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Search Term Guidelines for Overture Advertisers

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When discussing pay per click advertising with Overture advertisers, they tend to say it’s an easy program to use to get to the top of search engines. While this is true, a well-optimized and carefully researched pay per click campaign can often deliver much more traffic to a site at a lower average cost per click. To bring your average cost per click down while increasing pay per click traffic, you need to get a high number of search terms approved for your site.

But as you start digging deeper for relevant search terms you’ll probably start bumping up against some of Overture’s search guidelines. For the most part, Overture’s guidelines help improve the quality of their advertising directory while at the same time improving your return on investment. Here are a few examples of what you can expect to experience in working with Overture along with some suggestions on how to make your Overture ad campaign a success.

Common Reasons For Declines

Search term Relevancy: While there are plenty of searches for the term “sex” online, if your site is for a consulting firm, it’s just not relevant and will not get approved. Okay, that’s a stretch, but it’s surprising how many people use that logic when picking search terms. This should be an easy rule to comply with, but there are times where the editors at Overture just won’t be familiar enough with your business to see how a term could be relevant. In those cases you have two options which I’ll outline later.

Poorly Written Titles and Descriptions: Overture limits the use of ALL CAPS, hype, and excessive use of symbols in the titles and descriptions you build. While this theoretically hurts advertisers by lowering the click through rates on ads, it actually has the opposite effect since Overture would not have the portal relationships they have with Yahoo and other major sites without this guideline. It also works in your favor by forcing people to read your title and description before clicking on your site and costing you money. In most cases, Overture appears to only decline for hype and excessive use of symbols. However, you should really consider matching your titles and descriptions to you search terms. While it can be labor intensive, the closer you match your titles and descriptions to the search term you’re bidding on, the higher the quality of traffic you’ll receive for your pay per click dollar. Many Pay Per Click management firms have tools to cut down the time involved in building a relevant set of titles and descriptions. Hey, if you do this every day you eventually get around to automating things.

Direct Path: This term is loosely regulated by Overture, but the idea is to make sure your link goes to the specific page on your site the search term is targeting. While you’ll rarely have a term declined for this it makes good business sense to do this voluntarily. Why? Because it improves usability which increases sales and contacts. You’re doing your visitors a favor by sending them to what they’re trying to find. Ford should send someone directly to the Ford Explorer page for “ford explorer” searches, NOT to www.ford.com. If you have a framed site or a site build entirely in Flash you’ll have problems with this one.

General and Specific Search Terms: This is at tricky one and should be based more on your own discretion than Overture’s. Overture loosely rejects listings from companies bidding on generic industry terms. But this one is an extremely gray area. Use your own best judgment as to what’s a truly relevant term for your site and fight for those but here are some tips on what NOT to fight for.

If you run a local car dealership, don’t bid on “cars.” If you run a small travel agency, don’t bid on “travel.” The terms receive a lot of searches but they’re simply too generic to generate any sales for your business and are very expensive. Additionally, if you don’t plan on bidding into either the top-3 premium search positions or at least the top ten for a term, skip it. Why? Because, based on our client’s experience, you’ll end up receiving more clicks from competitors viewing your site along with vendors looking for leads than actual customers. Do you really want to pay for that traffic? Of course not.

So those are the basics, but what are the bigger challenges?

Regional websites: If you run a site that Overture views as regional, while you really sell a product or service that can be sold nationally, (eg. Junky car dealers probably only deal regionally while a classic Porsche dealer probably deals nationally or internationally.) This is a common problem and often calls for an appeal. If your site targets a national audience make sure Overture lets you advertise to that market. Tip: There are MANY cases where sites do a poor job of bidding on relevant local terms which tend to be much cheaper than the more generic national terms. Do not overlook this opportunity for highly targeted traffic. However, this will lead to challenges related to:

Insufficient Search: Overture has decided to set a minimum number of monthly searches for a term to make it worthy of bids in their database. For example, you can bid on “pictures of shitzus” but not “shitzu calendars.” The demand just isn’t high enough. This one is frustrating for people who have taken the time to build extensive lists of keywords, and just because a term doesn’t get a lot of searches doesn’t mean someone isn’t willing to pay for that traffic. Overture realizes this too, but it vastly increases the terms in their database if they allow every possible combination of words no matter how obscure they may be.

Appeals: After submitting your terms, you’ll receive a response from Overture with a list of what terms are approved and what terms have been declined along with the reasons for declined terms. The turn around time is between 1-5 days. So what should you do about declined terms?

If a term was declined based on direct path or poorly written titles and descriptions, just clean things up and resubmit. They probably did you a favor. However, if you’re declined for a reason that needs clarification, you can request a Secondary Review form by replying to the editor’s email address. This form is an Excel Spreadsheet where you can list the declined search terms along with an explanation of why you think you deserve a listing for that term. This is a rather slow process but it does work.

Since Overture is a human-edited site, there are some inconsistencies in how their guidelines are enforced. This leads to another approach to appealing declined terms. There is no penalty for resubmitted the terms through the regular listings system in the Direct Traffic Center and in many cases the exact same search term, title, description, and URL will be approved by a different human editor. The nice thing is that once a term is approved it will be there for a long time.

Many amateur pay per click advertisers can think of a few dozen terms that are applicable to their website, while an expert in the field can often generate many times more terms. Consider hiring a pro to manage your campaign.

Ed Kohler is president of Haystack In A Needle, a web marketing firm in Minneapolis, MN, offering search engine optimization and pay per click advertising consulting services.

Search Term Guidelines for Overture Advertisers
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