AdWords and Other Marketing Opportunities That Search Engines Offer
by Linda Carlson
For most publishers, an online presence is a key component in the marketing program. Besides developing a Web site of your own, and getting it visible on search engine listings, there are many other opportunities for online promotion. And, believe it or not, some require only time and savvy.
This article looks at search engines and how we can use them to our advantage. In an upcoming issue, we’ll explore opportunities that exist with online retailers and on social-networking sites.
When many of us think of Google, we think first of AdWords, which lets you pay to have a “sponsored” link to your Web site appear whenever someone searches for one of the terms you’ve specified. Because Google charges for every click to a Web site, and because records of those clicks are not available to advertisers, the company has been accused of charging for more site visits than actually occurred. And because clicks don’t necessarily turn into immediate purchases, or into purchases at the sponsoring company’s Web site, it’s hard to determine the value of AdWords.
Other concerns about cost expressed by IBPA members include cost per click, which is based on whatever you have bid for the search term that brings someone to your site, and rises as demand for that word or phrase increases. For example, when I typed my own site’s URL into Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool, it suggested that I bid at least $5.98 per click to have my link in one of the top three positions whenever anyone searched for motivational speaker. It estimated that my link would be lower, perhaps only sixth, if I bid 77 cents.
Another issue: Although every Web site offering pay-per-click programs promises that advertisers can limit their daily costs, many businesses report that the budget they have specified is routinely exceeded.
Something else to remember: As Robert Hall of Micron Press points out, AdWords, unlike much traditional advertising, does not build awareness: “AdWords are to be targeted as closely as possible to customers who are already searching for your product.”
Hall identifies two other challenges with AdWords that are significant, especially for small publishers: setup and maintenance. “Learning to set up the campaigns took me a couple days,” he says. “Plus you have to write ads within AdWords’ tight guidelines, which for me approximates the pain of two dental exams and a billing dispute.” Then, he continues, publishers must select keywords to link to—the words that you expect potential customers to be searching with.
Different factors are involved, Hall points out, “including Impressions, how many times your ad is shown, and Clicks, how many people click your ad to reach your Web site or another landing page. Sometimes you pay per impression, and other times only for each click.”
At press time for this issue, Hall reported that his AdWords campaign had generated about 870,000 Impressions, which resulted in 110 Clicks and 21 “conversions,” or probable sales, for a direct cost of about $60. Worth it? Maybe, he says, because the AdWords campaign is covering its cost (exclusive of his labor) while giving his book “screen time.” And, because his Boston-area company’s current book, Eclipsed by the Shadow, is the first of a planned trilogy by John Royce, Hall is willing to invest time in the continual tweaking that AdWords requires.
In Mobile, AL, Terry Rivers is also positive about AdWords. He limited his cost per month to $100, and that expenditure is bringing Pirate Island Press six to eight leads daily, with several sales.
Bryan Rosner, at BioMed Publishing Group in South Lake Tahoe, CA, estimates he’s doing a little better than breakeven with AdWords. Each Web sale costs him about $30 in AdWords advertising, and his margin per book is $30.
“It’s important to utilize Google’s conversion-tracking feature so you know where you stand,” he points out. “It only tracks for Web orders, so considering phone orders, I believe I am doing slightly better than the statistics indicate.”
By contrast, other publishers report few clicks and even fewer sales. Richard Lingensio in Laguna Beach, CA, reports that he spent $190 on 100 keywords to generate 230 hits to his Web page at Atlas Books over a two-month period—and he could track only two sales. Although he can cite several favorable reviews, and explains that his Construction Budget Management covers material that contractors must read, his sales through Amazon.com have also been poor.
Lingensio’s comments and those of disenchanted publishers are a reminder that online is not the best marketplace for every book, and that the Web page that prospects click through to must do a good job of selling. As Barbara Groak at Iris Audio/WordUp Communications in Mount Laurel, NJ, says, “I suspended both AdWords and the Yahoo sponsored search, but the fault may be with my Web site, not with the search programs. Also, my particular product—religious content—may not work with these programs.”
Anita Boser, at the Seattle-area Vital Self, Inc., agrees. “My books on spinal health have a broad audience, so the searches pull many people who have a different objective. If I had books that appealed to a very specific audience, this tool would be a better investment.”
The Keyword Tool for AdWords can provide valuable information about the words you should be using in your Web-site text. “Affordable and effective market research,” Richard Hall calls it. Even if you don’t want to use AdWords, set a low budget figure in the “calculate estimates” box, and let Google look for the search terms offering a high position and a low cost for your link. That tells you which terms in your Web site are less likely to be searched. What you want in the text of your Web site are the words that are most often searched.
In another test of AdWords as method of refining Web-site content, I typed in the names of towns covered in my latest book instead of asking Google to select search terms. A top-linked position for several of them could be purchased for as little as five cents a click, which indicates they are seldom searched for and thus not generally valuable as Web-site content.
When you go to Google Maps and type in business names, have you noticed the descriptive text and possibly coupon offers? If you have a business address, even a post office box, you can add these for your books or services—absolutely free. Although coupon text is limited, you can add images such as book covers, and codes are automatic, so it’s easy to track results. Remember, however, that this extra text and the link to coupons show up only when someone searches using Google Maps.
Google search options include Web, Images, Maps, and more. At the right end of the search list, where it says More, you can access a pull-down menu, and you’ll see Books (books.google.com). Scroll down the Book page and choose Information for Publishers. As the next page explains, Book Search allows publishers and authors to submit their books for inclusion in Google’s search results. Each Google Book Search result will display the book’s title and author, a short excerpt containing highlighted search terms, and the excerpt’s page number. Publications that cite that title will also be listed.
Click on any of the results, and you’ll reach a page with a large image of the book cover, and whatever preview the publisher has authorized. Even books for which no preview is authorized can be displayed in Book Search, and printing and copying functions are disabled, so no one can print out any displayed material.
This page also includes a short list of retailers offering the book. If you sell books directly from your own site, your site receives top billing, appearing first in the list of Buy this Book links (above Amazon).
To participate in Google’s Book Search, you must submit sample copies or PDFs of each book you want included. You must also agree that Google can place ads on your Book Search page. Selected by Google, these relate in some way to the content of your book, and they do generate income for you when visitors click on the ads. Many topics do not attract a clutter of advertising. For example, on the Book Search page for my Company Towns of the Pacific Northwest, the one ad that appeared recently was for Pacific Northwest maps.
“Exposure is key to a book’s success, especially for us small publishers with limited budgets,” says Penny D. Weigand, an attorney and the CEO at Bellissima Publishing in Jamul, CA, who was initially concerned about people reading her books free on Book Search.
Two other publishers point out that Google’s Book Search, like Amazon.com’s Search Inside program, increases visibility through other search engines as spiders find the books’ content.
“We extend this potential for visibility by putting sample chapters on our Web sites so they can get picked up by other search engines,” said Kevin Aguanno, managing editor at Multi-Media Publications in Oshawa, Ontario.
Kathie-Jo Arnoff, publications director and managing editor at Indianapolis’s Kappa Delta Pi Record, said increasing hits to her Web site was a high priority because of the more limited space on Amazon.com: “I wanted to be able to offer TOCs, sample pages, etc.”
Still other IBPA members see Book Search and Search Inside as basic promotional tools. “A no-brainer,” declares Emilio Corsetti of Lake St. Louis, MO. “There’s no excuse for not taking advantage of this opportunity. It gives people interested in buying the book the ability to browse through it just as they could if they were in a bookstore.”
At Tyde House Books in Redwood City, CA, sales that can be tracked directly to Book Search aren’t high, but the percentage of sales from people browsing online is. In several months, general manager Jonathan Wilcox reports, Book Search resulted in 68 visits with 58 pages viewed and eight clicks to the shopping cart. That means at least 12 percent of the people who browsed his book bought it.
Publishers with reference books are less enthusiastic about such programs. As John Schmid, president of the Winfield, IL–based Project Roar Publishing, explains, “I took a pass for several reasons. First, my books are guides for collectors of model trains. Many individuals are looking for a value of just the one train they have. If I put these books online, people will find the relevant page, get the info, and never make a purchase. At least if they go to the library, it has already purchased the book.”
Schmid has other reasons, too. “Call me paranoid, but to take advantage of these programs, you must allow Google or Amazon to scan the entire book, and they control what pages are displayed. Also, if the scanning is not the best quality, your book is not presented well. I’d gladly take advantage of these programs if they standardized what pages to send (e.g., front matter including TOC, some sample pages, and maybe some index pages) and a high-quality PDF or image.”
Yahoo Search Engine Marketing is the program on Yahoo.com and AltaVista.com that’s similar to AdWords. It also allows you to see how frequently a Yahoo user might search for your terms. I typed in company town histories, and from the automated estimator, I learned that phrase might be entered in Yahoo’s search engine only 47 times per month, and that it was unlikely my sponsored link would ever be clicked.
Because of congressional scrutiny, Yahoo agreed in August to allow visitors to its sites to opt out of receiving customized advertising by late 2008. How this may affect the reach of Search Engine Marketing (and thus its value to advertisers like publishers) will obviously not be known for at least several months.
At this writing, Yahoo advertisers can add Web beacons to their sites to let Yahoo collect anonymous information from visitors via cookies. The data collected are used to create aggregate reports for advertisers. For example, Yahoo can report to an advertiser that X percent of the visitors to its Web site had previously viewed an advertisement of its site, and that Y percent of those visitors also successfully completed a registration or a purchase during that same visit.
Other Search Engine Programs
Microsoft’s comparable program is now called adCenter. It also has a cost-per-click program (see Live.com) that has to do with ads, rather than sponsored listings.
Along with word and character requirements, Microsoft’s Live Search program has several restrictions. The URL your ad displays must be the actual destination URL or a shortened version of it, such as your home page. The URL in the ad cannot connect to an email address or a file. The landing page must not generate pop-up ads, and the landing page must have a Back button that allows site visitors to return to Microsoft’s Live Search results page.
Microsoft also sells content ads, similar to print display advertising, on such high-traffic, Microsoft-owned editorial pages as MSN Money, MSN Entertainment, Hotmail, and Fox Sports. Ads can also be placed on “partner” sites such as CNBC, Digg, and Facebook.
Ask.com’s answer to AdWords is Ask Sponsored Listings, which may appear on any of the sites Ask.com owns, including Excite.com, Mamma.com, and Lycos.com. Buying Ask Sponsored Listings does not guarantee that your ad will appear on any given search engine—or that it will appear at all.
Linda Carlson (lindacarlson.com) writes for the Independent from Seattle, where she is beginning her third term on the Humanities Washington Inquiring Mind speakers bureau.
Insight into Searchers
“Data collected since 2002 show that men who use the internet have consistently been more likely than women to integrate search into their daily lives. The percentage of online men who search on a typical day has risen steadily from 33% in 2002 to 53% currently. The percentage of women has also risen, increasing from 25% in 2002 to 45%.
“Data from past surveys also suggest that men have been more engaged with search in general. Online men say they have searched more frequently; they have expressed greater confidence in their search abilities (although women have reported being equally successful in getting satisfying search results).”
—from a Pew Internet & American Life Project Data Memo on Search Engine Use, August 2008