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Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is not just the marketing flavor of the week. It promises to be a very profitable way to get prospects to Web sites for a long time to come. It is direct marketing at its purest. To succeed with PPC, you need to apply all the rules for media, offers, copy, and testing.

Here are 10 tips for maximizing PPC effectiveness.

1. Choose relevant keywords. Don't pick keywords solely based on their popularity. Make sure your product or service would be of interest to someone searching for that term.

2. Cast a wide net. Include misspellings, "fat finger" typos, and plurals to capture additional traffic.

3. Combine multiple words to create phrases. Attach modifier words (Best Widgets, Cheap Widgets, Fast Widgets, Widgets Online, etc.) and cities or states (Los Angeles Widgets, Widgets in California) to your primary keywords. Also use natural language phrases such as "where to download the latest widgets." These terms will not likely drive high volumes in clicks, but they are more likely to convert to a sale. Even using your product's name can work: Sea Eagle, a manufacturer of inflatable boats, has been successful with this technique.

4. Develop a bid strategy to match your business objectives. Determine what your end goal is for your search campaign:

  • Maximizing profitability. If your campaign must pay for itself, then you need to manage your biding to maximize ROI. Resist the urge to demand the No. 1 position placement for all terms. Let ROI determine placement. In many cases, a 3rd or 4th position will yield a much stronger return without a significant drop in volume.

  • Maximizing exposure. In many cases, the goal is simply to get as many relevant clicks to a site as possible in order to gain exposure for a product. You should still be cautious about forcing a No. 1 position. Some terms will require a huge cost per click (CPC) for the No. 1 position, but positions 2-4 are a relative bargain. While you don't want to get caught up in bidding wars on nonessential terms, it is important to stay in the top 4 positions. Doing so gets your ad into syndication with all of the partner search engines, and that will dramatically increase impressions.

  • Capturing buyers at various stages. Following a pure ROI approach may maximize profitability in the short term, but recent studies have revealed that an integrated approach is more effective in the long run. The integrated approach captures buyers at various stages of the purchase cycle. The more general terms that might not provide an immediate positive ROI have been shown to influence searches on the higher ROI terms, resulting in a net increase in total ROI.

5. Write relevant copy. Make sure that your copy closely ties with the search term. Preferably include the search term in the copy at least once. And don't deceive—that will get you more clicks, but not more business.

6. Include an offer in the copy. "Free," "Save $XX," or "XX% Savings" will usually lift response. You can also mention a gift or bonus.

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Jay Bower (jbower@crossbowgroup.com) is president of the Crossbow Group (www.crossbowgroup.com), headquartered in Westport, Connecticut.