Minimizing Mother's Day Madness

Maybe it's just stating the obvious, but I've noticed that the cost of certain keyword categories tends to skyrocket every year around this time. Terms like "buy flowers," "online greeting cards" and "unique gift ideas" climb higher and higher as marketers fight to get in front of the hundreds of thousands of time-strapped, guilt-ridden sons like myself (I'm Italian, guilt is in our DNA) who head online each year to find, buy and send the perfect tribute to their moms.

Mother's Day is an important holiday for many retailer sectors--especially flowers, jewelry and greeting cards. Consumers will spend $13.8 billion dollars on their moms this year, according to estimates from the National Retail Foundation. Most retailers that cater to mothers (and the sons that love them) simply can't miss out on all that good old fashioned American commerce. A strong Mother's Day season can make or break a whole year for some specialty retailers.

Even so, many retailers also can't afford the irrational bidding that usually accompanies the holiday rush. The whole bid landscape seemingly changes overnight. CPCs that used to net a top slot suddenly aren't good enough for first-page placement, which can have big implications for the amount of volume your campaign delivers. And the window of Mother's Day opportunity is brief--late April to early May--and then it's "thanks for playing, see you next year."



How can retailers keep their campaigns competitive when faced with rising click costs?

It all comes down to managing the campaign, not the bid. Thanks to Google's Quality Score, and Yahoo's soon-to-be released Project Panama, search ad placement is now based on a blend of the price advertisers pay, and the relevance of their advertisements.

This gives marketers access to a variety of levers that can improve their visibility in the engines without negatively affecting cost. As long as bid rates are competitive, improvements to a campaign's advertising copy, targeting and landing pages can provide a big boost to an ad's rank.

Retailers can start by adding keywords to their campaign. Many search marketers aren't willing to take the time to test every conceivable variation of their keyword list, including misspellings, plurals and expanded phrases. While each of these terms gets searched infrequently by itself, in aggregate they can provide a big traffic boost. Plus, the lack of competition means that these variations are often available at significantly lower costs than the core list.

New keywords require customized creative. By crafting custom creative for every keyword, marketers can improve relevance and ensure a higher click-through rate. A simple change, like inserting the keyword a user searched for in the ad copy, can pay big dividends in click-through rate and relevance--and, again, lower your CPCs.

Landing pages are often a forgotten element of a search marketing campaign. However, the content that appears in search advertising should be a direct reflection of what users will find on a company's site. Marketers should select landing pages that address the subject of a user's search, and be sure to deliver users to the most relevant possible page on the site--in this case, all Mother's Day-specific terms should lead to a page where Mother's Day merchandise is visible on their site. Making seasonal merchandise more visible can help lift conversion rates across an entire campaign.

Once advertisers have their campaign humming, they can also test smaller search engines like, Miva and Looksmart, where fewer advertisers tread and minimums are lower. While Google, Yahoo and MSN currently account for 82 percent of search traffic, that still leaves nearly 20 percent available to advertisers who are willing to explore and test different engines. These second tier engines don't always convert at the same rate, but we've always been able to find extremely valuable traffic for our retail clients by going beyond the big three.

All these tips should give you a fighting chance at keeping your bids at reasonable levels during the Mother's Day rush. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've only got a few days left to get searching and send my mom something nice.

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