I often write about online marketing, as many of my regular readers know. A frequent topic of mine is Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising, also known as Cost-Per-Click (CPC). Occasionally, people will refer to this marketing vehicle as Search Engine Advertising. What you’re hearing this called more and more is “Google Adwords”.
HAS GOOGLE ADWORDS “BECOME” ONLINE ADVERTISING?
Of course, its kind of like asking for a “Coke” when you want a soft drink, or “Scotch Tape” when you are seeking sticky-backed tape. It’s the age old story of a brand DEFINING the category itself, and usually happens when a product becomes dominant in a market segment.
The conventional wisdom these days is that Google has basically won the Online Search Engine-based advertising wars, so don’t even bother with any of the other advertising platforms out there. This topic is the very reason for Microsoft’s recent offer to buy Yahoo for a gazillion dollars; they are motivated to do this because Google is so far ahead that they don’t appear able to catch up on their own. This raises the issue of two also-rans in a market, combining to take on the market leader–which usually ends in disaster–but we’ll leave that for another discussion…
Back to the main question, should you focus your online advertising energy and budget strictly on Google Adwords, or broaden your campaign to other platforms? I have an opinion, of course, and I’d like to illustrate that opinion with my own pragmatic advertising experience, as well as some more theoretical marketing theory which has served me well across a variety of markets. Let’s start with the theory, using an experience from my past to illustrate my viewpoint.
MARKET NICHES: HIT’EM WHERE THEY AIN’T
As markets develop, conventional wisdom usually instructs you to “get on the bandwagon” of the market leader, and don’t waste your time “where the action isn’t”. Back in the 90s when I was running a systems & network management software business, Novell Netware had the overwhelming share of the Network Operating Systems business–roughly a 70% share. As a result, most of the companies in our general space focused on making their add-on products compatible with the Novell platform. They ignored two other competitors: Microsoft LAN Manager and Banyan VINES. There were almost no add-on systems management products available for these two platforms. We ported our applications to these two platforms, with excellent payback. Not only were we able to make easy sales to the customers of these two NOS vendors due to lack of competition, these secondary platform vendors supported our efforts to a much greater degree than Novell, where we were one of many. In addition, it turned out that while Banyan (and too a lesser extent LAN Manager) had much higher market shares in the coveted Fortune 1000 market than they did the market as a whole. Many large companies also had mixed networks containing two or more of these NOS platforms–we had a major strategic advantage in these large accounts, due to our cross platform support. The first lesson here is that sometimes it really pays to segment a market a bit differently. In some cases, in segments important to you, the market leader isn’t nearly as dominant as overall market share data would lead you to believe. The second take-away is that smaller market segments are often DRAMATICALLY less competitive, allowing you to efficiently grow revenue without huge marketing outlays to “get above the noise”.
MY OWN EXPERIENCE WITH THE MAJOR ONLINE ADVERTISING PLATFORMS
I run PPC advertising campaigns for several of my clients. Let me make something clear right away–there is no comparison between these three advertising platforms. Google Adwords is the clear winner, hands down. It’s not close. Adwords is both by far the most robust and easiest to use, which is quite a statement. Adwords is a great piece of software, which Google is constantly evolving and improving. You can do almost everything you want and there is excellent online help if you do have a question. If you ever really do need a live person, help is available, even if you are spending a modest amount on advertising with Google. It is a pleasure to work in Adwords. Plus the fact is that by far the most volume of searches is available on this platform.
Yahoo Search Marketing (formerly Overture) comes in second place. This is the original search advertising platform. It’s not nearly as robust as Adwords, but the recent major upgrade at least brought the software into the modern ages–it was pretty stagnant for a very long time, allowing Google to surge into a commanding lead. The basics are covered, and it’s pretty intuitive–although if you are used to working in Adwords, the subtle differences can drive you a bit crazy. And there are a few things that are simple to do online in Adwords, that you have to call and request over the phone to make happen in Yahoo’s platform–but at least they are very nice about it.
And then there is Microsoft AdCenter. What can I say about Microsoft; it is the typically excruciating experience dealing with them. They dominate most markets they are in, and have that arrogant way of dealing with you that only a monopolist has. When you have 90% of the OS or word processing market, you can get away with lousy support, vendor-centric policies and non-intuitive software. But they are a distant third in this market, and they aren’t gaining on anyone. So these weaknesses stick out like a sore thumb. This is the newest platform. The software isn’t all that hard to use, but in Microsoft fashion they have created some of their own conventions in opposition to market terminology, and the application doesn’t always behave in a way you would expect. Add in the unbelievable support mentality, not to mention the fact that they are a distant 3rd in traffic, and you realize why they are last among the major platforms. As an example of their attitude, when I decided to look at Microsoft’s offering, I wanted to import my Adwords campaigns into Adcenter to save a BUNCH of time, which the Help function stated that I could do. Makes a lot of sense for a new user, right? Well, I couldn’t figure out how to do it in the software, so I called Adcenter support to ask how. I was told that I needed to be spending at least $11,000/month to have access to that feature! There’s a classic catch 20–not allowed to import all your campaigns into a platform (which will enable you to spend money in that platform), until you’re spending over $100,000/year. Brilliant market penetration strategy! Whoever is making decisions at Microsoft has no idea how to compete–which I guess isn’t surprising for a monopolist. No wonder they are trying to buy Yahoo….
SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Adwords is clearly the best platform, so why bother with the other two? Remember the discussion about niche markets above. Although Adwords is by far the best, as a result, it’s also the most fiercely competitive of the three–meaning costs are high and margins are sometimes lower. It really varies by market segment, but in some segments, Yahoo Search Marketing and Microsoft Adcenter are neglected, leaving excellent bargains on important keywords. I am currently running a campaign on Adcenter for a client in a very niche, technical market, which isn’t supposed to be well suited for MSN search traffic. This campaign is doing VERY well. So the moral of this story is don’t pick one–use all three, as long as you’re making money on each of them. This is the beauty of PPC marketing, after all. It is quite easy to test to see if it will work for you, and objectively track your results.
That’s my take on the three major search marketing platforms–I’d love to hear yours. Post a comment so everyone can benefit from your own experience.