Paid search engine placement programs, such as those offered by Overture, are the quickest, easiest, and one of the most cost effective ways to ensure that your website appears on the first page of results on major search engines. While the concept is straightforward enough, the implementation of such a program requires a certain degree of finesse in order to see the greatest response rates and return on investment (ROI). Finding the right person or company to manage a paid placement program is a fundamental key to success.

There are a number of factors that must be considered when developing such a program. The first, and most obvious step is the identification of possible terms to include in the campaign. These key terms should be quite specific to ensure that the audience is as finely targeted as possible. While Overture and other similar services operate based upon a cost per click (CPC) model where you only pay when someone clicks on a listing, targeting is still important as some users may click on the link regardless of their true intentions, reducing the overall ROI for the program.

Once a potential list of key terms has been assembled, a projected cost must be determined for each. The projected cost is based upon the CPC for the term and the volume of searches performed for it (this information is readily available on Overture). A rough estimate can be calculated by taking five percent of the volume and multiplying it by the CPC. Five percent is an overall average response rate (the percentage of searches that lead to click-throughs) based upon long-term observation. This coefficient can vary depending upon how broad the term is – if it encompasses a number of completely unrelated areas (such as the term “energy,” which can relate to such disparate things as gasoline, solar panels, nutrition bars, and virility) the response rate will be lower than if it is extraordinarily focused (such as “maroon horse blinders”). Five percent is a reasonable coefficient under most ordinary circumstances.

The amount of capital allocated to the paid search placement campaign exercises perhaps the greatest influence on which terms are selected for final inclusion. Some terms may be prohibitively expensive, disqualifying them immediately. Other terms may be expensive on a cost per click basis, but affordable because of limited search volume. Such terms are often tremendously specific to the intended topic and are therefore very desirable. It is the role of the online marketer to conduct a cost-benefit analysis that examines the terms individually and the synergies of the aggregate in an effort to maximize the ROI.

Following the decision of which terms to include in the campaign, the next step is to determine where the link for each should land the user. Each term should lead directly to a page that is specifically related to it. Study after study has indicated that most users are of a one-click mentality. If clicking on a link does not lead them immediately to what they are looking for, they will simply hit the back button on the browser and try a different site. Having links lead to the home page requiring a second click from the user is simply not effective.

Once the terms have been selected and the landing pages for each have been set, it is then necessary to write a title and short description of 150 characters or less for each term. Descriptions must be concise, clearly identify what the user can expect from the page to which it is linked, and have some kind of unobtrusive call to action. Titles should be constructed in a similar manner, although the number of characters is much more limited. Some terms that are closely related can share the same title and description, but there most certainly should not simply be a generic set for all of the terms.

It is important to note that once all of this has been accomplished and submitted to the search placement provider and the account has been funded, there is no guarantee that the listing will be accepted as is or even at all. Most providers such as Overture have a number of required listing guidelines and an editorial staff that must review every listing. In most instances, a well-designed campaign will have all of the listings approved, sometimes with minor modifications to a few of them. Unfortunately, there are times when listings are rejected based upon the editorial staff’s contention that the term is not related closely enough to the landing page. These decisions can be appealed once, and only once, so it is always possible that not every term you have selected will make it into the final campaign. The editorial review process usually takes three to five business days.

The process does not end at this point. While it is possible to ignore the campaign once it has started, a successful program requires daily monitoring and modifications. The most significant reoccurring issue is the maintenance of your rankings though the bidding process. At any time competitors are capable of out-bidding you on any term. This is especially troublesome for Overture, as only the top three bidders appear on the first page of results of their affiliates, which include AltaVista, AOL Search, Dog Pile, Excite, Go, HotBot, Lycos, MSN Search, Netscape Search and Yahoo, thus negating the extensive reach of the program. Even if the bidding process is automated, it is better to control this manually, as it allows the marketer to subjectively determine if it is necessary to bid for the number one spot or accept the second or third slot. For some terms, the difference between the first bid and the third is substantial, so it is possible to appear on all of the search partners and save a great deal of money by opting to settle for the third spot.

It is also important to monitor the performance of each term. If click-throughs are not at or above five percent, it may be necessary to rework the title and/or description. If a term is proving more popular than expected, it may be necessary to drop some other terms, or settle for the second or third position if possible. If the budget is fixed, it is even more critical that the rate of expenditure remains within the defined limits or else the duration of the campaign may suffer and/or some costly terms may need to be dropped.

The bottom line is that paid search placement services are an excellent element of any online marketing strategy, whether it is the sole component or merely a small segment of an overarching campaign. Although conceptually simple and easy to set up, consistent and intelligent planning and oversight are absolutely required to ensure the greatest possible ROI.