When searching for customers, try a specialist

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As the advertising market continues to mature, so do the ways in which advertisers can harness the evolution of the online ad channel. One of the latest developments to emerge is increasing opportunities to advertise on vertical platforms. Vertical PPC networks such as Miva Precision, and vertical networks such as Business.com enable advertisers to tap into ad distribution channels that are specifically optimized for their business category.

Being visible in a vertical search results page can help a marketer increase its share of voice among a specific audience target. And that is exactly what Sitewire client First National Bank of Arizona (FNBA) was trying to do when it made the decision to advertise on Business.com.

FNBA was already advertising on two general search engines, but was looking to attract a more targeted business audience.

"Business.com [a BTB advertising network] allowed First National Bank [of Arizona] to reach business decision makers who were more qualified and motivated to buy," says Christy Cole, media relations representative for SiteWire. "Over the first three months, Sitewire saw First National Bank's pay-per-click ad on Business.com generate an average of 592 clicks, while Google and Yahoo's combined clicks were only about 557 clicks per month, at a much higher cost."

According to Cole, Yahoo and Google are putting a lot of their focus on the transactional side of the advertising business. She said this approach is removing some of the human element from display advertising, which is increasingly important for marketers.

In the case of FNBA, Sitewire was faced with a challenge that most business-to-business online marketers face: Once you've established campaigns on general search engines, where do you go next to attract a targeted business audience, to help clients improve their search marketing ROI?

The objective was to enhance the bank's existing search marketing efforts and to see if advertising on Business.com produced the type of qualified business leads and traffic FNBA wanted to attract.

Sitewire began investigating advertising on vertical search engines and found that compared to the general online population, Business.com's users are 40 percent more likely to be business-purchase influencers or decision makers, 80 percent more likely to have made a BTB purchase online in the past six months and twice as likely to be a part of their company's senior management team.

FNBA was impressed by Business.com's taxonomy of 65,000 business categories as well as the ability to reach more than 30 million business users every month.

In December 2006, Sitewire invested 25 percent of FNBA's online advertising budget in pay-per-click advertising on Business.com. During that month, Business.com generated 49 percent of the total clicks for FNBA's overall online advertising campaigns and the average cost per click was $1.36 less than ads on the two general search engines. Encouraged by the December results, Sitewire continued advertising on Business.com on behalf of FNBA. In January 2007, Business.com generated 57 percent of the total clicks and the average cost per click was $1.01 less than the other two search engines.

Business.com demonstrated continued success in February 2007 by generating 47 percent of the total clicks and the average cost-per-click was $1.34 less expensive than ads on the other two search engines.

"Marketers want to expand their understanding of their audience, and receive consultation and value from their media partners to evolve their marketing spend and efficiencies," says Larry Allen, senior vice president of marketing and business development at Tacoda Inc., an audience management service provider. "Networks are doing a better job of providing these services, shifting how media is bought and putting the networks in a leadership position in the minds of marketers."

Business.com reaches coveted business decision-makers in a more targeted manner than the general search engines. While others spend significant time and money battling for incremental increases in the generic search engines, it has proven to be extremely effective to utilize vertical search engines, which provide more targeted and relevant results to users.

Vertical search is a hot trend right now, due to its proven ability to target a specific audience.

"The name of the game with search is relevance," Cole says. "Searchers need and want to be able to find exactly what they're looking for in the shortest amount of time possible. By narrowing the focus to a specific industry, space or target segment, vertical search hits the nail on the head for searchers seeking specific information."

From a consumer perspective, advertising is content and therefore networks need to be highly aware of the value exchange between the publisher, advertiser and consumer. If the advertising is bad there is a good chance the consumer will leave the site and never come back to it.

Companies such as Tacoda and Business.com help advertisers to aim at improving the relevancy of the messages to the consumers by creating a dialogue and increasing engagement between the marketer and consumer.

Vertical PPC has many other advantages. "Many advertisers are finding themselves priced out of the main search networks as competition for the top keywords increases," says Alex Vlasto, global communications director at Miva. "Traditional contextual networks offer a lower cost alternative, but many argue that the ad distribution is too broad. Vertical PPC can offer an attractive mid-point - lower volume, more highly targeted traffic than the broad reach contextual networks, but at a price point that is typically more affordable than the main search networks."

Additionally, Vlasto says that vertical PPC offers branding potential. Vertical PPC networks arguably can supply advertisers a more relevant branding vehicle. By using vertical networks, advertisers can both position their brand in a more relevant environment and offer it to a potentially more engaged and receptive audience.

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