Text Link Ads — With a Dash of Content

I surfed the Net just before Thanksgiving, looking for recipes for the upcoming feast. As usual, I found myself at Epicurious. I’ve discovered many a dish on this site and am familiar with recipe search engine protocol.

This time, when I typed in “mashed potatoes,” I noticed something new. In addition to the list of relevant recipes from the site’s vast database, I got two highlighted keyword text links. Instead of typical titles like “Looking for (insert noun)? Click here,” they read: “Savory Mashed Sweet Potatoes by McCormick” and “Garlic Mashed Potatoes by Kraft.” The links were certainly in line with what I was searching for and the recipes sounded enticing. The media buyer in me was intrigued. I’m always on the lookout for clever new approaches to online advertising. This placement certainly qualifies.

The idea of keyword text links isn’t new, nor particularly revolutionary. Common sense dictates getting in front of consumers while they’re in “search mode,” or actively seeking information about a product or service. This prompts response and produces results. The ads on Epicurious take this a step further. The links sponsored by McCormick and Kraft on Epicurious’s search result page boast something most keyword text link ads don’t: content.

Instead of linking to product information pages and going for the hard sell, as many advertisers are inclined to do, these companies cleverly chose to inoffensively blend their brands and products with an established, respected site. By integrating their own recipes into a site attracting avid cooks and homemakers, they drive qualified traffic to their own sites while boosting online branding, all without misleading users or risking damage to their image. Users get a recipe — exactly what they’re promised.

Epicurious’s introduction of such placements demonstrates that online publishers better understand their users. This is reassuring for advertisers. Unlike other media, such as TV or radio, we’ve long known the Web attracts a task-driven audience. Users are online with a purpose. According to a recent Jupiter Research (a unit of ClickZ’s parent corporation) report, research of products and services is the third most popular online activity (email and search engines occupy the top two spots), engaging a notable 63 percent of users.

This explains the popularity of keyword banners and standard keyword text links. Advertisers take advantage of this trend by increasing their exposure on shopping portals and search results pages. These placements alone aren’t always enough. When you’re hawking a product such as spices or cream cheese — hardly goods that require extensive research before purchase — you’ve got to get a little more creative. If consumers won’t come to you, go to them. What better way to do that than providing them with added value in the form of recipes?

If you think this sort of placement might make sense for your company, follow these steps:

  1. If you don’t already have online content, develop it — and make it great. It will appear in association with tested recipes aimed at an audience of quality-conscious cooks. If you can’t deliver the excellence they expect, your brand’s reputation will suffer.
  2. The placements are sold on a CPM basis. The keywords you submit to the site must be as relevant as possible. A consumer isn’t likely to click on a link for Classic Pumpkin Pie when she searched for “pecan,” yet you’ll be charged for the impression if you chose “pie” as a keyword.
  3. Finally, offer additional tools to encourage users to stick around and interact with your site once they’re there. McCormick’s recipe pages feature the option of sending an email greeting card and a recipe link to a friend and receiving a recipe and product information newsletter. Features like these work to cement your brand in the minds of your consumers. Give them all this and they’re certain to respond. I sure did.

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