Paid Search: Who Really Is On First?

I was speaking with someone the other day regarding managing a paid search campaign and I was shocked to hear him refer to managing a paid search campaign as "easy."

"Easy?" I said.

He replied, "How hard can it be? I go to the Google or Yahoo! Web site, create an account, plunk down a credit card, select 100 keywords or so and change bids when necessary."

I asked, "Really? And, how have your results been so far with this strategy?"

He responded, "We are getting some profitable conversions, just not as many as we would like."

It amazes me that there are people out there who still believe the myth that paid search is simple. It's not. In fact, it's downright complex -- and getting more so every day. If the rules aren't changing, the players are. If the players aren't changing, the playing field is. If the field isn't changing, the tools are. So who really is on First?

From keeping up with the major players and their rules, to accommodating expanding keyword volumes, to understanding the role of technology, paid search is a complex game with one constant: Things are changing all the time.

So what's a marketer to do to stay in the game? Here's what you need to consider:

Playing Field The playing field is ever-evolving. There are currently three major auction platforms (Google, Yahoo!, and AskJeeves) with MSN launching soon. While they are all keyword auctions at the core, each one has different nuances. Understanding how your bid strategy must differ by auction platform is a key part of solving the ever-growing complexity of paid search.

Keyword Volume Expansion As keyword prices continue to rise, marketers are continually forced to expand their keyword set in search of cheaper conversions. The average paid search campaign is around 1,500 keywords and growing. As the number of keywords managed grows, the complexity of managing the overall ROI of the campaign grows as well. This has become too unruly to do manually. How will you know what price to bid on a particular keyword Monday afternoon when you are managing thousands of keywords with shifting bid landscapes?

Role of Technology Further still, there's the role of technology and its impact on the outcome of the campaign. The expanding playing field and growing keyword volumes necessitates technological intervention - manual management just won't cut it anymore. The right technology can provide you with a competitive advantage over others in the auction place; especially if your competitors are using inferior technology or worse -- doing it manually.

A Tool here. A Tool There. A Tool Everywhere.

As the popularity and growth of the paid search arena has expanded, so has the number of new firms entering the bid management space. It seems like every day someone is introducing a new bid management tool or making bold claims that they have developed a system like no other, when they have yet managed a single paid search campaign.

Final Score Clearly, the game of paid search is complex and changing daily. For marketers, understanding the components of paid search and the changes taking place is critical to staying in the game and remaining competitive in this arena.

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