As many of you know, Overture has been through many changes since they first started up as GoTo.com. Going public gave GoTo/Overture the capital it needed to expand and to negotiate big revenue-sharing deals with major partners. They've built an impressive list of major syndication partners (MSN, Yahoo, Lycos; and AOL, which was subsequently lost to Google). They've expanded into the UK, Germany, and Japan. That gives Overture fantastic reach. Few online advertisers can afford to ignore Overture.
Through all of this, Overture has become solidly profitable and one of the few dot-com success stories around. Advertising dollars have been stampeding out of traditional banner ads and into targeted keyword advertising near search engine results. Business 2.0's Ned Desmond even wrote a recent feature on the pay-per-click space, though the focus was on Google.
Even oft-maligned LookSmart is seeing its stock price rise now that investors have figured out that the pay-per-click, keyword advertising model really does work, as we’ve felt all along it would (see Paid Search is Here to Stay - March 27, 2000) The leaders in this space - Overture, FindWhat, and Google, are all profitable, with LookSmart likely to turn a profit next quarter. This is no accident; in the midst of a skeptical marketplace, something about pay-per-click must be working.
Bid prices in the space have risen as more advertisers enter the fray. At one time, GoTo was claiming an average cost per click of 14 cents. Today it’s in the mid-thirty-cent range. Minimum bids are set at five cents, but those bargains are few and far between. The days of sneaking in with one-cent bids are, of course, long gone (except for grandfathered accounts). Some of Overture's competitors, such as FindWhat, do allow you to try your luck with penny bids. Business.com, by contrast, claims a more targeted B2B demographic, and charges advertisers an average of 62 cents per click for the privilege. LookSmart is charging a flat fee of 15 cents per click, perhaps apologetic that it changed its business model in mid-stream, and began charging for clicks that used to be free.
As prices rise, advertisers need to buckle down in order to continue doing well in this ad venue.
One often-overlooked side effect of the improving fortunes of the pay-per-click providers has been upgrades to their reporting and campaign management interfaces. Let's focus on how to use the revamped Overture interface to improve your campaign.
8-Point Overture Tune-Up Checklist
1. Auto-bidding. Are you taking advantage of this? Like Google, Overture now has a “bid gap discounter” that ensures you never overpay to maintain your ad position. In the past, if a bidder dropped out at 90 cents and the next lowest was 60 cents, and you were bidding 91cents, you’d still pay 91 cents no matter what the next bid was. Now, assuming the 90-cent advertiser drops out of the bidding, you pay 61 cents, not 91. But this discounting doesn’t happen unless you change all your Overture bids to “auto.” Are you wasting time trying to outbid your competitors by one cent? If you value your own time, you may be better off simply setting autobids for the highest justifiable cost per click.
2. Tracking URL's. Do you track your sales? It is not particularly complicated to put a tracking code on your URL’s that can be tracked with inexpensive software or some in-house code, so that you can tell which sources your sales are actually coming from. Overture is absolutely right in that you should use a tracking URL like http://www.mysite.com?source=overture. These won’t do anything unless you’ve got a tracking solution in place, of course. Shop around. Most will want to track purchases or other desired actions right down to the specific search keywords they came from, or at least groups of keywords (see "categories" below).
By tracking bids to the search term level you can make informed decisions about why terms deliver for you and which you should dump. If you have to upsell your web marketing budget to the suits, you’ll win big with some documented proof that your ad spending is delivering for your company.
3. Take advantage of improved interface usability. When reviewing your account, clicking on the link for a specific phrase you’re bidding on gives you a handy overview of a range of data related to that phrase, including competing bids. Are your competitors out-marketing you with their search listings? Make sure you’re making a compelling case for someone to click.
4. Categories. Use "categories" wisely. You can group families of similar keywords into categories for easier campaign management. This might help you further narrow down your sales conversion data, too, if you use codes for these categories in your tracking URL in conjunction with your tracking software. Some category suggestions include grouping ads by product type, industry related terms, and job recruiting terms. Some advertisers may wish to group a number of low-ball bids into a category. Others may wish to put super-expensive terms in their own category. It all comes down to what will make it easier to manage the campaign, and easier to track later. A well-organized campaign forces you to think logically about your business, and ultimately saves you time and money.
5. Delete the junk. Chances are you’ve got some ad copy and keywords that were selected in the old days when you just wanted to bring traffic to your site. Is the pitch still accurate or relevant? Are the keywords helping you attract customers, or just tire-kickers? If it’s yesterday’s news, remove it and stop paying for useless clicks. However, some of those underperforming terms may be slacking due to marginally written titles and descriptions. If they’re not jiving with your search phrases, you’re passing up targeted traffic.
6. Rethink your bidding strategy. You might not be bidding high enough. An overly-restricted calculation of ROI might ignore the lifetime value of a customer. Preferably your online marketing campaign is designed to build a customer list that will have some long-term loyalty to your business.
7. Are you invisible on Yahoo and MSN? The first three Overture ad positions give you premium placement on most Overture partner sites, and the first six get you on the first page of Yahoo results. It can be expensive to compete for the premium positions, but if you can’t succeed with high bids, you’ll have to settle for a lot less traffic. We’ve noticed that the most common search phrases often have some of the highest bids within an industry, but more specific terms will generate higher conversion rates at a lower cost per click, so consider giving up the fight for the highest search volume phrase and focus on some of the overlooked gems.
8. Cast a larger web of terms. If you can’t remember the last time you added additional search terms to your account, it’s time to get creative with keywords to garner more top 3 positions on less competitive, but still popular, phrases. Over time, more search terms have met Overture’s minimum search volume requirements. Be the first company in your industry to grab those terms for some cheap additional traffic. Are you offering additional any new products or services? Challenge yourself to increase your terms by 10 percent or more or hire someone to take a fresh look at your campaign.
So, have you set aside some time to get to work, or is this on the third page of your to-do list? It’s certainly a busy time of year, but what better time than the present to capture more customers through search engines?
November 22, 2002
Andrew Goodman is co-founder and Editor of Traffick.com, a popular guide to search engine and portal trends. He has published articles in publications such as Internet Markets, The Globe and Mail, and Yorkshire Post Magazine, and is regularly cited in business and technology publications such as Business Week. In 1999, Andrew left his burgeoning academic career in political theory and policy studies to found a private consultancy, Page Zero Media, which offers search engine marketing services and strategic advice to companies seeking an online presence.
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