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Recently, search engine revenues have rocketed, with pay-per-click (PPC) advertising providing much of the fuel for growth. The other side of the coin: advertisers have been using PPC keyword advertising to meet their marketing objectives.

Most of the search engines are powered by auction-based systems: that is, advertisers bid for keyword placements. Accordingly, competition for keywords has become intense, driving up the average cost per click (CPC). A recent study indicates that advertisers plan to increase CPC spending 39%, on average, in 2005. (Source: SEMPO Study)

But even with such heightened competition, there may be untapped, hidden opportunities for online marketers interested in participating in PPC keyword advertising.

One of the greatest opportunities may be in the area of keyword breadth. This is measured by the variety of keywords and phrases that actually have advertisements displayed when a search engine user conducts a search. In the search engine industry, this is known as keyword coverage.

Narrow Focus—an Opportunity Cost

Examining the keyword coverage of the Accoona search engine over a three-month period provides an excellent view into marketers' missed opportunities in PPC keyword networks as a consequence of not expanding the breadth of the keywords they are bidding on.

Accoona is a new search engine that launched in December of 2004. It has since generated much interest and a rather large search base. Accoona is ranked in the top 1,500 sites on Alexa and has been one of the steadiest climbers in traffic ranking. It has an exclusive partnership with Yahoo Search Marketing Solutions (or YMSM, the artist formerly known as Overture!), so all of its PPC advertising is served from the YMSM network. YMSM has over 100,000 advertisers and is considered one of the two largest and most diverse PPC advertising networks.

Accoona statistics since its launch show that its breadth of search matches that of all search engines. The most frequently searched Accoona terms list bears a close resemblance (92% match) to the top 100 search terms across the entire Web. (Source: MetaCrawler Word Tracker Report.) In short, the users of Accoona closely match the users of the other major search engines.

Examining the keyword coverage within the Accoona paid search results shows that 41.32% of users' searches have at least one paid result. Another way of saying this is that 58.68% of searches do not yield paid results. (Source: Interviews with Kevin Shea of Accoona.)

Moreover, for the searches that do yield a paid result, 4.24 advertisements are displayed for each search. (Source: Interviews with Kevin Shea) This means that over four advertisers are competing (and paying higher CPC) for these impressions/clicks.

These two statistics show that there may be an opportunity cost being borne by advertisers. By competing for the same set of keywords that other advertisers are seeking, online marketers may be missing lower-cost keywords and phrases over which there is less competition. This may be especially true of words that could be tangential, but connected enough to drive valuable qualified traffic.

Real-World Example

To review a real-world example of this type of keyword marketing, we'll examine two distinct searches in Accoona, using two connected searches. The criterion for selecting these examples was that they had to be actual searches conducted with Accoona at least 30 times in a week. (Source: Accoona Query Terms Report 1/1/05 through 1/7/05.)

The first search is "ohmmeter." For this search, there were five paid results from five separate advertisers. The second search is "how to understand an ohmmeter." This search query returned no paid results.

The five advertisers battling for attention on the term "ohmmeter" are missing an opportunity with an audience obviously interested in the subject. In addition, the first advertiser to bid on the second search query would get solo placement for the minimum bid.

Of course, smart advertisers would still review and monitor the ROI results of these tangential terms. But the terms should still be explored for their efficacy.

Keywords as Content Channels

The rush of marketers to keyword search advertising has created a vibrant marketplace tool. But as with any tool that is new and being adopted quickly, its nuances are often overlooked.

The breadth of search terms is one such nuance. Marketers should make sure they look at all connected keywords and phrases.

Those keywords and phrases should be looked at as content channels. Getting broad coverage in the entire content channel will create opportunities for the enterprising marketer.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Kuegler is cofounder of TargetFirst (www.targetfirst.com), a contextual ad network that concentrates on ROI delivery. He can be reached at tom@targetfirst.com.