Commentary

How Will The Real-Time Web Influence PPC Keyword Pricing?

Google/coins

Google isn't the only search engine that rolled out real-time search this week. On Thursday, Yahoo began serving up recent Twitter tweets in Web search results under the "buzz" category. While you can still see relevant tweets about the most popular topics in the expanded Yahoo News shortcut, you also can view tweets about some of the less-popular trending topics in the search results.

With search engines changing the game, streaming in information from Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and more, how will this trend influence the price for pay-per-click search advertising keywords? Take a look at Google's feature that allows tweets to stream in real time. What if Google added this feature to the right rail and allowed paid search ad results to stream in real time, matching keywords or sentiment in the Twitter stream? The right rail would allow PPC ads to serve up and change on the fly.

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Google has been known to push the bar in innovation. For example, in 2008 it added the ability to search a company's Web site from its main search engine. And while it may not seem a mind-blowing innovation today, when launched the feature amazed even the most avid searchers.

Industry opinion on whether real-time Web and personalization will change pricing for PPC campaigns are as diverse as those who answered the question.

Matthew Diehl, Charles River Interactive search strategist, believes real-time SERPs will capture consumer attention, keeping eyes glued to the search engine query results on the page longer. It's a way to capture consumer attention for more than the few seconds it takes to scroll the page.

Someone interested in a topic returned in real-time results will now spend 30 seconds, a minute or a few minutes reviewing the query, he says. "I think advertisers will pay for that," Diehl says. "The result will be increased bid prices for PPC key phrases."

The industry will see the greatest impact on key phrase bid prices for trending topics, specifically ones that have been thrown into the limelight. Diehl says competitors will flock to trending topics to capture their share of the search market. Existing advertisers, who potentially could have been paying 10 cents a click, might need to spend dollars per click to maintain their presence for key phrases.

"I know quite a few SEOs who are thinking of getting into PPC," says aimClear CEO Marty Weintraub. "Really, the organic SERPs are vanishing in light of universal search and real-time search. SERPs are getting difficult to measure because of personalized search. Ironically this serves Google's need to sell advertising. The harder the organic SERPs are to handle for SEOs, the more clients need PPC to make sure they're on the page to sell, brand and defend."

Omnicom Media Group Director of Strategic Operations Eric Anderson provides a couple of reasons why he doesn't think Google's real-time search results will influence PPC keyword pricing. "First, real-time results are more recent, but there's no guarantee that they are more relevant," he says. "Secondly, real-time results are selective in that only some keywords will generate real-time results and may only do so for periods of time."

For example, a query for "apple tablet" gets real-time results, while a query for "apple iPod" does not. Not now, anyway. Also, he says, savvy PPC advertisers already take advantage of buzz and trends, adjusting prices accordingly.

Anderson does, however, believe real-time search creates more opportunities for companies tapping into SEO and social media. Similar to the front page of newspapers, the most current real-time search results take up valuable above-the-fold real estate on a query page that can cause some links to decline in ranking that had previously been vetted through Google's normal relevance rankings.

Peter Young, an SEO guru at Holistic Search with a hand in paid search, believes personalized search and real-time Web results have the potential to influence not only the price of keywords, but the performance, too. He points to personalized search as presenting advertisers with "a potential quandary," particularly given the degree of uncertainty today around the impact of personalized search on organic results.

Paid search could provide increased visibility and a consistent mechanism to keep rankings in check, he says, something marketers really have not been able to control. Whether or not this transitions into more of an instant, real-time auction model to bid on PPC phrases is anyone's guess. Some believe that model already exists. Others believe bidding on keywords could take another turn.

Doing so could potentially provide an environment more in line with the early days of paid search. To a certain degree Young can't help feel it would undermine the whole mechanics of quality scores.

"For now, I can't help thinking that Google will just sit back and watch and learn the effects of their latest implementations; however, with Google, you can never guarantee anything," he says.

On another note, what tools are you working on to make SEO or PPC campaigns easier? What tools do you think the industry needs that have not been developed? What features does search lack? Send me an email at Sullivan@mediapost.com and let me know.

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