Online Advertising -- The Smart Way

Looking to get the most for your Web advertising dollar? Executive Tech columnist Brian Livingston spotlights two services that can help.
I knew I'd stumbled on to a great story when my research led me to my first "Google whack."

A Google whack consists of any two words that produce one and only one result when entered into the Google.com search engine (without quote marks). A recent example from the hilarious Googlewhack.com site is ambidextrous scallywags. That's how one Web page describes Enron executives who contributed to Senators of both the Republican and Democratic parties.

My own singular search result came when I entered the terms maestro gotoast. Those names are two of the most important Web services available for Fortune 1000 companies that want to excel at online advertising. Finding only one result at Google amazed me. (Even more surprising, the page I'd found merely mentioned both services in passing, without describing them.) Apparently, no one on the entire Internet had written a meaningful article comparing these two services — either one of which could help you revitalize your brand.

Allow me to explain.

Go Toast and Maestro as Managers of Your Online Advertising

Both Go Toast, offered by Go Toast LLC, and Maestro, a service of Did-it.com, make it possible for corporations to control their advertising in major search engines such as Google, AOL, and MSN.

Consumers increasingly turn to search engines to buy everything from canaries to cars. As a result, over 110,000 companies already advertise in Google, according to Did-it's CEO, Kevin Lee, and more than 80,000 buy their way into Overture, a service that feeds ads to Yahoo, MSN, CNN, and numerous others. But Fortune 1000 companies represent only about 20% of the advertising currently found in search engines, Lee says.

That represents a huge opportunity for enterprises to get their names and products in front of millions of consumers who are looking for exactly what these companies sell. To take advantage of this market, however, you first need to understand the two top competitors in this space.

Tapping the Power of Overture and Google

Almost any search at Google these days — and on sites such as MSN that display content from Overture — will reveal advertisements or "sponsored links" at the top of the page or down the right-hand side. The advertisers make bids on these ads, paying Google or Overture amounts ranging from 5 cents to several dollars for each visitor who's induced to click.

Go Toast and Maestro are bid-management services. They adjust your company's bids up or down to position your ads favorably against those of your competitors. These services exist because the complexity of advertising on all the search terms related to your products can overwhelm even the most dedicated person who works full-time at the effort.

Go Toast. Some Go Toast customers juggle ads involving more than 100,000 different search queries, Go Toast CEO Dave Carlson said in a telephone interview. These include office-supply retailers and auto-parts suppliers who may carry 50,000 or more items. Consumers tend to search for such products using different terms, such as "stapler," "Swingline," or "SF1." Smart companies bid on every possible word that could lead to a sale.

Go Toast's servers generate statistics for each search term, showing the dollars reaped from each sale divided by the money spent on ads. (This is known as "return on ad spend.")

As Go Toast's computers find patterns, they increase or decrease each client's bids to maximize the stated goals. Ads with the highest bid are usually displayed in the first position on a search page. But Carlson says this isn't necessarily worth the extra cost. "Position 3 continues to be, for most clients, the best return," he explains.

Go Toast offers a 2-week free trial of its services. After that, clients can have the software adjust bids on 50 search terms twice a day for $80 per month, 10,000 search terms once an hour for $9,000 per month, and so forth.

Maestro. Did-it doesn't support a free trial — it unashamedly aims for large enterprises only. The typical Maestro client is paying Did-it at least $1,000 per month plus 15% of its gross ad spending, Lee said in an interview.

For that money, Did-it clients get a high degree of hand-holding. "We're a better solution for someone spending $30,000, $40,000, or $50,000 a month" on search-engine advertising, Lee asserts.

Maestro is particularly optimized to find patterns that may occur only on certain days of the week or hours of the day. For example, Lee showed me that the buying patterns of Web visitors can plummet between 12 midnight and 6 a.m. Eastern Time. The total number of visitors may dip only slightly during that period, but purchases can drop as low as one-tenth of the daytime rate. Maestro can be configured to turn off a client's ads during such unproductive periods to avoid wasting ad dollars.

Getting the Most for Your Advertising Spend

Go Toast can also be used to chart time-of-day patterns, as Maestro can. Choosing between the two comes down to your company's need for technology and the two providers' approaches to maximizing your ad budget.

"Go Toast gives you much more control," Carlson claims. "Maestro is much more 'set it and let it go'."

The more automatic method may appeal to corporations with a lot of products to push. If so, Go Toast provides a self-managed tool through an advertising firm, EonMedia.com, that eliminates some of the usual fine-tuning work.

Conclusion

If your company isn't currently using search-engine advertising, you should look into it immediately as a method to attract highly motivated customers.

Your first step should be to type into Google or MSN Search the name of a product you sell. You may find that your competitors show up several times on the page, whereas your company hardly appears at all.






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