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Paid Search Strategies for the Holidays

Retailers have rediscovered paid search this holiday season.  Compared to 2010, companies dedicated significantly more budget to paid search leading up to Black Friday 2011, according to Performics. As the tallies for that weekend add up, it is clear that paid search provided retailers a boost.

Performics found that the aggregate group of its retailer clients spent 88% more on paid search, with paid search clicks up 43%. This was not a standalone result: previous weeks in October saw an increase of between 46-73% for paid search and 31-47% for paid search clicks, as compared to the same week the previous year.

Not surprisingly, this increased competition for market share has led to higher cost-per-clicks, with the highest increase (32%) compared to the same week in 2010 being reported for the week of 10/30-11/5.

How Paid Search Pays Off

Still, these increased costs can prove to be worthwhile, especially this holiday season, as consumers exhibit spending behavior not seen in a couple of years. That is not to say that consumers are buying without researching products first: increasingly–for certain categories of products at least–they are going online to find the best bargains. As they do, paid search can play a significant role.

When shopping for personal electronics, consumers are more likely to visit a company’s website for ideas (50%) or go to a search engine (49%) than look at store flyers (45%) or ask for recommendations from friends and family (32%), according to a Harris Interactive survey. They are also most likely to do their home electronics/entertainment research via a search engine (50%), slightly ahead of store flyers (44%).

They do tend to rely on store flyers more than search, however, for other categories of products, including toys, clothing and jewelry, the survey found. The good news for retailers is that paid search can move the needle in both scenarios—that is, it can influence those consumers going online to research electronic goods as well as those consumers that turn to others avenues of research and then go on to search.

Specific Product Terms

For the former category, traditional paid search techniques are best suited. The latter category –and the one in which retailers are most likely to target on the fly as last-minute buying trends become apparent–can also be reached by paid search. That is because even if a shopper uses other information to research a, say, toy, that person will still use search for some kind of data gathering–at the very least, to find where it is sold in a local store.

If you use very specific terms at this point, paid search can still find the consumer, research from Marin Software shows. This holiday season, it has found that consumers are searching on very specific product terms, such as names or SKUs. For example, instead of searching for "toys for 5-year old boys", consumers search for "Chutes and Ladders Super Hero Squad."

To capture these searches, companies are incorporating more exact match keywords in their search marketing campaigns.  Marin comes this conclusion after analyzing the following stats after the Thanksgiving Day long weekend.

It found that there was a:

  • 30% increase in paid search impressions;
  • 118% increase in paid search clicks;
  • 44% increase in paid search spend;
  • 68% increase in click-through rates;
  • 34% decrease in cost-per-click.

"The dramatic increase in clicks and click-through rate compared to the more moderate increases in impressions suggest a significant change in consumer behavior," it says in a blog post.

"Either advertisers have managed to make their ads more relevant and appealing, or the search engines have come a long way in improving their matching algorithms. Most likely, it's a little bit of both."

This shift in match types would also explain why click volumes rose faster than spend, resulting in lower costs-per-click for search marketers, Marin said.

How to Target Last Minute Buying Trends with Paid Search

Don't overthink and don't hesitate. Companies tend to miss out on trending subjects with their paid search strategies, as recent events suggest.  The Occupy Wall Street movement gained global acknowledgement. Yet, Search Engine Watch writes, few publishers who were in a position to deliver OWS content actually did so and missed out on a significant marketing opportunity.

It pointed to comScore Search Planner data that found that few publishers used paid search in this manner, despite the fact that search associated with Occupy Wall Street eventually culminated in 1.6 million search click-throughs–more than 99% of which occurred on organic search links.

Don't forget layaway and gift cards for your brand. Searches in both categories are heating up, Google reports.

Stay focused on the projected top sales days still to come. Valerie Davis, senior director, Client Services at PM Digital offers this tip to MarketingVOX readers. Such "top sales days" are increasing in number. This year "Green Monday"–which falls on December 12–is expected to be a busy one, according to comScore.

"The most recent week of the online holiday shopping season saw growth rates remain in line with the season-to-date at 15% and three individual spending days eclipse the $1 billion threshold," said comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni. "These highlights represent another very positive sign for the holiday shopping season, as the week following 'Cyber Week' often experiences relative softness in spending momentum due to retailers pulling back on their promotional activity."

The term "Green Monday" was coined by eBay in 2007 to describe the Monday occurring around the second week of December, which has tended to be the heaviest (or among the heaviest) online spending days of the year, comScore explains.

Over the past six holiday shopping seasons, "Green Monday" has consistently ranked among the top spending days of the season, ending the year as the top-ranked spending day twice (2005 and 2007) and the second-ranked spending day three times (2006, 2008 and 2010).

Take advantage of all features in search that improve your on page SOV, Davis also advises. These include sitelinks, product extensions and PLAs.

Focus on mobile search. Mobile paid search will make up 25.4% of all clicks (desktop + mobile) in December 2011, according to Performics.

Data from the analysis indicates that mobile was 12.7% of all Google impressions (desktop + mobile) and 15.3% of all clicks (excluding content and search partners) in October, while in December, mobile is expected to represent 20.1% of all impressions.

Consider venues outside of Google and Bing. Ads on StumbleUpon or Reddit, B2B Bloggers notes, can be quite cheap–StumbleUpon charges $.05 a click for its paid traffic service.

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