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By Allison R. Tucker

Convincing customers to buy what you have to offer at the right time and right place is one of the biggest challenges facing marketers. Paid search engines have turned the tables, making it much easier and more cost-effective for customers to find you.

Paying for performance on top positions and relevant keywords on Overture and Google (as well as broader reach through syndicated partners AOL, MSN, Yahoo, Lycos, etc.) is great testing grounds for direct marketers to leverage their skills to harness this powerful customer acquisition tool. With limited risk, the results of a well-executed paid search engine marketing strategy will yield higher click through rates and order conversion rates than most direct response initiatives.

Since shoppers donīt always turn to the search engines for everything they buy, you need to determine whether your product/service makes sense to buy specific keywords that will ultimately deliver results. Ask yourself these simple questions first:

1) Is the product/service you offer an "impulse" or "considered" purchase? "Considered purchases" like a "pedestal sink" or a "knee brace" work best since the shopper generally needs time to make that buying decision based on brand, price, convenience, better service, free shipping, faster fulfillment, bigger selection, hard-to-find, anonymity, or some other benefit to them. Determine which benefits will encourage shoppers to buy from you as opposed to your competition.

2) Are your competitors buying on Google and/or Overture? The more competition you have on your keywords, the more aggressive you may need to be. Conversely, if your competitors arenīt buying keywords, is it because your product/service isnīt right for the paid search engines or they havenīt discovered search engine marketing which creates a first-mover advantage for you?

3) Do you have a well-designed website that provides a convenient, professional, secure online shopping experience with easy navigation, good functionality in order to convert browsers to buyers? An inadequate website will turn shoppers away regardless of how much is spent on marketing to drive them there.

4) Do you understand the differences between the paid search engines and traditional "search engine optimization" (SEOs) services? To become more competitive usually buying top positions on relevant keywords usually is necessary or can augment an existing SEO campaign. However, many advertisers have been burned by the over-promises and under-delivery of the SEOs. Be careful, check references, and negotiate performance-based contracts, if appropriate, to prevent unpleasant surprises later on.
After resolving these questions, you are now ready to follow these steps and apply your direct marketing skills to launch a well executed paid search engine marketing strategy:

Step 1: Create and refine your keyword list. If you havenīt already discovered Overtureīs Term Suggestion Tool (http://www.overture.com/d/USm/adcenter/tools/index.jhtml), spend some time thinking of keywords that are related to your business. What keywords would a shopper search to find your products or service? Type in these keywords, and see other suggestions and evaluate the keywords based on relevancy and volume of searches.

More relevant keywords with lower volume searches like "Kohler pedestal sink" with 109 searches in September 2002 tend to be more specific and deliver a better-quality customer for a retailer selling high-end home furnishings than "pedestal sink" with over 3,400 searches. Remove keywords that have more than one meaning such as "St Thomas" (close to 26,000 searches) which is a destination as well as a bath product manufacturer and find more specific phrases such as "St Thomas sink" (143 searches).

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