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ADVERTISING: Slick pay-per-click

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is becoming an important marketing tool, with practitioners allocating increasing amounts of their budgets to the medium. According to figures by the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) search ads grew by 39 per cent last year to a total spend of £1.6 billion. But despite its popularity, search is not the simplest of mediums to manage; developing and maintaining successful bid strategies is a time-consuming and involved process. As such, marketers are increasingly outsourcing the function to experts, and there are now a plethora of bid management tools on the market to help them to do this.

In fact there are now so many automated search tools out there, deciding which one to use can be time-consuming in itself. As the PPC market has matured, so have the tools that service it, and outsource providers offer a range of services to suit budget and need. More 'traditional' tools, such as Bid Buddy, operate on a rules-based management system, giving marketers the control to specify, for example, the day, or time of day and when they want to increase or decrease bids. But some tools are becoming ever more sophisticated. Efficient Frontier uses what it calls a 'portfolio' approach. "It is fundamentally different in that it can forecast click volume, cost-per-click, conversion rate and potential ROI for every keyword, which rules-based systems cannot do," explains Jonathan Beeston, Efficient Frontier's client services director.

Getting clever
This shift towards a more sophisticated type of automated tool is down to the power of Google. Its quality score - which measures how relevant the content on a webpage is to the keyword that leads the searcher there - means it is no longer enough for marketers simply to buy keywords and wait to appear at the top of the listings. Nowadays, they need to keep track of not only how keywords are performing, but on conversion rates too - i.e. whether those clicks are delivering a return on investment. "The bid is important, but if you don't have a quality website or if your ad creative isn't selling exactly what is on your site, then even if you are bidding high you will find yourself in a lower position in the rankings," says Salvatore Esposito, MD of GoAdv Group.