Tech at Work: Search-Engine Ads

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You've just created a bright, shiny e-commerce site. You're proud of the way it looks and promotes your business and its products and services.

Then, a curious thing happens: nothing. No one visits your e-commerce site.

Internet services firm Netcraft counted more than 85 million Web site host names in June 2006, up nearly 4 million from the previous month. That's a record increase, even though only half are active Web sites.

The growing choice of sites helps Web users find what they want. However, from a site manager's point of view, the increased competition means it's no longer sufficient to create a site and then sit back to watch the hordes of visitors stream in. You'll need to actively promote your new baby so it can be found in this vast sea of sites.

Search Engine Optimization--the practice of adjusting your Web pages in order to improve their rankings in search-engine results--can help. However, it can take months for your optimized site to achieve a high ranking for important search terms and start delivering visitors to your site.

For fast results, I recommend pay-per-click advertising on search engines. You can set up a PPC account today and welcome more visitors to your site within a week.

How does PPC work? You write text ads that are displayed next to results for specific terms, or keywords, that people enter in search engines. You pay for each visitor who clicks on your ad and is then whisked to your Web site.

Google: The Big Kahuna

The most popular search engines in North America are Google, Yahoo, and MSN. All three have PPC advertising programs, but Google is the commanding leader in search engine popularity: The Web research firm Hitwise recently reported that Google is used for nearly three out of every five search queries in the U.S. So if you want a lot of visitors, it makes sense to first consider Google's PPC advertising program, AdWords.

Google displays its PPC ads, described as Sponsored Links, along the right border of its search results and sometimes at the top of the page.

Google's AdWords Starter Edition walks you through the process of creating a pay-per-click ad.
Google's AdWords Starter Edition walks you through the process of creating a pay-per-click ad.
Creating an AdWords account is relatively easy, though a new advertiser can be overwhelmed by the mind-boggling number of advertising display options in the standard account. Thankfully, Google recently established an AdWords Starter Edition account. This newbie-friendly account uses a simpler one-page wizard to guide you through your options.

You set your location and language, write your ad, select relevant search keywords that will trigger the ad's display, and set a daily maximum cost budget (how much you're willing to spend per day for click-throughs). Google decides how much it will charge you per click, which can range from a few cents to several dollars, and how many times it will display the ad.

Real Results

Does PPC advertising work? A lot depends upon what you advertise, how you word your ad, and whom you display it to. For example, if you deliver pizzas, you should choose to display ads only to visitors in your delivery area, which likely means your city, not the entire country.

Of course, as with any ads, premium positions command premium rates. And some popular keywords may cost more per click than the value the Web visitor will bring to your site. So you must track your results to ensure you earn more in profits than you pay out in advertising.

But results can be dramatic. One of my client's Web sites more than doubled the number of unique visitors in just the first month of a Google AdWords PPC campaign. The significant increase in visitor traffic was reflected in many more business referrals for this professional services firm. Now, five months into the campaign, it's actively recruiting more staff to handle the increased workload.

Richard Morochove is an IT consultant and writer. He can be reached via e-mail.
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