The Magic of Seeing Your Search Ad

As more small businesses migrate their marketing dollars online, local ad sales people increasingly face the same question from small business prospects: Where will I be able to see my ad?

There’s truly something special about a business owner seeing his own ad in a familiar place. For him, the moment can be magical.

So why is it customer support reps find themselves answering the same question every day: why can’t I see the ad I bought?

Are small business owners expecting too much? Are we oversimplifying the sales pitch and omitting critical information? A closer look into this matter provides important perspective on the current state of local search. The implications are far-reaching for everyone involved.

Though small businesses are the backbone of the local search marketplace, selling them complex PPC (define) advertising is challenging. With thousands of salespeople, the largest aggregators of small business accounts, including the major Yellow Pages, have extended their reach beyond their core Internet Yellow Pages (IYP) products to create a simplified PPC sales model: guaranteed clicks.

IYPs know simple sells. Guaranteed click packages enable businesses to purchase a predefined number of clicks at a predetermined price, creating a straightforward product that’s easy for customers to comprehend and thereby more easily sold. Today, all major IYPs and most of the larger aggregators of small business accounts sell guaranteed click advertising on Yahoo and Google.

The search engine/IYP relationship is one of convenience and necessity. From it, IYPs can sell the leading brands, increase ad distribution, and close more sales. Search engines get a cheap sales force and the associated ad revenue. This mutually beneficial relationship works extremely well through the point of the sale.

Enter fulfillment.

Guaranteed click package fulfillment isn’t done by the IYPs themselves. Instead, it’s handed off to a small number of well-known-to-us, little-known-to-the-public fulfillment providers.

Guaranteed click fulfillment providers must position a structured, constant click package on volatile Google and Yahoo PPC platforms, where both bidding and search volume are in constant flux. Such an environment isn’t well suited for advertising products based on predictability and stability.

Ironically, these fulfillment difficulties have resulted in financial opportunity. Serving low-budget small business ads effectively on Google and Yahoo has become harder; it’s also become less profitable. So all major guaranteed click providers utilize PPC distribution networks for guaranteed clicks that extend far beyond familiar SERPs (define).

Through these PPC distribution networks, the IYPs and other guaranteed click providers often serve considerable portions of the clicks purchased by small businesses. In doing so, low-budget, fixed-click ad-serving difficulties are alleviated from both margin control and budget utilization standpoints.

Fulfillment providers are able to negotiate very low fixed-click prices with these distribution networks. In some cases, they own the search properties themselves and therefore claim much of the click cost outright.

Many of these networks serve millions upon millions of clicks per month. Never mind that these networks are loose configurations of obscure search properties, numbering in the hundreds. In other words, never mind the quality of the clicks generated behind the veil of simplified Google and Yahoo products.

The consequences of serving small business ads through these distribution networks are likely to negatively affect customer retention in the short term and the rate of local search advertising adoption by small businesses in the long term.

Tens of thousands of small business advertisers will agree to guaranteed click packages. When they do, they’ll seek the ads they bought. They’ll hunt for their ads on Google. They’ll grow frustrated. They’ll wonder what they’re doing wrong.

Then, they’ll pick up the phone.

What happens next is played out every day in the world of small business search marketing.

“I can’t see the ad I bought anywhere,” they’ll tell the customer service rep. He’ll reply, “Well, you’re getting the clicks.”

Maybe seeing your ad on the Internet is magic after all.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

Phil is off this week. Today’s column ran earlier on ClickZ.

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