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How Paid Search Helped One Company Buy Its Way To The Top

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Garmin created a name for itself in global positioning systems. But when competitor TomTom wanted to edge its way up to the top of the product listing on retail Web sites, Jeff Gores, then with Mediaedge:cia, (he's now search director at SMG Search, New York) was there to help.

Gores relied on a technology that pushed TomTom up from position No. 20 to No.1. He calls it "buying your way to the top of the list" in on-site search engines. He explains that the default search product pages for retailers are typically in alphabetical order - so TomTom always fell at the end of the list. "It's like putting Google paid search on product pages for retailers," he says, describing an auction-based bidding model.

It's an interesting paid search trend that has begun to gain attention as more consumers research and buy online from retail Web sites. For TomTom, Searchandise Commerce provided the technology, which incorporates a cost-per-click advertising bid into the algorithms that return search results on select retail Web sites. It allows manufacturers of consumer products goods and electronics to gain a better position in site search results, as well as give the retailer incremental revenue gains based on the click.

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Think in-store merchandising. You know the displays that retail stores put at the end of the shopping aisles to call attention to specific products or brands? At least one technology company has developed a way to do that online.

Not all retailers use this practice, but those who do represent many of the top 10 retailers. "In aggregate, we deliver more than 250 million visitors per month and more than 100 million unique users per month," says John Federman, chief executive officer at Searchandise Commerce.

Federman declined to tell me the retail companies using the technology, but says "imagine companies the size of Wal-Mart and Sears." Target, are you listening? Many of the consumer electronics companies like TomTom and Panasonic have begun using the technology, along with consumer products goods companies. It doesn't take new creative to participate.

Think realistically, Federman says. The technology doesn't work miracles for brands that appear in last place on search results, but it does help them move closer to the top. If you're really down at the bottom of the list, Searchandise may help you move up to the 70th position, but not up to the No. 1 spot. "If you saw that on the Sears Web site, it wouldn't feel right to consumers," Federman says.

Searchandise works with in-site search providers like Endeca to integrate information. Retailers deliver information on their inventory nightly to Searchandise, which takes the information and matches it to search campaigns and uploads the information back to the retailer's inventory system.

Gores would like to see Searchandise develop a search engine optimization model where the technology considers click-through rates.

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