Losing all of your traffic due to an algorithm shift can be tough on business. Unfortunately, far too many online business owners put far too much reliance on the free traffic that can come from organic search listings. If and when those rankings suddenly drop, site owners can find themselves in a world of hurt. In this series of articles I'll focus on giving you a few ideas that you can try to implement immediately in order to keep your business afloat after losing rankings in a sudden algorithm shift. (If you haven't read part one: Press Releases, be sure to do so.)

While many online businesses are already running paid search ads through AdWords and Yahoo! Search Marketing (Overture), it's not uncommon to see find a company that is not yet taking advantage of the traffic that you can generate through these programs. Even among the companies that are already using paid search, there are often many things that can be done to improve performance.

If You Aren't Already Advertising, Get Started

If you're not already using a PPC engine like AdWords or Yahoo!'s Search Marketing, and you've seen all of your organic traffic dry up, you need to get a ppc account setup. This will allow you to keep the customers coming while you work on getting your organic rankings back. Each of these programs are fairly easy for a first-timer to use, though it takes time and effort to master getting the most from your money.

Check out:

AdWords Learning Center
Yahoo! Sponsored Search

While I understand that many web site owners are skeptical about paid search advertising, the important thing to remember is that a properly run paid search campaign will not "cost" you money. In other words, you should earn more than you spend.

Already Advertising? Improve Your Campaign

Maybe you are already running ads on Yahoo! and Google. If so, that's great...but are you certain that you are making more than you are spending? Buying pay-per-click ads isn't about buying traffic, it's about making money. If you aren't making money, then you need to figure out what you are doing wrong...and fix it.

Perhaps the most important thing you need to know to improve your campaigns is how much you can afford to spend on them. Just a few weeks ago I wrote an article about the importance of calculating your ROI and your CPA so that you don't spend more money than you're earning. (Read Help Set Your Budget with Pay-Per-Click Calculator) In it, I pointed to a handy tool called the Pay Per Click Calculator that makes figuring out your maximum cost per click fairly easy. (And don't forget the number one rule of pay-per-click.)

Another way to drive more traffic from your pay-per-click campaigns is to expand the range of keywords that you are bidding on. While it's possible to use broad match to cover a wide range of phrases, the lack of control that broad match gives you over your bidding makes setting your individual keyword budget difficult. Taking the time to find some new niche phrases to target is well worth the effort. While I highly recommend the paid version of Wordtracker for keyword research, one of our guest authors has written a fairly comprehensive guide to using the trial version of Wordtracker. It's worth a look.

While these niche phrases may not look tempting, due to lower search numbers, it's important to remember that more specific phrases often convert at a higher rate than more generic phrases. Combine this with the lower cost that niche phrases tend to have and realize that traffic starts to add up as you discover more phrases and suddenly, you could be looking at quite a few new customers.

Are You Targeting Your Ads?

That may seem like a silly question. Of course you are targeting your ads...that's the whole idea of pay-per-click, right? It's important to remember that targeting a customer means more than simply putting your ad in front of them when they conduct a search. You've got to follow through once you get them to your site.

If you aren't sending your pay-per-click traffic to landing pages that are tailored to the keyword phrase they used to search, then you could be killing your conversion ratings. At the very least, you should send them to the page of your site that best fits the search term. (Did they search for blue widgets? Then send them to your blue widget page.) In reality, you should be building specific pages for your pay-per-click campaigns that are highly tuned for maximum conversions.

Think about it this way...the less clicks someone has to make once they get to your site, the more likely they are to make a purchase from you. So, if they are searching for something particular that you offer, make sure that your ad leads them directly to that product. This should help your conversion rates increase.

For more on setting up pay-per-click landing pages, read The Simply Pay Per Click Change That Could Earn You More.

Are You Testing Your Ads?

It's not enough to simply target the right phrases or to deliver your users to a tailored page on your site. You've got to know that you're getting the right amount of clicks. You could be passing up visitors just because your wording isn't quite right in your ad.

While it can be tough to test different titles and text on Yahoo! without setting up your own tracking system, AdWords makes this kind of testing a snap. Simply set up multiple ads per campaign and track which one performs the best. AdWords will run each of your adds equally and will tell you the click thru rate and the average cost per click for each ad. That means that you can do a side-by-side comparison and drop the ad that doesn't perform as well.

Understandably, some advertisers are hesitant to make changes to what appears to be a strong campaign. Adding a "test" ad to the rotation and letting your preferred ad run only half the time could mean a big drop in sales if your test ad isn't as successful as your current ad. At the same time, not testing could mean that you are missing out on clients that your new ad could deliver. Thankfully, the AdWords system is flexible enough to work around this problem.

One of the best tips that I've picked up for this kind of testing is to setup four ads for each campaign. Make the first three almost identical with only slight changes. Then, use your fourth ad to test a radical change. This way, your "preferred" ad will run 75% of the time and your "test" ad will only run 25% of the time. If your test ad ends up performing better than your preferred ad, make two more variations of your test ad so that it becomes the preferred one, and add another new ad to the mix.

Next Time: Take Advantage of Blogs

In the final part of this series, I'll give some suggestions on how to take advantage of the viral marketing aspect of blogs to help drive quick traffic and sales to your site.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
July 18, 2005

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Saving Your Business from an Algorithm Shift - Part 2: Paid Search Advertising