March 07, 2006
Event Wrap-up

Search Engine Strategies 2006 NYC

SUMMARY: MarketingSherpa's back from the more-massive-than-ever SES show in NYC and we've typed up our notes for you. Includes:

  • Three tips on raising landing page conversions

  • Using blogs to help search marketing

  • Six ways to fight keyword price increases;

Plus, discover the number one painpoint search marketers were *all* complaining about this year.
By Laurie Petersen, Correspondent

The biggest buzz on the SES show floor last week wasn't about click fraud, rising CPC costs, or even MSN's new AdCenter. Nope. Almost everyone we spoke with had one thing on their minds: Hiring hell.

“We definitely need to do more search marketing, ”the marketing director for a Wisconsin-based industrial products distributor told us. “The issue is staffing.”

Let's face it, search marketing has been a skill set for marketers for only half a dozen years, which means there aren't enough trained experts to go around. Also the problem is exacerbated by another trend -- SEM agency client-thinning.

The top SEM firms are cutting clients like crazy in order to focus on the fewer, more profitable accounts. Marketers working for large eretailers, Fortune 500s, and other major direct response-based organizations are inundated with pitches from agency reps. We estimate roughly 150 SEM specialist shops (or divisions of larger agencies) are gunning for the same 1,000 perfect, profitable clients.

At the same time, marketing heads for the other 150,000 companies in America can't get their calls returned. To some degree, researching, setting up, and running search marketing operations is relatively the same amount of work for every client in an industry or vertical. So, why not just cherry pick the big fat accounts and leave the moderate-to-lean budgets on the ground?

The other big trend we noticed -- everyone (especially brand-side) hoping tech to run their programs more efficiently would be in their hands soon. With an average of 19,000 keywords to manage, plus three major search engines to test them on (and countless more tier Bs along with shopping sites), search marketing is impossible without easy-to-use tools.

“I need to find an analytics package that lets me track more than one keyword back to a sale,” said the internet marketing analyst for a consumer products cataloguer based in New Jersey.

Yet if he finds one, he has little time to get the software approved and implemented because two recent staff departures has left him shouldering all keyword marketing duties for five catalog brands. He will spend $3 million this year and will get more if he can prove he is spending profitably. “When everyone is so overstressed and overworked, you don’t have the time to stop and step back to look at the business opportunity.”

And so the wheel of pain turns back to staffing once again.

The good news is speakers, exhibitors and attendees were happy to share with MarketingSherpa their practical tips for making search marketing easier. Here's a quick roundup of the best:

6 ways to fight paid keyword price competition

Measurement and analysis are the biggest weapons for fighting keyword bid wars. But so is knowing your business and its key human drivers. Six specific tips:

1. Fly below the radar. If you know Dallas and L.A. are your stronger markets, you can afford to bid higher in those regions and your competitors won’t know you’re doing it. Several airlines have tested this with outstanding success.

2. Think phrases. Keyword phrases of four words are typically the highest converters, so find yours and put your money behind them.

3. Use SKUS as copy. Specific brand and model numbers are highly effective for reaching the focused searcher who is ready to buy. Try adding SKUs to page title tags and your site map for SEO lift, as well as bidding on them for PPC.

4. Test dayparts. Shifting the paid placement budget by turning it off for five hours each day caused to double its clickthrough rate on key phrases and increase sales by 25%.

5. Take advantage of pre- and post-seasonality. Words that cost too much before a prime season (Christmas, Valentine’s Day) may open up the day after and capture strong post-holiday sales. Products with year-round lifecycles but seasonal department store promotion (think swimsuits) are also strong SEM opportunities.

6. Not all keywords are alike. If one keyword is bringing in 2x or 3x the number of sales, you can afford to bid 2x or 3x higher. (This may seem ultra-obvious to the direct response marketers in the crowd, but we were surprised to see how many Internet-trained specialists thought this was rocket science.)

Three ways to increase page conversion

“I think we’ve got the basics down. I’m here to try to boost my page conversion,” said Rob Woods, who practices SEM for BuildDirect in Vancouver. He’s not alone. We suspect this trend may lead to more SEM-only agencies folded back into online creative and direct marketing firms.

Obviously the biggest way to increase conversions is to test, test, test. Which means this should be a banner year for analytics and testing firms offering A/B and multivariete testing capabilities. Three more tactics:

1. Promote your promotions. If you offer free shipping or a guarantee on returns, say it on every page. Don’t think the customer already knows it.

2. Run timely creative. took advantage of the Oprah halo by grouping products mentioned in a bra fitting segment and promoting them that way.

3. Tailor creative to need. By adding APO availability to its keyword creative, one attendee who noticed powdered Gatorade was selling to military customers boosted sales by 65% while decreasing clickthrough (and therefore cost) by the same rate.

6 ways to deter content duplication

No one is immune from content duplication. You can’t ignore the issue if you want to escape Google’s duplicate content filters. If the search bots think you've posted duplicate (aka "mirror" content) in more than one place as an attempt to fool them and get more organic rankings, you can be severely penalized for it. Unfortunately bots aren't smart enough to spot what we'd call "unwitting" or "unauthorized" duplication. So you have to work hard to stop these factors -- six tactics:

1. Zealously patrol your 20. Be vigilant about your most profitable keywords and landing pages and make sure these are kept unique. Make sure any pages that are duplicates on purpose (such as a page you might give to several affiliates) all contain coding that tells the bots to ignore them for ranking purposes. That way they won't be mistaken for mirrors.

2. Use copyright notices on all files -- including large images. If someone is scraping your site, at least you’ll get original source credit for tracking.

3. Do a global search and replace on heavily used terms. Changing one phrase on a page differentiates it from a competitor or an eBay vendor who has cut and pasted your content.

4. Shuffle the copy features. If your copy works in any order, move features around and you have a different page.

5. Build content around the use. Retailers who have an inherent problem with this can make each landing page a category and write to each use. (Use our tub to wash your dog. Use our tub to wash your child.)

6. Report abuses. EBay (who one CTO classified as the “king of thieves”) will take down auctions with stolen copy. But usually after the fact. has tackled this problem by including an alternate image in the page code so that logos appearing on eBay pages include a Toolbarn attribution. One unwitting auctioneer kept the link back to the Toolbarn website. (If you try this, make sure to mention it in your Privacy Policy or it could bite you.)

Using vertical search and blogs

Laura Berland, an online marketing veteran of the ‘90s who is back in the space working for Cardean Learning Group (Michael Milken’s education venture), has to compete with many online education lead generators who can afford to pay more for the best keywords because they sell the lead to multiple schools.

“It’s a very mucky search space,” said Berland. “We’re trying to create something different and figure out how to provide a series of conversations with the consumer to give them confidence in us. It’s a huge life decision.” So like many of her peers, Berland's exploring vertical search and blogs.

News and local search are cropping up in what used to be considered top visibility organic positions. One way to get into these returns is by establishing relationships with the bloggers whose sites are getting picked up by news search engines.

Start by doing keyword searches on your main terms to see which bloggers are actually being spidered by the big news engines. The list will not map to the Technorati 100. Odds are you will find a niche blog in your category. Then read and participate in the blog so when you reach out to its author, you will be a known quantity.

Creating an RSS feed on your website (for news, press releases and whatever you want to say) is an increasingly effective way to draw traffic. Keep a keyword list at hand to remind you to pepper the writing with the key elements. SkinMD Natural helped launch a new phrase, “shielding lotion” using this method. Now, all organic searches for the term go to its product pages.

4 more quick tips …

1. Think of your customer service people as a bank of keyword researchers. Ask reps to cc: you on all responses made through email. Mine this for fresh keywords as well as content on your site or for blog posts. Plus, have you checked your site's internal search engine logs regularly to see what words your visitors are typing in?

2. Give each page a unique title featuring the best search term for it. (Think it’s a no brainer? Look at your own site.) “I am reminded of how important the basics are,” said Karen Robinson, Director of Marketing Communications for Data Device Corp., which sells military equipment and uses its website as an information source. “First thing I’m doing when I get home is revisiting my page titles.”

3. Tread carefully when conducting a site overhaul. Enough online businesses are at the maturity level where it is time for a major upgrade. You can do it without disrupting strong search position. Use Google’s SiteMap tool to assure old URLs will map to new ones. But as an additional safeguard, make 301 redirects from the old site to the new. Test a section first.

4. Search is media. Diane Rinaldo, director of retail for Yahoo! Search Marketing, said you miss an opportunity by not creating messages appealing to shoppers at the awareness stage. She said one in five apparel customers use search early in the buying process to keep up with fashions and styles. In fact, teens told Yahoo! that search is their leading source of fashion information. Some 54% learn about brands they didn’t know existed through search. That statistic served as a bit of a wakeup call to the marketers who are doing nothing yet with SEM, and they ranged from tiny mom-and-pop storefronts to big brand publishing companies.

Improve Your Marketing

Join our thousands of weekly case study readers.

Enter your email below to receive MarketingSherpa news, updates, and promotions:

Note: Already a subscriber? Want to add a subscription?
Click Here to Manage Subscriptions