Can SMEs benefit from 'Sponsored' Internet search?

Sorab Ghaswalla

Most of us know of Search Engines as a place where one can key in some words related to what one is looking for, press the ‘Enter’ key, and hey presto, out come the “search results”. For most end users, search engines are information retrieval tools. They give no thought to its behind-the-scene processes. 

Fair enough.

But if a web user were to check the composition of the web page that gets thrown up following his keywords search, he/she will see that the page has certain results that are highlighted (these may be either be on top or the bottom of the page, or even on the side) while the rest are not. The highlighted portion is “Paid” search, which means someone has paid the search engine to put out their details as and when a particular sequence of keywords are keyed in.

For example, if you are a retailer selling a microwave at a discount, and your designated keywords are “cheap microwaves”, a ‘searcher’ keying in the word, “cheap microwave” will trigger off your microwave ad. Welcome to the world of sponsored advertising or more specifically, sponsored search. 

As you may have grasped it by now, Search Engine Result Pages (SERP) have two components: sponsored and free (also called as “Organic search”).

Key lies in keywords 

The key to paid and organic search is keywords. The latter are words that an advertiser or a service provider bets a user shall key in while searching for something online.

Eg: If someone online wants to find out where he can buy gold coloured jogging shoes, he may key in one or all of the following keywords – jogging, shoes, jogging shoes, gold colour running shoes, where can I find golden shoes….and so on.

But, while both, organic and sponsored results are built around keywords, obviously, the key differentiator is – one is a paid form of advertising while the other is not. (Just a small clarification: for the end-user, it’s a win-win situation for he does not pay. It’s the advertiser who pays the search engine or website or online publication.)

Online Marketing or Internet Marketing on search engines has two aims - to improve the visibility of a brand/product/service/website in online search to attract the eyeballs of the end-users; the other is to convert the ads into leads or sales. This branch of Online Marketing is thus called Search Engine Marketing (SEM).

“Over the long run, organic search gives you the maximum benefits and Return on Investment (RoI). But organic search is a slow process in getting good rankings and results. If your business is just coming online and you need instant leads / clicks, then you can push for the Pay Per Click (PPC) method, explains Dimakh Sahasrabuddhe, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Dimakh Consultants Private Ltd, a firm that’s being in the business for 14 years now.

(Just a quick tip before we proceed further into this article - besides Google, there are thousands, if not more, search engines out there such as Blekko, DuckDuckGo, (Q&A Site) Quora, etc, that offer as good, if not better, search results than Google.)

Online advertising is multi-dimensional….and relatively affordable for SMEs

Unlike real world advertising which is uni-dimensional, Internet advertising is multi-faceted. Here’s how: In the real world, you find advertisements in the print media, the electronic media and outdoor media such as billboards, etc. In this case, the audience looks at an advertisement and moves on. The advertiser pays the advertising platform/publisher for only the placement of the ad. Of course, there are parameters that guide the action of the advertiser and also affect the final charges he has to pay, like circulation numbers of the publication or the TRPs of a TV station, and so on. End of story.

Online marketing is much more complicated than that.

“The reason for the huge success of PPC is the ability to reach the right audience better, using search than using the traditional media - television, newspapers or magazines - where we cannot target a specific group of people,” says Vishnu Prasath, Managing Director at Bright Bridge Info-tech.

To begin with, there are various ways in which advertising space can be purchased online. The most common of course is a copy from the real world and is called the Cost Per Mille (CPM) or Cost Per Thousand (CPT), (Mille is Latin for thousand) where a count is kept of the number of times a particular ad is exposed to the end-user. Under CPM, it is per 1000 impressions.

Pay Per Click

Then, there is the Pay Per Click (PPC) or Cost Per Click (CPC) (both mean the same thing) technique. PPC is used not only to sponsor results on search engines but even for advertising on websites including social networking sites like Facebook. We shall deal with the second part, later. For the purpose of this article, we shall stick to SEM and its methodology.

One of the other (and by now quite popular) forms of paying for online advertising is PPC. Here, advertisers only pay if a web user has clicked on their ads, but not for the mere listing of the ad on a search engine or website. PPC has no minimum budgets thus making it easy for even small enterprises and startups to use this advertising route.

But PPC is also a very complicated form of ad space buying.

If you recall, earlier in this report, you may have read the line, ``….advertisers bet on Internet surfers using certain keywords….”. The emphasis on “bet” was because under the PPC advertising method, advertisers need to place bids on keywords or phrases that they think their target audience would type in a search field when they are looking for specific goods/services/brands. Then, when a web user types in similar keywords in the search task bar (matching with the advertisers’ keywords), the PPC ad may be displayed on the page.

The technique of PPC is not as simple as selecting a few catch phrases, paying for them, and sitting back, hoping that some web user somewhere will key in the exact same keywords. Not only does an advertiser need to identify the keywords that describe his product the best, he needs to get involved in an auction process to ensure that the price he wants to pay for those keywords outclasses all the other bids placed by all the other advertisers in his category. If it does, he earns the right to get his ad displayed on the front page or the most important page of a search engine, and even the best location on that page.