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Online Exclusive: The Dozen Don’ts of Search Marketing

1. Don’t use a position-based strategy.

Nothing pains me more than a marketer telling me he just wants to be in position No. 1 — or No. 3, or whatever — in the search results. Basing a search engine (SE) strategy on a particular position always will leave too much or too little on the table. We all know that you have to pay more to get a higher position.

In some cases, the conversion rate (the ratio of clicks to orders) for your product will be best in the higher positions. In other cases, it actually will increase as you move down the list. It depends on the product and the way a customer shops. Sometimes customers will begin perusing a list of search returns from the top until they find the product they are looking for. They may never make it down to position No. 3. Sometimes, a shopper checks all the relevant results and compares. In that case, the last listing has the advantage. A savvy marketer will continuously check his/her conversion rate for each keyword listing to determine the proper position/price to shoot for.

2. Don’t pick a maximum click-through price.

Not all clicks are created equal. I can’t emphasize that statement enough. Some keyword listings seem expensive but produce the highest conversion rates, resulting in the lowest order costs. Some of the least-expensive words may have the worst conversion rates, resulting in the highest order costs.

To say “I don’t want to pay more than ‘X’ for any click” ignores the most important metric: the conversion rate for this specific word and the resulting order or action cost. Remember, it’s not about cost per click (CPC), but cost per order. An automated system that knows the CPC at which you still make money (or come in under your success metric) can use that knowledge to set a maximum CPC for a particular engine, keyword, position and time of day.

3. Don’t try to beat your competition.

Effective search marketing means putting away your ego and basing decisions on real numbers. Saying that you have to be in the top positions or continuously having to “top your competition” can be one of your most costly mistakes. It does you no good to be very visible if that keyword results in lots of clicks but no orders. We call that a “vanity position,” and it’s a sure way to waste money.

SE marketing is direct marketing, and is driven by results, not vanity. Nobody would continue a direct mail program only to get his or her name in front of a prospect if it resulted in few or no orders. Direct mailers test and measure, and you should do the same. If your competitor wants to be in the vanity position, let him. He’s his own worst enemy.

4. Don’t track after the fact.

Can you imagine getting yesterday’s weather forecast and basing today’s clothing choices on it? If you are a sophisticated enough marketer to realize that you should be tracking keywords and measuring conversions, you’re almost there. However, looking at a report on how a particular keyword converted yesterday may be interesting but it is essentially useless.

You cannot make the real-time keyword bidding decisions you need to make to manage an effective SE campaign with yesterday’s data. To get the most out of your campaign, you have to be tracking, reporting and adjusting in real time. Traditional tracking and reporting services just weren’t designed for this.

5. Don’t settle on a particular engine that works.

Just because Google is working for you doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t constantly test the other engines. You should be testing all the time. Engines that didn’t give you a good return in the past are always changing syndication partners, and therefore their audiences. They may work now. Also, an engine can “work” for some of your keywords and not for others, so excluding an engine from your entire keyword campaign is not the way to go. Basically, you want profitable orders from any search engine that can deliver them.

6. Don’t mistake traffic for orders or actions.

Nothing will bust your budget faster than trying to maximize click-throughs. It’s easy to fall into the trap that getting the most clicks you can is the goal, but you have to get out of that mindset. We’re back to the “not all clicks are created equal” rule. You want the most orders or actions, not clicks. You want quality visitors, not a large contingent of uninterested surfers. Of course, you have to track effectively to begin optimizing your campaign around orders/actions. (See No. 4.)

7. Don’t let your ego get in the way.

Wanting your name in lights is not what it’s all about. I’m repeating this “don’t” because it’s the single-biggest point of failure in a SE campaign.

8. Don’t stop testing new keywords.

The biggest opportunity to grow response from the search engines is by expanding your keyword list. However, if you’re not effectively managing your current campaign, that can represent huge financial risk. Can you imagine managing a list of thousands of keywords that are pulling clicks but only a few orders?

Many SE advertisers find that they can effectively manage only a few hundred keywords. Without using automated services like Did-it.com’s Maestro, it’s hard to believe that they can manage even that many. However, clients who use Maestro can easily maintain keyword lists that number in the thousands with very little financial risk. This keyword breadth dramatically increases the effectiveness of their campaigns. I would recommend that all marketers expand their keyword lists, but not unless they are using an automated service like Maestro.

9. Don’t ignore the power of “paid inclusion.”

The paid inclusion engines like Inktomi and Looksmart can be very effective for online marketers whose sites have great depth or are database-driven. If you run a smaller site (fewer than 500 pages or products), these engines will not be as effective. Paid inclusion is a subject unto itself.

10. Don’t think of SE marketing as an art. It’s a science.

When you start thinking that you’ve got “the feel” for SE campaign management, watch out! It’s not about feel. It’s about measuring and reacting. I don’t know of any company that manages its SE campaign as effectively as an automated tracking and optimization service can. In this case, you just can’t beat a system that has all the data at its fingertips and can make keyword-bidding decisions with lightning speed and accuracy. That doesn’t mean, however, that the system can do it all. The marketer still must pick the appropriate keywords to test and set his cost per order targets.

11. Don’t unplug the machine.

When you finally turn your SE campaign management over to a service like Maestro, let it run. In the end, it will get you where you want to go.

12. Don’t ignore the buying cycle.

Not every visitor is ready to buy the first time he or she visits your site. The visitor may be in the early phase of the buying cycle. Take that into account when setting CPO or CPA success metrics. Alternatively, you could set an additional, secondary success metric that is based on actions that indicate the visitor is interested, but not yet ready to buy.

Newsletter registrations, use of configuration wizards, reading of specifications sheets, clicking on the “contact us page” or using a product comparison price quote generator all indicate interest and can be assigned a specific actionable success value in your campaign.

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