VistaPrint does SEM in house

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Search has seen growing competition and marketers need to ramp up their search campaigns.

VistaPrint, a company that provides printing services, has used search to grow its brand and its business. And it's managing its campaigns without a vendor.

"VistaPrint purchases keywords relating to our products and services, our brand, and even keywords relating to our target customers and their industries and interests," said Rebecca McDavid, search manager at VistaPrint. "[Our in-house SEM] team is continuing to grow, especially in the short term."

The company tracks performance using tools and reports built by its analytics group. These tools and reports continue to get more sophisticated as the search business evolves.

"The search landscape used to be much simpler that what it is today," Ms. McDavid said. "We have limited competitors, few affiliates, lower costs, and less sophistication in both the methods and tools that were used. Google was the clear leader, but Yahoo and MSN still provided strong volume."

VistaPrint looks at a number of things, including short term top-line revenue and profitability as well as lifetime value of the customers acquired on any given keyword.

"We're also able to aggregate data into groups of keywords to monitor product performance," she said. " 'Test and learn' is a big part of our corporate culture and as an extension is a major part of the responsibilities on the search team."

At one point VistaPrint did its copy, offer and landing page testing on Google and then rolled out the most effective elements to Yahoo and other search engines. Now that Yahoo and MSN offer split-testing to a degree, the company runs tests specifically with Yahoo and MSN users.

One project that is particularly interesting is VistaPrint's use of search marketing for the holidays.

"Our target customer is the small-business owner," Ms. McDavid said. "However, every year we have introduced a seasonal product line of holiday cards and holiday products completely outside our normal product line."

VistaPrint treats it like a separate project with separate budgets and revenue targets.

The challenge was the short window during which the company could do all of its testing - including copy, pricing and landing pages -and roll out the "winners" in time to capitalize on holiday-related search traffic.

"The other challenge was that we would ideally test in October and roll out in November, but we found that people who conduct holiday searches behave very differently in October than they do in November and December, so essentially we were testing all season," Ms. McDavid said. "We used the historic changes in performance to optimize our bid seasonally."

As a result, for the past two years VistaPrint's testing has been successful.

"Truly, as the search industry continues to expand and grow, there are many unknowns and predicting the market is difficult," Ms. McDavid said. "Obviously a number of players have recently entered the space, and it's ever changing." n

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