Search Engine Portals Tick Me Off

If you’ve been in the business of online media buying for any length of time, you know that keyword buys are among the most targeted and can produce some of the highest click rates in your online campaign. Some K2 banners triggered by specific keywords have sustained click rates upwards of 20 percent.

The concept is simple. If you’re selling widgets online and you buy the keyword “widget” across the major search engines, you’re going to capture the eyeballs of plenty of folks who are looking to buy widgets. You’ve got them in the proper content and in the proper mindset, which is the golden combination for those who want to sell product online.

Up until recently, keyword buys were a fairly simple thing. You simply called your friendly neighborhood salesperson and asked them to check into available inventory under the keywords you were interested in. The salesperson would check the available inventory and make an educated guess as to how many impressions would fall under that keyword in the coming month, and you would make your buy based on those projections.

It distresses me greatly to report that it’s just not that simple anymore. Evidently, some of the major search engines have adopted new policies that require the purchase of untargeted inventory (usually run of site) along with any keyword packages that you might purchase.

Excuse me, but does this seem counterproductive to anyone else? Here I am, trying to purchase targeted inventory on behalf of my clients, and my friendly neighborhood sales rep is trying to make me buy untargeted stuff that I don’t want. What do you think will happen?

First, clients are going to compare click rates and back-end sales to the results that the search engine was achieving before the new policy went into effect. Of course, those rates will be lower now that my widget banners are showing up under keywords like “hockey” and “Quaalude.” Next, the media planner will compare performance to that of another search engine that doesn’t have a similar policy. Obviously, the performance metrics will be like night and day.

Soon thereafter, the media planner will make the not-so-tough decision to cut the search engine with the untargeted inventory from the buy, due to underperformance. Now, instead of the agency and client being happy with a nice, efficient campaign, the money is being pulled and reallocated somewhere else.

The point is that clients are not necessarily happy with having to buy untargeted inventory along with their keyword buys. Some of my clients purchase keywords exclusively, opting for a low out-of-pocket plan that delivers very targeted eyeballs to their sites. If these particular clients were to be forced into buying ROS inventory from all of the search engines, the efficiency of their media plans will drop like bricks, and it might change their views on Internet advertising as a whole. Let’s just thank the powers that be that only a couple of search engines have adopted this policy (so far).

So, the question remains What should the search engines do with their untargeted inventory? I think when it comes to keywords, one company’s trash is another’s treasure. Don’t force me to buy the word “hockey” if I’m selling widgets. Sell it to the NHL. They’ll pay a higher CPM for it, and they’ll definitely get more mileage out of it.

Let’s get the message out. This isn’t broadcast television. Environment and mindset matter on the Internet. Recommend that your clients refuse to buy untargeted inventory along with their keywords. If the right people get the message, maybe they’ll wake up to the fact that this is a targeted medium.

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