Marketing professionals and small business owners need guidelines to help navigate this rapidly changing environment. Here are a few items to help get most bang for their buck:

· Start with the big fish.

· Conversion is key, so clicks don't equal success.

· Measure, measure, measure!

Walk before you run. The top three search sites - Google, Yahoo and MSN - account for 80 percent of all Web searches. Learn your lessons on these high-volume sites. Once you have the basics mastered, then branch out to other search engines.

In terms of conversion, it's important to identify key metrics before you begin buying keywords. Whether your goal is to get a customer to buy your product, sign up for your service or get qualified lead generation, you need to measure the actual ROI of these campaigns against your goals, not just how they increase traffic to your site.

Measuring ROI requires the technical and human resources to track each individual click from a search engine/keyword level all the way to conversion and the desired final outcome. It's not easy, but it will pay dividends when determining how to allocate both budgets and keyword CPC dollars as you begin to scale your search engine efforts.

Items to avoid when buying keywords:

· Don't get "keyword envy."

· The top position isn't always the best.

· Don't get enamored with tools over insight.

· Don't focus only on traffic growth and forget about your site's performance.

· Buy customer intent, not keywords.

Just because you see a competitor buying a keyword doesn't mean you should, too. Buy what works for your company, your customers and your budget - not what everyone else is doing. Even your most direct competitor may have a different ROI for the same keyword depending on that company's brand positioning, site ease of use and other variables.

Buy appropriately. Buying the No. 1 position might not always drive the most sales or ROI. Bid appropriately and find the placement that is right for your business and product set.

As search engine optimization has grown into a viable marketing channel, tools to assist marketers have proliferated. Though most are helpful, be careful before you dive in. It's important to have a complete understanding of your core metrics and data directly from the search engines and your site prior to engaging optimization tools.

Also, work to ensure that your landing pages and signup process are optimized before you start, and continue to optimize against ongoing conversion data. Any increase in conversion rates on the back end is "saved" money that can be funneled back into your search engine buys on the front end.

With this foundation, these tools can supercharge your optimization efforts, not only driving more sales/leads but also lowering per-unit costs.

Finally, as you begin to understand your customers better, ensure that you buy keywords that reflect their intent and their spot in your buying cycle (research and education, comparison shopping or ready to buy). For example, users interested in a digital camera don't think of specific products ("DSC-F717"). They think of features and descriptors ("3 mega pixel digital camera with zoom"). Customers type their intent into the search box, so design your advertising to reach them at the same level of relevancy.

Hopefully, with these simple suggestions, you can use search engine advertising to drive customers/sales at your target ROI while avoiding the potholes.

For more articles from The Direct Marketer's Essential Guide to Search Engine Marketing, visit

A PDF of the guide is available at:


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