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Internet Search Delivers Customers on a Silver Platter

by Alf Nucifora

Internet search, and its sibling search engine marketing, are on the path to explosive growth. If you want new customers, Internet search delivers for the very simple reason that customers are looking for you. As a marketing aid/assist, it's not yet fully visible on the radar screen, but it soon will be. The stats are eye-opening.

  • More than 80 percent of U.S. Internet users go to search engines for information.
  • There are more than 550 million searches conducted worldwide per day.
  • Online retail sales in the U.S. surpassed $45 billion in 2002. 55 percent of online purchases were made on sites found through search listings.
  • Search sites account for more than 13 percent of all referrals to web sites.
  • Search position matters. 16 percent of internet users only look at the first few search results and 56 percent don't look beyond page 2.
  • "Pay-for-placement" search advertising is the fastest growing segment of online marketing and promotion and is predicted to grow at an average rate of 30 percent per year.
  • The search advertising category currently dominated by Google and Overture Services is a $2 billion industry predicted to grow to $7 billion by 2007.
  • 84 percent of all Internet searches go through the Big Four: Google, Yahoo! Search, MSN Search and AOL Search.

Bottom line, Internet search is here to stay. There's no need to interrupt the buyer or attempt to generate buying interest as with traditional marketing communications. The buyer is already pre-disposed to buy and is targeting you, the marketer, to find out where you are and to what extent you can satisfy the buying need.

How is it done?

There are two methodologies to consider, "Search Engine Optimization" (SEO) and "Paid Search." SEO is the process of modifying a web site's content, design, popularity and Meta Tags to naturally rank higher for a given set of key words. Web pages are then submitted to directories for review and inclusion. The better the web site, in terms of design, content, navigation and popularity of links, the better the chance that it will rise to the top of the search engine rankings.

Paid Search, or as it's better known, Pay-per-Click, permits the marketer to pay for a higher ranking according to key word searches. According to Patricia Hursh, President and Founder of Boulder, Colorado-based SmartSearch Marketing (www.smartsearchmarketing.com) and an expert in the field, "it's important that marketers identify search words that Internet users are actually searching for." It's a real estate issue. Proximity makes sales.

Marketers bid for a higher ranking in an auction setting. In the case of a Google auction, there are two criteria - the price the marketer is willing to pay per click and the click-through rate. Hursh lists as the benefits of the Pay-per-Click model, low risk, flexibility, immediate results, ease and speed of implementation, accommodation of any size budget, measurability and the ability to control acquisition costs.

As to cost, Todd Daum, Vice President of Marketing of Overture Services, a leader in commercial search services on the Internet with more than 100,000 active advertisers, reports that an advertiser can spend anywhere from two figures to six figures per month. Daum notes that the model is appropriate for any small business, with Overture's advertiser base concentrated primarily in the areas of professional services, e-commerce, software and IT (with retail e-commerce getting stronger by the day). Most search engines will also allow the advertiser to buy an ad/listing by geography, as well as by key word. The sign-up process is relatively simple. Advertisers can go online to the search engine site and follow step-by-step prompts on the sign-up menu. Or, they can pay an additional charge and be talked through the process by phone.

Why does it work?

As Hursh notes, search advertising works because it's searcher controlled, e.g. the searcher is proactively requesting information. From the advertiser's perspective, there's no need to generate interest - the prospect is already in "action-mode." And the advertiser only pays when the prospect responds (clicks). In addition, most paid listings don't look like an ad. They closely resemble the natural result of an online search with a title, description and URL. And, even though the ads are highlighted as a sponsored listing, most searchers don't realize that they're encountering a paid advertisement. Nor do they care, as long as the information is relevant.

Daum sees the unique benefit of search advertising as an environment "with limited current penetration, but great opportunity." Hursh is equally supportive. For her, Internet search is micro rather than mass marketing with exceptional marketing ROI. But, she poses the question, what do you want searchers to do when they find you? Answers Hursh, "Make them do something - buy, read, trial, sign up for a newsletter, etc."

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