The many faces of search

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In February, Harvard Business School Publishing launched its first paid search campaign. The organization, a subsidiary of Harvard University with six divisions, including Harvard Business Review, worked with a small local search engine optimization vendor to look at 1,000 search terms. After whittling down this list, the publisher went live with the campaign on Google, investing about 10% of its total marketing budget in the program.

To date, the pay-per-click campaign has been effective, said Jean Ayers, director of Web marketing at Harvard Business School Publishing.

"So far, we've had more than 1 million impressions. The click-through rates are 2.5%; conversion is 3%. The average cost per click is between 20 cents and 25 cents per click," she said. "The nice thing about these leads is that they are out there and looking, so they are strong leads."

Today, you'd be hard-pressed to find a publishing company that's not using search in some form. It might be conducting a paid search campaign to generate site traffic, using organic search engine optimization to pull searchers from the Web, sharing ad revenue with one or more of the contextual ad placement programs offered by the public search engines or deploying its own contextual ad search placement systems.

Giving it away

Most publishers' Web sites follow the traditional magazine model, said Tolman Geffs, managing director at media investment bank The Jordan, Edmiston Group. There's a front door and a directory you drill through to find what you want. But this paradigm isn't necessarily convenient for site visitors, he said. "It takes a lot of work to retool, so instead of one front door, you have thousands or millions. It also takes a lot of work to make the content they see when they arrive help them get deeper into the site and, at the same time, help the publisher make money."

Search engines help publishers peel back the layers of their Web sites and expose content that would normally be hidden from view.

The downside is that search can degrade a publisher's brand. Instead of bookmarking a specific publisher's site as a home page-as online visitors may have done a few years ago-today they use Google as their starting point each morning. Even worse, they use search engines as their navigation touch point, said Moe Effron, VP-information services for International Data Group, publisher of Computerworld and other IT titles.

"There's a notion that visitors or readers are no longer attached to your brand because the way they are finding your brand is through the search engines. Visitors come to your site when they do a search by clicking on results. When they are done, they jump back to the search page where they started," Effron said. "That's the way most people consume content today. But what publishers are and should be looking for is an opportunity to engage a visitor more deeply and try and present the information that's brought them there that's richer than a search results page. If the person arriving comes to an article page [and] sees resources that speak to what they are looking for, there's a greater chance their next click is going to be on the same page."

But there's a Catch 22: The more a publisher optimizes a site, the more apparent its content becomes from the search engine, which potentially gives visitors less impetus to stick around.


Search engine optimization is probably one of the most undervalued search tools-at least on the publisher side of things. According to a recent Jupiter Research study sponsored by search engine marketing firm iProspect, 35% of all respondents said search engine optimization produces a higher return on investment than search ads or pay-per-click services.

One industry expert said optimization often lags because of the time and resource commitment it requires. Sure, SEO providers can tell you what's wrong with your site, but making changes can take some time, said Ray Manna, director-online audience development marketing, CMP Media's TechWeb Network.

"It's a process that spans the entire value chain of the organization because it requires not just IT but also the editors when optimizing every page within a site," Manna said. "But that process is really the only logical way to move forward."

Paid keywords

While publishers may know organic search works, more often than not they are banking on paid keywords from search engines such as Google and Yahoo!, as well as smaller, vertical players like,, and The reason: driving traffic.

According to a recent report by MarketingSherpa, more than 43% of marketers say their pay-per-click campaigns are very effective. This is a jump from the 34% that said the same in 2004. Optimization's success rose to 33%, up from 31% last year.

Indeed, paid search spending last year, including paid inclusion and contextual search, was up more than 51%, according to research firm eMarketer. That number will dip to 22.5% for 2005. But the number of keywords being used continues to rise, according to the report. MarketingSherpa predicted individual marketers, on average, ran 14,700 keywords, up from 9,100 this past March.

The market was validated even further last month when Microsoft announced plans to launch its own paid search service, AdCenter, in the U.S. Instead of positioning AdCenter as a service, Microsoft is calling it an advertising platform, said Karen Redetzki, product manager at MSN.

"We built this platform to enable a one-stop shop for advertisers," Redetzki said. "There will be multiple ad solutions-paid search, contextual, e-mail, banners. It will be one place for advertisers to manage all their campaigns."

Another differentiation is that MSN will give advertisers audience intelligence-consumer information such as geographic, age, sex and daypart data. It remains to be seen how valid Microsoft's new pay-per-click service will be for b-to-b advertisers. What may matter more is the fact that Microsoft is saying it will compete with Google and Yahoo! for a slice of the contextual search category.

`Love-hate relationship'

Contextual search, where advertisers pay for placement but that placement happens on content providers' sites, is a tool that's caught in a love-hate relationship right now. While contextual search helps publishers monetize content and add editorial context, it can be worrisome. Because the advertising does appear on the publisher's site, it can be viewed as an extension of that site. It's also taking advantage of the content. Without the content, the ad would be useless. Some publishers are concerned they have less control than they would like when it comes to contextual search.

But Mitch Rouda, president of Hanley Wood e-Media, a b-to-b media network, isn't one of them.

"We've got Google [AdSense] posted all over our sites way below the fold," he said. "They deliver advertising customers to us that we wouldn't have the ability to find, and they don't compete with our core business because we think fundamentally they offer a different product. They're not selling display advertising; they're selling classifieds. It also adds editorial content to the site, which is part of what makes it great-it's different all the time but still adds relevance."

Hanley Wood uses AdSense in conjunction with its online properties-most significantly,, a product catalog targeted at builders.

"The traffic [on] is greater than the traffic of all our other b-to-b sites put together," Rouda said. "The performance of [AdSense] is tremendous. The way our pages are designed, they are very product-focused. ... [Visitors] click `faucets' and then `kitchen faucets' and then `brass faucets.' This creates a match with the right advertiser on the right page at the right time. That's exciting to the user and generates high click rates."

A vertical twist

Pay-per-click advertising is a $3.1 billion market, according to research firm Jupiter Research. Google owns a big chunk of that. In its second quarter financial statement, the search engine leader reported network site revenue-advertising dollars for ads placed on other sites-of $1.2 billion. Traffic acquisition costs, or the revenue it paid back to publishers and content providers, was $1 billion.

Given those numbers, it's no wonder that few publishers are willing to drop Google's AdSense, a program in which contextual text and image ads run on publishers' sites. It's an attractive source of incremental revenue.

But some publishers aren't as thrilled with giving away any of the advertising pie.

Mike Lavitt, senior producer for AviationWeek Group, a division of McGraw-Hill Cos., falls into this group. The division, which has two magazines and five newsletters linked to the site, has made all of its content searchable from one place.

"It's all proprietary content that's not indexed by the search engines," Lavitt said. "Right now, we're using search as a way to make our content more accessible to paying customers. It saves them time while locating high-value content."

Indeed, AviationWeek charges its customers $395 per aerospace program. Since the service was only launched in September, it's still too soon to tell if the venture will take off, but one analyst said vertical search is a virtually untapped market that can help publishers boost brand awareness and their bottom lines.

Today, a b-to-b user may employ one of the public engines to do a search but is not likely to rely on it as their sole resource, said Chuck Richard, VP-lead analyst with Outsell Inc., a research firm. He said this is good news for publishers enlisting vertical search engines on their own sites. Richard added that the main problem when publishers let a public search engine play intermediary is that the engine controls the relationship with the advertiser. 

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