A Guide To AdWords Applied
“If the Google model is so successful, it seems reasonable to think that everybody should be in the Google business.” -- Pixsy CEO Chase Norlin
The quote’s taken out of context from an email I received from Norlin last week, and that context will be good fodder for a future column. He allowed me to borrow it to set the stage for what Guidester’s doing for online consumer electronics retailing, and explain why Guidester should prove to be a beacon for future innovations in search, online publishing, and ecommerce.
Guidester provides search technology for retailers’ sites, making it a sort of Google Custom Search Engine for ecommerce. That analogy can only be extended so far. I’ll illustrate it with an example Guidester CEO Joe Chin showed me over lunch last week, though I’ll use sample advertisers that aren’t intentionally reflective of Guidester’s clients:
- A consumer, we’ll call him Devin, arrives at Buy.com. Guidester plays no role in bringing Devin there. Buy.com can do that any way it knows best, whether it’s through a search engine or a Sunday circular.
- Devin’s in the market for a digital camera. Devin clicks the “digital camera” tab on Buy.com’s site, and Buy.com here allows him to check various boxes and refine what he’s looking for. Devin is brand-agnostic, and he searches for all models under $500.
- The Guidester-powered search delivers an array of search results, with models from Panasonic, Sony, and Canon coming up as the most prominent listings. Guidester used three factors to order the search results: the click-through rate (CTR) for each listing, the cost-per-click bid that the electronics manufacturer submitted, and the retailer’s preference on which listings should rank higher. In other words, it’s an AdWords-esque model that the retailer applies to its own site.
The way Guidester applies the model is even more fascinating when exploring some of its nuances and ramifications.
Redefining Natural and Paid Search
It’s fun when you can be in this business for awhile and still feel naïve. At first, what Joe Chin was telling me felt like heresy. How could these search results be sold to the highest bidder? Yet it’s a perfect model for retailers, as there’s no need for purely “organic” search on a retailer’s site. How else should the results be ranked? Guidester offers answers to that question too, as the performance of each listing (its CTR) is one of the major factors, and if there are no advertisers for a particular search (or a “browse,” as this may be better described), then the performance is all the more important. Additionally, retailers can exert a degree of control. If Buy.com thinks Sony’s a better brand than Casio, then it can offer its own vote. Yet if users click Casio’s results more, or if Casio submits a high enough bid, then Casio can come out on top.
Meanwhile, Guidester comes with built-in trademark protection. If Devin has a brand preference and wants to see Sony models under $500, advertiser bids aren’t factored in. Guidester only applies its three-factor approach when the consumer lacks brand preference.
Bringing New Advertisers to the Table
It’s hard for manufacturers to participate in the AdWords marketplace in many situations, as on a search engine, they’ll wind up competing more with their distribution partners than they will with competitors. A retailer’s site, however, is perfect territory to sell to the highest bidder. It’s similar to bidding on slotting fees for shelf space in a retail store. Here, however, if consumers keep bending over to reach for items that aren’t at eye level, those other items will gain higher prominence.
Applying AdWords Beyond Retail
Google’s Custom Search Engine allows publishers to offer preferred sites to appear in natural search results, yet the performance of each search listing doesn’t matter, making Guidester more intelligent than the CSE. It’s interesting to think of how else this model could be applied.
For instance, say Google News, or another news aggregation site, allowed publishers to bid for a more prominent ranking on its homepage for any relevant stories. Would news sites take the bait? While some would denounce the model, it’s conceivable that many others (especially all those who already spend healthy sums with AdWords) would participate in the marketplace. Granted, if you look at how media companies are working with YouTube, many news publishers would presumably bid for Google News rankings and sue Google at the same time. Don’t you love this business?
The applications of the Guidester and AdWords models can be extended just about anywhere, though it’s worth following the Guidester approach of deciding under which circumstances advertisers can bid and which ones allow for more “natural” listings.
More and more though, the idea of advertisers bidding for placement feels more natural in its own right.