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Betting the Ranch on Google AdWords

By Louis Columbus
Dec 9, 2005 5:00 AM PT

In watching the continual battling of best-of-breed vendors for top position on CRM-related searches on Google, I decided to sign up for an AdWords account and see how this works. First, I am not a search engine optimization expert, not an AdWords expert, but having tracked many small companies I saw popping up in AdWords seemingly battling their competitors for space along the right side of Google search screens, I was curious.

Betting the Ranch on Google AdWords

What I found was a silent stealth war going on between best-of-breed vendors for position in the AdWords column of searches on keyword searches, and a strategy on the part of larger best-of-breed vendors of completing dominating their smaller best-of-breed counterparts in AdWord spending alone.

Here are the key take-aways from the research based on conversations and testing done using keywords in AdWords, financial analysis from D&B reports, and in the case of publicly-held companies, their filings with the SEC:

  • The smaller the vendor the higher dependence on Google AdWords as their primary source of leads. Analyzing some of the smallest vendors in CRM, this fact became clear quickly. Companies comprised of 50 people or less and not being able to afford telemarketing, ongoing direct mail or events including webinars, Google and sponsored search are affordable and easy to track. Clearly smaller vendors see the ROI of AdWords and like the analytical tools and campaign management summary table that shows clicks, impressions, average cost-per-click and total cost by campaign.
  • ERP vendors' keyword names spark stealth wars for AdWord positioning. For many best-of-breed companies, especially those in one specific niche of CRM whose lifeblood is playing a complimentary role to IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, or SAP, the bidding wars, hidden except to those companies trying to buy their way into top position in AdWords links, are amazingly volatile.
  • Guerilla marketing Google style. Its' fascinating to watch competitors jockey with each other on the most coveted keywords in their segments. One afternoon it was clear that a CRM vendor was intent on dominating one keyword in particular, and had taken their bid amount for the keyword, expressed as cost-per-click (CPC) by Google, into the stratosphere. You could tell them from their position on search pages. It took less than a day before a larger competitor reacted and increased the bid amount for the same keyword, dropping the smaller upstart competitor to the second page of AdWord links for that given search.
  • AdWords are the acid test for positioning. It's clear that CRM best-of-breed companies are using their own acronyms, phrases, and lexicon to position their ads for search in Google. The trouble is no one else uses their lexicon or knows their acronyms. One VP of sales for a best-of-breed vendor confided that marketing had initially selected the company's own coined terms of keywords and was surprised when their clicks were non-existent.

Competitive Data Just Five Clicks Away

In AdWords, you're paying for every time your ad is shown when the keyword is typed into the Search box of Google. For a modest investment, I created a short ad and started buying keywords.

Within less than a day the following lessons were learned:

  • AdWords make you question your assumptions about who you compete with. Results from buying keywords and watching the clicks coming from those searching on those terms made it clear that traditional competitors to the company I based the ad on didn't show up at all -- best-of-breed vendors tangential but not directly competitive were where all the clicks were coming from. That's fascinating in that it says even the vendor I targeted with the ad didn't see this other company as a competitor.
  • Acronyms are the albatrosses of AdWords. This is another lesson learned; acronyms are the albatrosses or the bottom feeders of both impressions and clicks. The vendor I modeled the test on uses an acronym with religious intensity and even when a total of 12,000 impressions were recorded, their coveted acronym has just one impression. I think it was the marketing VP.
  • Your competitors' keyword strategies become clear quickly. One of the more powerful aspects of AdWords is the opportunity companies have to increase or decrease bids for specific keywords to maximize exposure. It's common to see the most effective keywords jump in value, especially when there's been positive recent news on the subject.

Time to Seek Professional Help

After touring AdWords for a few days, it became clear that in the hands of someone who is an expert, this would be a very powerful lead generation tool. In looking for AdWords guidance, I found the Google AdWords blog very useful, and the AdWords Help Center.

Bottom line: The stealth war for keywords will make or break the smaller best-of-breed CRM vendors' pipelines as they bet the ranch on Google advertising strategies.


Louis Columbus, a CRM Buyer columnist, is a former senior analyst with AMR Research. He is the author of several books on making the most of analyst relationships, including Best Practices in Analyst Relations, which can be downloaded for free.


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