Three questions to consider before launching an alternative search strategy

Search engine marketing is a constantly changing game. In good times, honing campaign elements daily, even hourly, is what helps ensure high volumes of relevant traffic and (ideally) soaring conversion rates.
Today’s hard times, though, call for even smarter choices when managing your online advertising strategy, such as the decision to focus on a diversified search ad campaign. SEMPO forecasts that spending on paid search ads will make up nearly 60 percent of all search marketing spending this year – quite possibly as a result of advertisers recognizing that search is cost-effective and delivers measurable ROI.
But there’s only so much money you can dedicate to the major search engines before you experience diminishing returns. So what’s a savvy marketer to do? Many are expanding their reach beyond Google, MSN and Yahoo to search engines that can reach specific niche audiences and drive highly targeted traffic to their site.  Alternative search engines such as Ask and 7Search, as well as search networks like LookSmart and eZanga, offer areas for expansion of your existing online marketing programs, and most can run your current ad creative and keyword campaigns with little to no changes.
However, you’ll need to do some due diligence to ensure you’re investing your ad dollars wisely. Here are some key questions to ask any search outlet before committing budget:

What is your reach?
Let’s be clear: Smaller niche engines and networks obviously won’t give you the same reach as the major engines – but the focus here is quality, not quantity.
To ensure an appropriate audience for your campaign, the alternative provider needs to offer tools like conversion tracking, geo-targeting, day parting, run of category, etc. Ask the vendor to clearly demonstrate the potential ROI from plugging them into your overall campaign. Know who you want to target, and make them prove they can deliver the right traffic.

How will you help support my campaign?

To ensure that a campaign remains relevant and successful, search marketers need to spend time – and budget – testing keywords and other campaign elements.
Search advertising is popular because it’s easy to get started, but it takes some work to maintain success. Does the vendor offer the customer service, tools and expertise to help you refine your campaign? Will they work to truly understand your advertising objectives and how to achieve them? It’s also important to know whether customer service and testing are included with your ad spend or require additional fees.
In short, search ad networks should be an extension of your team, taking the “heavy lifting” off your plate so you can focus on other aspects of your business.

How much am I paying – and what am I paying for?
Complicated pricing algorithms and keyword auctions benefit only one company – the one doing the selling. The best advice around keyword pricing is this: Keep it simple.
Keyword prices on the big three engines are becoming bloated, which ultimately softens ROI. Search ad networks and alternative search engines offer less expensive CPCs and, therefore, cheaper conversions. When these sources also offer customized services like those mentioned earlier, the return becomes even greater.
Alternative search engines and ad networks can become an essential complement to any search campaign strategy. When used smartly, these sources can deliver the right traffic, at the right time, providing clear ROI and, ultimately, increased revenue.

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