Gift company buys itself some search automation

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Most Popular is a 3-year-old company that provides "experience gift-giving" opportunities. Consumers can go to the site, shop for and book different experiences: a cooking class or skydiving lessons, for instance.

Last year, between October and December, the Chicago-based company added a b-to-b component to its search marketing strategy, in order to take advantage of end-of-year corporate gift giving. The holiday season is a naturally busy time for giving gifts to customers and employees.

We bid on words like "corporate incentives," said Tony Soric, director of online marketing at

But because its gifts are more unusual than the classic crate of pears, Signature needed a way to get on the radar of corporate buyers—in that very specific time span. As a young company still building its brand reputation, that was a challenge.

"We're trying to draw corporations away from giving the traditional [gifts] and instead encourage them to try to provide a unique experience, like driving a NASCAR car," said Soric, who wears many hats in the company, and so also needed a way to automate much of the paid search campaign process.

"I manage the paid search and the organic [search]. I do the e-mail marketing as well for the newsletter; and I manage the affiliate program," Soric said.

Working with Clickable, New York-based a company that provides Web-based search marketing campaign management tools, was able to develop a mostly automated paid search process.

"We're buying keywords that relate directly to the products we sell, like 'cooking lessons in New York' or 'Chicago architectural tour,' " Soric said.

Some keywords are fairly expensive but can be well worth it, he added.

For example, Bidding on words like "corporate incentives enables Soric to drive leads to the corporate landing page as well as its home page. "It puts us in some of the conversations with corporations," he said.

Although Soric was doing search manually before Clickable came along last year, he said his search efforts are now more precise, scaleable and easier to manage; and they enable him to do aggressive bidding.

"Clickable has been good at identifying all the different levers that drive a campaign: the keywords, the ad copy, the click-through rates," Soric said.

"The response numbers/response rate numbers are crunched continuously, and that gives me the feedback I need to aggressively bid, rather than being conservative," he added.

Soric also has been freed up for other projects. "We're always looking for ways to streamline our processes and allow me to scale," he said. "It's almost like adding another person. Instead of having a data analyst going through the data and reporting back to me with the results, Clickable's tool does that for me."

Another advantage: All the components of his search marketing strategy are now in one place. previously, he needed to pull data from different sources and lay that out in Microsoft Corp.’s Excel.

"We're going into the season more confident about bidding on expensive keywords because we have the support that Clickable lends us through the features the tool provides," he said.

Conversion rates in the b-to-b program last holiday season were impressive. "As far as conversion rates go, I can say that around 40% to 50% of corporate visitors that filled out the corporate request form converted to sale last holiday season," Soric said.

Paid search has become the main revenue driver for the company, and spending on paid search has doubled compared with 2006. Soric is even taking monies away from offline and redirecting that online. He is also in the early stages of testing other forms of advertising.

"Now that we've generated so much revenue from paid search, I'm able to look at the more traditional methods for branding—like banner—ads because I have that breathing room now."

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