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The Big Three In Pay Per Click Search Engines

By Josh Prizer

It's time to ratchet up your pay per click advertising and you are looking for the most effective way to use your ad budget. Maybe you've just begun PPC advertising and need help. Let's take a look at the most effective ways to optimize your search marketing ad campaigns using Google, Yahoo, MSN and others.

Google, Yahoo and MSN

Google, Yahoo and MSN provide the best results these days. They've morphed into more or less the same sort of PPC services. You can geo-target ads, you can set ads to turn on and off during peak times, you can split test ad copy, you've got complicated quality scores to optimize, etc., etc. Google still holds the lion's share of the search traffic, but each has something to offer.

AdWords From Google

Quality traffic is important and Google AdWords remains on top in delivering high-volume clicks that count. However, don't sleep on Google's success -- you still need to monitor your results with frequency. With enough the time, knowledge and the right tools, you can do this yourself, or you can outsource all that to a professional PPC management company.

One of the main problems with Google is that it is not only becoming more and more competitive, it is also getting more and more difficult to master. With "Quality Scores" playing a more important role these days and more bids coming up "Inactive for Search," it introduces more variables into the equations. If you are willing to put in the time to continually test and monitor your keywords, you can maintain a healthy Google account. If you don't, you get penalized. You'll see bid minimums raised or forced to pay higher prices, or even be purposely priced out. The good news is that with consistent effort, you can actually fine tune and tweak your ad campaigns to the point where you are actually paying lower prices, but getting higher ranks than your competitors.

With any of the PPC engines, you need to make sure you separate out your content network advertising from your search advertising and track those separately. If you don't in Google, bad keywords are probably leaking your account right now.

Are you an advertiser with a big monthly budget? If so, you can't afford to put down your guard with Google -- it can be costly. We recommend either dedicating more time, allocating more staff and hours or using a professional management company.

Yahoo Search Marketing: Still Essential

In response to what Google had done in the PPC marketplace, Yahoo Search Marketing (which used to be called Overture, and before that, re-tooled their network early in 2007 with its Panama update. While Yahoo is no longer on top of the pay per click field as they had been in the past, it's still a worthy place to invest.

Like Google, Yahoo has its own quality algorithm called "Quality Index." Once again, it's important to monitor and tweak - scores must be dialed up with continual testing. Frequent split testing will help refine your ad quality. While you won't like get slapped as hard as Google does, Yahoo has been increasing their efforts here.

With ad copy testing, you want to focus on the three C's: Customer, Competition and your Company. What makes you special from your competition? What makes you more relevant to your customers? Test different ad concepts. Then, when you find a winner, use that as a control and refine your ad with small changes to variables. The key is to consistently test to crank up that Yahoo Quality Index.

High Quality With MSN AdCenter

Even though MSN was late to the party with pay per click advertising, they shouldn't be ignored. We've noticed some high quality traffic to go along with their very useful targeting capabilities. You'll be able to utilize the same geo-targeting type of local PPC campaigns as the others. Additionally, however, is the ability to target the demographics of users. For example, if you see high conversions on your website for a specific type of visitor, MSN will allow you to raise your bids when it finds those potential clients or consumers using the MSN search network.

An important new feature from MSN allows you to import your Google AdWords accounts with much more ease. Note: Make sure your Google campaigns are as optimized and finely tuned as possible, or you will be making the same errors twice by importing them. And unless you have time to monitor them both daily, it might better to smooth out your problems in Google first. If you have large Ad Groups with huge lists of keywords, you need to condense those down into smaller, more manageable ones. Doing this will allow you to pinpoint the keywords with more relevant ads. And, again, keep testing and re-testing your targeted ads over and over.

The Rest of the Pack

We've seen mixed results with Ask and Looksmart. You can find some traffic that will pay off one week, then next week you are flooded with bad results and your Earnings Per Click go south for the winter ... and sometimes the other three seasons, as well. Miva can also be hit or miss. If you are doing a poor job managing your other PPC accounts, we definitely suggest you don't push your luck into any of these others. There is some good traffic there, but you have to double your efforts on tracking and keep a tight eye on results since things can turn sour fast. Avoid all the other pay per click engines.

You'll find that the PPC programs of Google, Yahoo, and MSN are probably more than enough work to keep you occupied -- especially if you are playing the game correctly. If you are not doing daily ad split tests, if you aren't keeping track of sales results down to the keyword level, if you are not searching for the money-making keywords that your competition is using, then you are not using the Big Three to the fullest potential. Invest your time, effort and money there before pushing on to will get a better return on your investment.

Protect Your Investment

If you have been ignoring the daily management needs of your PPC accounts, bad keywords are likely leaking your funds. Meanwhile, the good keywords are getting more and more expensive because your quality scores are slipping compared to your competitors. Protect your investment with close supervision or hire a professional pay per click management company to do the critical work for you.

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