Merchant Advertising Systems Comparison

By on Jul 24, 2006 in Blog Posts, Internet | 1 comment

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After launching my webstore (http://www.shopunitednetworks.com) I have spent considerable time promoting it through some of the popular search engines and comparison shopping sites. Here is a brief run down of the pros and cons of each:

Type: Comparative Shopping
Click-Through Rate: About 4.00%
Average CPC: Manually set to $0.70
Initial Investment Needed: $50.00
Pros: Reaches a large targeted audience – the people who use Shopping.com are there to shop, not to search. This means a higher sales conversion. The site is full featured and includes decent support.
Cons: Calling in for support is difficult as it can be hard to find someone to assist you. The site has a bit of a learning curve and is unlike most others. There is a 1-2 day delay after uploading your products before they appear on the site. Although my products appear correctly, many are tagged as “needing attention” because they didn’t fit into an exact category. A great deal of work is needed to get all of your site data entered because the interface has so many different areas. Reporting is extremely weak and does not tell you what product was clicked on. ROI tracking is generic unless you customize the tool for each product.

Type: Comparative Shopping
Click-Through Rate: 0.00%
Average CPC: Manually set to $1.00
Initial Investment Needed: $150.00 (May be $100.00)
Pros: Compared to the others sites there is very little that can be called “special” about Shopzilla.com. I can’t think of anything that is worth mentioning here.
Cons: Easily the worst management utility of any of the sites. The layout is horrid and functionality is spread out over dozens of pages. The delay after uploading products is normally 1-2 days, but took even longer for me at times. There is almost no online support. Attempts to call in were met with confusion by the employees – they didn’t know how I got their numbers. They also consistently told me to submit help requests through the online system (which is just an E-Mail form that does not generate trouble tickets). Placing bids is more complicated than it needs to be and poorly laid out. Managing listings after upload is extremely time consuming and un-intuitive. The reporting tool requires you to CTRL-Click and highlight every category. Bids and products didn’t become active until I called and got things moving.

Yahoo! Shopping
Type: Search Based Shopping
Click-Through Rate: 0.00%
Average CPC: Automatic
Initial Investment Needed: $50.00
Pros: Yahoo! was the easiest to sign up with and has the simplest interface. The system is also one of the fastest when processing uploaded products and has a nice auto-indexing feature which works fairly well. More information can be included in the product upload file than in any other system.
Cons: I was never able to reach Yahoo!’s phone support and left a message. The call wasn’t returned until late the following day and the technician was unable to assist me. The biggest problem with the Yahoo! system is that it lacks functionality. I uploaded about 300 items and only half of those were accepted. Of the 100 plus items that were rejected, I could only find a reason for rejection for seven of them. Yahoo! told me that there system threw out products that it couldn’t automatically import without error, and that there were instances where the system simply didn’t have a message to display to the merchant. The end result is you don’t know why your products weren’t accepted, and neither does Yahoo!. You are forced to manually troubleshoot your file and this is simply not acceptable. Yahoo!’s upload format is also very different from any other that I have come across. This means you will be spending a lot of time reformatting your upload file. I can’t comment on reporting because I have never had a click through with Yahoo!.

Google AdWords
Type: Search Based Shopping
Click-Through Rate: 0.04%
Average CPC: Manually set at $1.00, with higher amounts required on some keywords
Initial Investment Needed: Custom
Pros: AdWords has the most intuitive and fully featured interface of all the systems that I have used. Online documentation is better than most systems, and the ad campaigns are easy to create. There are many options which allow you to tailor your service to fit your needs and your budget. The “Site-related keyword” feature is very helpful in automatically creating keywords for your campaign based on the text of your site, although it seems to be selective in what it considers. AdWords has one of the most elaborate and easy to use reporting tools as well. System changes, while not in real time, are very quickly implemented.
Cons: Google now requires higher bids on more popular keywords, effectively eliminating them as options for anyone but the largest advertisers. For example, a keyword such as “software” requires a $5.00 per click bid to activate. This renders some of the most popular keywords useless. I have used AdWords off and on for over a year now and the effectiveness of the system has been considerably reduced. I used to see impressions in the hundreds of thousands and now I’m lucky to break 10,000 impressions a week. Due to the popularity of AdWords it is more expensive than most systems to get your ad listed in the top 10.

Microsoft adCenter
Type: Search Based Shopping
Click-Through Rate: 0.34%
Average CPC: Manually set at $0.70
Initial Investment Needed: $50.00
Pros: This system is similar to AdWords in function but quite different in presentation. adCenter is much more visually appealing with a slick interface and graphical reports and analysis tools. I also see a much higher number of clicks on the MSN network than with Google.
Cons: Although the number of customers sent to me from adCenter is fairly high, the number of sales generated from those visits is very low – an unfortunate drawback of Search Based systems. Creating a campaign in adCenter is straight forward, but going back and editing settings for the campaign such as bids can be tedious. There is also an extremely long delay in adCenter’s reporting, sometimes three days or more. I spoke with someone at adCenter and they acknowledged that they were working on improving the system’s speed, but at this time you will have to wait for accurate data. adCenter also had more downtime than any other system I have used. adCenter’s keyword generation tool is nothing compared with Google’s. At times the amount spent exceed the limit you specify, although the people at adCenter tell me that I will not be charged the difference.

Comparison shopping systems such as Shopping.com seem to be more cost effective than search based engines like AdWords and adCenter. Don’t forget to list your products with Google Base as well for some free advertisement. My thoughts on online advertising are mixed. On one hand you get your name out there, but on the other you are spending a lot of money and time for very few sales. Be very careful choosing systems to use and tailor them as much for your target market as possible.