5 Pay Search Engines Tested

We focus on 8 Questions | Section 2 (Analysis)


At the end of the last section, we discussed the need to “carefully develop (and closely) monitor a deliberate strategy”. That is worthy advice, but it begs a single one-word question: How? How can we integrate Overture into an effective marketing strategy?

In SECTION 2 of this report, we move from data to analysis, from the theory to practical. Here is a distillation of more than six months of research:

How can you select the most effective terms for an Overture campaign?

Rob Cross is a search engine expert. He is also a research partner of MEC. We queried Rob, and relied heavily upon his expertise in developing an effective strategy. Rob was primarily responsible for the Roy White work and deserves to be recognized for his outstanding contribution.

  1. Think broad NOT deep – Eager marketers are often victims of a pervasive, viral mania: We call it Top Position Syndrome. Top Position Syndrome occurs when a delirious marketer spends an inordinate amount of money to prevent a competitor from seizing a coveted first ranking.
    1. The first position of a popular search term is often a horrific waste of money. Here is why:
      1. A. The top position can cost three to four times more per click than a careful marketer can truly afford to pay.
      2. B. The top position is often a more general term that yields a weaker conversion ratio.
    2. Which is better 3 terms at $1.82 per click or 50 terms at $0.25 per click? Think BROAD not DEEP. Purchase as many key words as possible.
    3. How do you find the right key words?
  2. Begin with your own web stats. Your log files should indicate which search terms are already being used to find your site. If you don’t have adequate stats, you might consider the hosted program offered by Webtrends. Webtrends reports which terms on which search engines, a given visitor used to find your site. The program is limited but it does offer useful data. Here is an example from the Journal’s Web Site: (*3)
Search Phrases From Google
1. Marketing Programs 5000
2. email capture 3506
3. List Builder 2100
4. marketing experiments 2008
5. Marketing Journal Free 1900
6. marketing on yahoo 987
7. losing email sign ups 358
  1. We also recommend that you install a search function on your site. It provides a genuine service to your visitors; it also provides a tool for discovering which terms are being searched within your site itself. If you don’t have a rich programming budget, you may want to consider this option. (click here)
  2. Use Overture’s key word suggestion tool. Type in every possible word variation and/or synonym for your product. The suggestion tool will help you by listing dozens of related terms. Overture buries the tool deep in their site. Here is a direct link. We recommend you bookmark it.
  3. Consider using misspellings, and alternate spellings as search terms.


    Last month, the term “payphones” received 4071 hits, while the term “pay phones” received 5602 hits. If a marketer bid on the first term, and not the second, he would achieve only half the potential traffic.

  4. Consider using the plural forms of your search terms.


    At the time of this writing, Overture considers “juicer” and “juicers” to be different terms. A thorough marketer would bid on all variations for both terms. For instance, a bid on the term “wheat grass juicer” should also include a bid on the terms: “wheatgrass juicer”, “wheatgrass juicers”, and “wheat grass juicers”

  5. Consider using these online tools to assist you in developing your search terms:

    COMPAREYOURCLICKS.COM – “CompareYourClicks.com ‘levels’ the playing field by letting advertisers instantly compare keyword prices at multiple pay-per-click search engines.”

    JIMTOOLS.COM – This site “searches the Overture search engine for your keyword, then retrieves the top search results and builds a table showing who has which spot and how much they are paying per click. Then it goes on to find as many other relevant keywords and builds a chart on each one.”

    WORDTRACKER.COM – “We compile a database of terms that people search for. You enter some keywords, and we tell you how often people search for them, and also tell you how many competing sites use those keywords.”

How do you determine the best price to bid for your key search terms?

  1. Target position three. Bid the lowest you can while still remaining in the top three listings for each keyword. Overture has partnerships with many of the other major search engines. These partnerships insure that the top three positions get the most exposure. Overture claims that Premium Listings (the top 3 positions) get more than two times the number of searches as Classic Listings (positions 4-240). This may be true, but it does not mean you need to vie for position one. There are two reasons:
    1. Aggressive bidding for the top position can spark aggressive competition and drive up the cost per bid up for all three positions.
    2. Some research indicates that shoppers do not buy from the first link they click. Studies indicate that the shopper shifts from a browse to a buy mode after reviewing the first two offerings. (*5)
  2. Don’t forget that lesser rankings (classic listings) are still valuable. They may yield less traffic, but it is quality traffic bought at a price you can afford. And there are ways of increasing a given term’s click-throughs… Here is one example:

    Include the search term in the title and description of your listing.

    According to Overture, “We did a recent study and found that listings that include the search term in both the title and description have a higher click-through rate (more than 50% higher on average) …It just goes to show you that including your search term in the title and description can really pay off. And, over 50% more click-throughs is just the average. We’ve seen click-through rates double, triple and even quadruple when advertisers switched from generic to search-term-specific titles and descriptions.”

  3. Don’t bid in round numbers. Bids often cluster at levels such as $0.10 or $0.25. Set your bids slightly higher.
  4. 4. Try to determine in advance how much you can afford to spend per click. In theory you can perform this calculation:

    The Most You Can Pay Per Click = Your Yield Per Click – ALL costs – A 25% Margin Of Error

    Though this formula sounds helpful, there are many times when you are unsure of your yield per click… You may not even know your conversion ratio. This can occur when you are starting a new business, launching a new product, or testing a new web page. In these cases, we generally set our maximum bid per click at $0.26.

  5. Carefully monitor your listings. Bids have a way of decreasing at month’s end and increasing again at the first. Often you can reduce a bid and still retain your position at months end. This fluctuation is caused mainly by advertisers on a fixed budget who drop off towards the end of the month.
  6. Consider hiring an expert. This work is tedious, and requires constant monitoring. Submitting to the pay search engines is a process not an event. It is a chess game, and you need to manage every detail. A true professional will not cost you money; they will make you money.

How can you increase the amount of money you can afford to pay for a given term?

Consider sharing the cost of your bid with a compatible partner company.

EXAMPLE: If your product was an ecommerce software package, you could partner with another company that offers a credit card processing package. All click-throughs could be driven to a special landing page that linked to the respective web sites. And when one partner made a sell, they could send out a thank you email that recommended the other partner’s offering.

Apart from the partnering concept, there are (only) three primary ways to make a search term more affordable:

  1. Decrease your product costs
  2. Increase your conversion ratio
  3. Increase the annual value of a customer

The first way is beyond the scope of our expertise. The third, requires a separate report. The second bears further examination.

How can you increase the conversion ratio of your Overture traffic?

  1. Focus on RELEVANCE. According to Overture, “Relevance means that the search term, search listing (titles and descriptions) and the content of your site all have to be relevant to one another. We define relevance as a site containing real, apparent content that specifically relates to its search terms.”

    When you pay by the click you don’t want traffic. You want QUALIFIED traffic. The higher the relevance, the higher the conversion ratio.

    EXAMPLE: Rob Cross relates this story:

    We worked with two cancer hospitals in Mexico. They were careful not to bid on the term “cancer”, because over 200,000 people search with this term every month and many of these people may not be potential patients. They are looking for information not treatment. We focused our bids on specific medical terms that were relevant to prospective patients (patients who might check into the hospital at a rate of $5000 per week). We chose terms such as these:

    • treatment for brain cancer
    • new treatment for fibromyalgia
    • treatment for fibromyalgia
    • brain cancer treatment
    • photoluminescence

    These terms were very focused and cost less than $0.12 per click.

  2. Create a custom landing page – One of the keys to effective marketing is SPECIFICITY. The more specific your offer, the greater your likely yield. If you find a term is particularly valuable, give it a customized landing page.
  3. Create a custom (one Page) web site – If a term is exceptionally “hot”, build a domain name around that term. You will get more click-throughs, and you will often score higher in the traditional search engines.

    Lace this one page website with key terms, and useful information, then link the product graphic back to your main store.

    Most emerchants, start with a business and then look for relevant search terms with which to promote their business. At MEC, we prefer to start with high opportunity search terms and then look for reliable suppliers to meet the existing demand.

    The Internet is RICH with digital promise. Most of us are failing to leverage its primary advantage. Never in the history of commerce, has it been so easy to trace the thinking process of a buyer. The more we learn, the easier it is to build a viable value proposition.

    In the case of Roy White, our Overture work has helped us identify two completely new business opportunities. We are building two new websites, and we will probably see Roy’s revenue dramatically increase, yet again.

  4. Include the search term in the headline of your landing page. This speaks directly to the question in your visitor’s mind, and it draws them into your offering.
  5. Review your landing page (and or your site) with MEC’s 16-point Site diagnostic. This 50-page diagnostic has helped consultants and merchants all over the Net dramatically increase their yield per visit.

    PART 1

    PART 2

    You can also request help from the research staff at the Lab. Sometimes we work with other Merchant’s like Roy White. To find out more, visit here.

  6. Create an aggressive (permission based) email capture program. It makes no sense to pay for the same click-through twice, yet that is what most Overture advertisers are doing. If you can capture the email address of your visitors you can continue to market to them after their initial visit. This can dramatically reduce your campaign cost and increase your (long-term) conversion ratio.

    To read more about this option click here.


So how well does all of this really work? Here is an example of this methodology applied to a website that sells office supplies. The most that this group can afford to pay per click, is $0.39.

The top three terms are priced as follows:

Terms In Price Range PPC Hits Cost
office supplies $1.92 63,639 $122,186.88
business supply $0.63 2,051 $1,292.13
online office supply $0.62 720 $446.40
Average Price Per Click $1.87
Total Hits Per Month 66,410
Conversion Ratio 0.02
Average Rev Per Sale $75
Total Revenue $99,615
Total Rev Per Click $1.50
Ave Gain (Loss) Per Click -$0.37
Total Gain (Loss) -$24,310

What you need to UNDERSTAND: If our group purchased these terms, they could lose more than $24,000. (*6)

If the group were to focus broad and not deep, they might select (at least) these 42 terms.

Terms In Price Range PPC Hits Cost
medical office supply $0.39 1,223 $476.97
office supply and equipment $0.39 148 $57.72
home office supplies $0.31 1,101 $341.31
reliable office supply $0.28 1,546 $432.88
office supply discount $0.28 102 $28.56
wholesale office supply $0.27 991 $267.57
office supply paper $0.20 104 $20.80
office equipment supply $0.19 108 $20.52
cheap office supply $0.18 480 $86.40
legal office supply $0.18 323 $58.14
office paper supply $0.18 66 $11.88
law office supply $0.17 213 $36.21
office supply company $0.16 734 $117.44
global office supply $0.16 456 $72.96
office supply distributor $0.15 351 $52.65
office supply coupon $0.11 130 $14.30
office and school supply $0.09 67 $6.03
bulk office supply $0.08 121 $9.68
office supply wholesale $0.06 455 $27.30
corporate express office supply $0.06 164 $9.84
doctor office supply $0.06 154 $9.24
used office supply $0.05 246 $12.30
action office supply $0.05 175 $8.75
office supply business $0.05 127 $6.35
office supply vendor $0.05 94 $4.70
service office supply $0.05 68 $3.40
general office supply $0.05 64 $3.20
office supply chair $0.05 184 $9.20
office supply office furniture online $0.05 170 $8.50
free office supply $0.05 301 $15.05
village office supply $0.05 250 $12.50
save on office supply $0.05 235 $11.75
gb office supply $0.05 150 $7.50
office supply inkjet $0.05 144 $7.20
royal office supply $0.05 140 $7.00
online office supply and stationary $0.05 110 $5.50
office supply printer $0.05 97 $4.85
office supply manufacturer $0.05 92 $4.60
stationary office supply $0.05 85 $4.25
office supply ink $0.05 82 $4.10
office supply and solution $0.05 73 $3.65
basics office supply $0.05 65 $3.25
standard office supply $0.05 57 $2.85
Average Price Per Click $0.19
Total Hits Per Month 12,046
Conversion Ratio 0.02
Average Rev Per Sale $75.00
Total Revenue $18,069.00
Total Rev Per Click $1.50
Ave Gain (Loss) Per Click $1.31
Total Gain (Loss) $15,760.15

What you need to UNDERSTAND: If our group purchased these terms, they would gain more than $15,000.

Here are a few more observations regarding this example:

  1. We used only 42 terms in CAMPAIGN B, but we can identify another 400. And if this website submitted all of its product names, we could multiply our listings to more than 10,000 terms. This would dramatically impact total sales.
  2. It is likely that CAMPAIGN B, with its very specific terms, especially if they were expanded to include product names, would yield a higher conversion ratio than CAMPAIGN A.
  3. If we could increase the conversion ratio for CAMPAIGN A to 3%, the gain would change from -$24,000 to +$25,000.
  4. If CAMPAIGN A, could capture 5% of it’s visitor’s email addresses, and if within 6 months of subsequent mailings, it achieved a 2.5% conversion ratio from those same addresses, it could generate an additional $6000 in income.
  5. If CAMPAIGN A, could sell a second ancillary product to its new customers, and if that product were valued at $35, CAMPAIGN A could generate an additional $46,487 from its Overture listings. This second stage revenue would not involve any new marketing costs.

Insider Secrets – Finding Affluent Clients Online

305 PPC engines listed plus reviews of many of them

Danny Sullivan awards 2001 best PPC search

Google competes with Overture (Goto)

Lawsuit may affect how paid search engines operate

The evolution of paid inclusion

Studying Pay-for-Position Campaign Results

Pay-for-Position Traffic Gets Hot

Coping with Fraudulent Pay-Per-Click Traffic

LookSmart Changes To Cost-Per-Click Listings

Submitting Via Paid Listings: Overture, FindWhat, Google & LookSmart

Google Takes On Overture With Pay Per Click Ads

What’s the Difference Between Paid Placement and Paid Inclusion?

Overview of Pay for Placement

Pay Per Click Search Engine Reviews

Basic guide to PPC

Guide to PPC SEs

PPC SE Strategies

PPC Bid Management Software

Marketing via PPC Search Engines

Paying for Inclusion in Directories and Search Engines

(*1) The source for these stats can be found here.

(*2) There are several variables that affect the accuracy of a PSE experiments. Paul Bruemmer list the following:

  • Suitability of the web site and its offering on the Internet
  • Functionality of the web site and ease of navigation
  • Popularity of the industry sector or niche audience
  • Brand and value of the offering, competition, or industry saturation
  • Tracking and ability to document ROI
  • Pay-per-position engine(s) and key phrases used
  • Time of year (if seasonal), time of month, or time of day
  • Comparisons with non-pay-per-position engines and directories

(*3) This is a sample only; it does not accurately reflect the current numbers…

(*4) There are several different versions of WebTrends, some that are hosted on your server, some that are resident on your server.

(*5) This is not primary research being conducted by MEC; we are quoting another source referenced by Rob Cross.

(*6) This assumes that these particular positions capture 100% of the traffic. In actual execution, they would not, but the ratios should remain the same.

::Back to Section 1::

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