Paid search is expensive traffic, so sometimes you have to look to Web properties a click or two away from the original SERP.
As a search engine marketer, you've already proved that the best clicks you can get are search clicks directly from the search engines. However, you've likely got an inventory shortage on clicks from your favorite sources: Google, Yahoo, and Bing (with Bing and Yahoo destined to cease having as much differentiation come the fall of 2010). Your inventory shortage can be driven by a variety of factors.
An often overlooked source of traffic of nearly identical quality to the clicks derived directly from the search engines (some would postulate even better quality in some cases) are clicks once-removed from the search engines. This means that clicks are coming from sites that get their traffic from the search engines as a result of organic (and/or paid) clicks.
Depending on your industry sector, you may want to consider where "your traffic" is going that you might be able to buy it second-hand. To determine whether or not some of the sites and site categories listed below get a significant percentage of their traffic from organic (or paid) search, one can use free tools in conjunction to make estimated guesses. These tools include: Compete.com, Quantcast.com, and Alexa.com. Some tools have paid versions that provide more detail, or you can consider the pure paid services like comScore, Hitwise, AdGooroo, SpyFu, Keyword Spy, and others. Alternatively, you can sometimes contact the site if they have a sales force.
Comparison Shopping Engines (CSEs)
Some CSEs do very well in organic search results and may or may not be buying paid search as well. While they tend to be product-driven (not necessarily keyword driven), you can often buy traffic from these sites, if not directly, through Google's managed placements site targeting.
General-purpose search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and the various Microsoft properties including Bing are "horizontal" in the sense that they provide something for everybody, whether they're researching Beethoven's sonatas or shopping for a replacement air conditioner. Vertical search engines are focused narrowly on a particular topic or serve a specific industry, allowing users to dive more deeply into a given topic and to be assured of results that are on topic within that niche.
You may have noticed within your industry segment, that for a great number of critically important keywords and phrases, vertical search engines or directories (not your competition) are dominating the results. This begs the question of whether you, as a marketer or business owner, should participate in the advertising, listing, or lead generation services provided by these vertical search engines or directories. Many vertical search engines rely on Google AdSense as one of their revenue streams, and therefore may be listed in the site-targeting section of Google's "Managed Placements" content or display ads.
General Directories and Internet Yellow Pages
From Yelp, Citysearch, and YellowPages.com (for consumers) to PowerProfiles.com, Manta, Hoovers.com, Business.com, and MerchantCircle.com, there are many general directory sites that present information that search engines feel is great for consumers. So guess what: they get a lot of traffic.
Other Contextual Networks
While Google's AdSense ad network is huge, some publishers use LookSmart, AdBrite, Advertise.com, ContextWeb's ADSDAQ, or even larger CSEs to power their ads. One reason to check out the second-tier contextual ad networks is because they may actually have sites that get a bunch of second-hand search clicks within their networks. If the ratio of search clicks vs. other traffic sources is right, these contextual networks might work for you, at the right price.
Paid search is expensive traffic, so we sometimes have to look to Web properties a click (or two) away from the original SERP (define). Another way to capture these clicks can be search retargeting using display ads. However, make sure that you factor in recency. The recency of the search behavior may dramatically change the success of the display ad.
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