Ernan’s Insights on Marketing Best Practices

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Priceline: Propel "Massive" Growth with Paid Search

The Challenge: As we reported last week, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an extremely effective way to create customer intent. To generate customer demand online, a particularly effective tool is Search Engine Marketing, or SEM.
SEM captures the moment when customers are directly communicating their intent. Of course, when a customer searches for "wireless speakers” on Google or Bing, they may simply want a picture of one, or information about their history. But, there is a very good chance that they are looking to buy one at that moment. The same applies to nearly every kind of product or service, including ones that are very costly and require more involved levels of information. In those cases, SEM can help drive sales leads rather than direct purchases.
Among the most prominent brands when it comes to paid search are travel sites like Orbitz, Expedia, Priceline, and TripAdviser.
Priceline in particular, has made huge investments in SEM, investing nearly $1 billion in paid search in 2011. The result was 2x growth over the same period the year prior. At the time, HotelMarketing.com reported, “Now that the dust has settled, it's clear the spectacular growth of Priceline ... was propelled by a massive boost in online marketing.”
Not all marketers can make 10-figure investments in SEM, but Priceline’s results clearly demonstrate SEM’s continuing growth potential.
4 Best Practices for Effective Search Marketing
» Implement Conversion Tracking
You cannot improve your search marketing campaigns if you don't know exactly how they're performing. To track performance, you need to implement conversion tracking, which tracks everything from impressions to clicks to conversions. For the best results, implement a tool like Google Analytics that allows you to track conversions across all major search networks.
» Optimize for Revenue, Not Position or Clicks
The goal of a search marketing campaign is not to generate clicks or to appear highest in the paid search results. The goal of SEM is to generate conversions. To do so, pause or reduce bids on low-performing keywords, rewrite ads that don't drive high-quality traffic, and adjust landing pages to make converting as simple as possible.
» Don't Over-Rely on "Broad" Terms
The simplest way to select keywords is to choose a handful of "Broad" match terms. By selecting "book" as a "Broad Match" term, for instance, you'd effectively be adding "books," "travel books," "deals on books," "books by Stephen King" – and hundreds of other phrases – to your campaign. To home in on a specific audience, use narrower "Phrase" or "Exact" keywords. For more details on keyword match types, check out this extensive tutorial from Search Engine Land.
» Use Location Targeting to Drive Local Sales
Local businesses cannot succeed with search marketing unless they implement location, or "geo" targeting. By default, search ads appear country or world-wide (depending on the network you're advertising on). If you're offer isn't available nationwide, limit the reach of your ads to specific cities, states, or metropolitan regions. Priceline has done this very effectively: rather than simply displaying “Priceline” ads to the entire world, they target specific regional brands they own – like Agoda – to specified markets. This commitment to regional targeting is a key differentiator: “Priceline global brands such as Agoda and Booking.com are eclipsing their rivals from the Expedia and Orbitz camps around the world when it comes to a presence in paid-search.”