TOP DOG ON SEARCH ENGINES

Given that there are literally scores of ways to promote a fitness club on the Web for free, actually paying for an extremely high ranking on a search engine rankles many people. But for businesses with Web promotion funds to spend, paying for guaranteed, high-ranked exposure on the search engines may prove cost-effective.

Fortunately, even firms that don't have a mother-lode of Web promotion funds can still get into the pay-for-exposure game on one of the Web's most popular search engines, Google (www.google.com). For a $5 activation fee, Google will allow any businesses to bid on the ownership of any key word or key phrase under its “AdWords” program. Under the arrangement, the highest bidders are guaranteed to be among top links returned whenever their keywords are typed into a search engine.

Type in the key phrase “fitness club Los Angeles” on Google.com, for example, and you'll see text links to a number of firms pop up on the right-hand side of your screen under “Sponsored Links.” Number two in that spot on a recent check, for example, was Bodies In Motion Fitness (www.bodiesinmotion.com), a club based in L.A. In a similar check for “fitness club New York,” The Rock Fitness Club (www.therockhealthandfitness.com) came in first.

“Adwords is a great program for advertisers with limited budgets, and for those interested in trying out key word-based ads before making a larger buy,” says Larry Chase, author of “Essential Business Tactics for the Net,” (www.wdfm.com).

The program is popular among even the smallest of businesses, because each client has the ability to place a firm ceiling on the amount of clicks it will pay for on any given day, Chase adds. Essentially, after a firm's pre-arranged, daily promotional budget is exhausted, Google AdWords no longer includes it among its sponsored links.

Not surprisingly, there are other top search engines that offer similar sponsored links programs. Using the Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com) search engine, for example, the key phrase “health club san francisco” brought back Apex Health & Fitness (www.apextraining.com) in the number one spot under “Sponsor Results.” And “health club atlanta” returned Atlanta Fitness Together (www.atlantafitness.net) at the top.

On AOL Search, Curves for Women (www.healthclubresale.com), and East Coast Fitness (www.aawisley/eastcoastfitness.htm) were tops on similar searches under its “Sponsored Links” ad program. And on MSN Search, sites earning top links returned status on searches such as “gym Manhattan,” “gym san diego” and “gym las vegas” were Underdog Fitness (www.underdogfitness.com); John Larkin Fitness (www.workoutwithjohn.com) and D.K. Body Balancing Method (www.dkbodybalancing.com).

Once you've become comfortable with paid search engine placement featuring text links to your site, you may want to move up to search engine ads that include graphics, animation — even audio and video. Generally, such eye-candy also appears on the right hand side of search engine returns. But more often than not, these ads are sold under a “general rotation” agreement, meaning that your ad will be rotated with those of others who have purchased ownership of the same key words and phrases on any given day.

Not surprisingly, negotiations for ownership of key words and/or phrases under a general rotation agreement can be fairly complex. Chase recommends that you go in with both eyes open or find someone who already knows the ropes. Among his top suggestions for securing a competitive advantage in these negotiations with the search engines:

Make it clear you're shopping around: “You can tell them that you have a budget — but quote them 20 percent less than what you really plan on spending, that you're approaching three other search engines with the same budget, and you encourage him to offer a plan that will make the best of that budget,” Chase says.

  • Make sure you're buying “initial impressions” only: Search engines sometimes like to beef up their ad performance ratings by defining an “impression” as any time a user clicks back to a links return page while working through a list of links on any given subject. Under this metric, a user who clicks back to a search engine's links return page 10 times while working his or her way through a links list has received 10 impressions on your ad.

    Fooey, says Chase. “If a user happens to click back and see the ad again, that's great,” he says. “But you cannot prove it, and I do not count that as an initial impression. I tell them my client is paying for initial impressions.”

  • When in Rome, become an agency: Often, search engines will offer agencies a significant discount, usually around 15 percent. “Make sure to ask if they offer an agency discount,” Chase says. “If you're not an agency, become one quickly in order to take advantage of this extra margin. Some media outlets will want to see stationery or a bank account specifically dedicated to your agency or media buying service function. If you're going to be buying media repeatedly, it's worthwhile.”

  • Include the option to change your ads: As in any other medium, some of your ads on the search engines will work better than others. Chase suggests that you test a number of these ads a few times a week so you can determine over time which are the best performers. Most search engines offer reports for clients that will quickly reveal which of the ads are receiving the most click-throughs. “The more often those reports come out, the better,” Chase says.

  • In general, go with a short-term contract: Unless you're given a strong incentive to go longer, shorter is better when it comes to search engine contracts, Chase says. “I've noticed that click-throughs will go up when changing search engine companies,” he says. “I suspect it's because different users are seeing the ads for the first time — since users have brand loyalty to search engines, too.”

  • Don't wait until the last minute to strike your deal: As in any other business negotiation, being able to play as many psychological factors as possible generally gives you the best position. Chase recommends that you have your approval to purchase in hand, but to keep that little gem of reality to yourself. “At the opportune time, ask the rep if there is a signing bonus if the deal can be closed that very day,” he says. “The signing bonus may come in the form of extra impressions or an additional discount on the purchase itself.”

  • Don't alienate the search engine rep: While you want to cut the best arrangement possible, you don't want to leave your search engine rep feeling strong-armed, Chase says. “Representatives from search engines are very good people to have on your side,” he says. “If you ever want to buy keywords, they can tell you which ones are most popular in your category. You may find some surprises.”


Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Thousand Oaks, CA. He can be reached by phone at 805-379-3673 or by e-mail at: [email protected] or on the web at: www.joedysart.com.

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