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Introduction: Search—More than the New Yellow Pages

Introduction: Search—More than the New Yellow Pages

These days, chances are that it’s been quite awhile since you used the printed Yellow Pages when searching for a local business. If you are like most people in the USA (and globally for that matter), you have replaced the printed Yellow Pages with Google, Yahoo, MSN, or your favorite search engine. Perhaps you occasionally use an online Yellow Pages site. However, search engine use goes far beyond replacing the printed Yellow Pages, and consumers and business-to-business (B2B) purchasers use search engines to research travel options, make online or offline purchases at stores they already know and love, learn about news stories, entertainment, and stocks, and much more. Search engines have become a gateway to information, which makes them critically important to marketers and business owners. Being able to provide your product and services information to searchers at the appropriate time is clearly an opportunity for you to influence that searcher’s eventual purchase decision.

It’s no surprise therefore that search engine marketing (SEM), also known as paid search, is a powerful new advertising channel that simply did not exist just a decade ago. In 2007, marketers spent more than $12 billion on paid search advertising campaigns, and forecasters project that spending on search advertising will double by 2011 to more than $25 billion (Source: SEMPO’s 2007 State of Search Marketing survey).

Paid search engine advertising campaigns are made up of keywords that trigger text link listings at the top and down the right side of a search engine results page (SERP). Advertisers bid for position in those results, paying when a click occurs on their ads linking to their website. As you might expect, this performance-based advertising model is quite attractive. Unlike Yellow Pages advertising, which charges a fixed annual fee; or radio, TV, or print advertising, all priced at a variant of cost-per-thousand (CPM) impressions (those who are exposed to an ad); or direct mail advertising, where postage and printing costs are involved, search delivers potential customers on a per-click basis, which is one of the primary reasons that paid search was propelled to $12 billion in ten years.

Search advertising and the old-fashioned printed Yellow Pages share a common theme: people who are searching for information and are in a unique state of mind. Having entered their desires, needs, and wishes into a little search box, these searchers are giving the search engines (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Ask, and others) an unprecedented level of information. That information translates into advertising revenue, as the search engines auction off visibility in the search results to marketers. What marketer wouldn’t want to be in front of a potential customer an instant after he or she expressed a need or desire that matched with the product or service? In this respect, paid search advertising updates the longstanding model of the printed Yellow Pages, which engages potential customers at a very opportune point in time, yet provides marketers much greater control over searchers’ experience after they click your ad.

Business interest in SEM is strong, widespread, and growing, from search conferences such as SES (Search Engine Strategies) to Fortune 500 boardrooms to the entrepreneur down the street. The major search engines—Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft—are working hard to recruit marketers to join the roughly 800,000 businesses, organizations, and individuals now running paid search campaigns there. After all, millions of business owners use Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Ask to do their searches, and they understand the power of search firsthand. Some marketers choose to manage their search engine marketing campaigns themselves; others use their ad agencies or specialized SEM agencies.

Of course, it is to be expected that the search engines are banging the drum about the virtues of SEM, a practice and a discipline that should be understood by any entity that has an online business presence. But SEM is also an exceedingly complex field, and new marketers learning about SEM’s promise should be equally aware of the pitfalls—some not so obvious—that can trip up the unwary. The search engines (that naturally want as many marketers advertising as possible) don’t stress the pitfalls for fear of scaring people away, leaving many marketers to learn the hard way, either through inefficient budget allocations or through missed opportunities.

As a result of the buzz and the promise of search engine marketing success, marketers continue to flock to SEM. The search engines have made it easy—perhaps too easy—for anyone to log onto Google AdWords, Yahoo Search Marketing, or Microsoft AdCenter, pay $5 to open an account, and start buying keyword-targeted search engine traffic.

What is difficult, however, is designing and executing paid search campaigns that deliver consistent, sustainable results, and that is why I have written this book. It reflects the lessons I’ve learned from founding and running a paid search agency for more than 10 years, helping clients, both large and small, get the most out of SEM, and studying the problems that I’ve seen marketers run up against. Most importantly, this book provides many of the effective solutions for search-related marketing problems. My hope is that this body of knowledge can help you, whether you’re in charge of an SEM team at a major corporation, at an ad agency whose clients are increasingly asking you how to buy search media, or if you are using SEM for your own small or home-based business or consultancy.

The last edition of this book predates both the current Yahoo and Microsoft systems, and Google’s system was in its relative infancy at the time as well. The search engines make many changes to their systems, often several within a year. However, the significance of the changes has slowed dramatically, allowing this book to focus on the common best practices and areas that have solidified within the last several years as well as providing a foundation of knowledge that will apply to the newest changes to the offerings in paid search.

Be warned: This book will not be all things for all people. I have tried to cover many areas in a way that even absolute beginners will benefit, but if you are a neophyte to paid placement SEM, spend some time learning the basic mechanics of SEM by attending a conference or two or by diving into the major SEM-oriented websites and bulletin boards, such as ClickZ.com, SearchEngineWatch.com, and SearchEngineLand.com.

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