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11 Inventory Sources For Keyword Marketers

It’s been a decade of paid search, and once broadband usage hit critical mass, search volume has pretty much climbed at a steady, predictable rate. Last month’s U.S. searches (on search engines) totaled almost sixteen billion and we have a good idea of when it will hit seventeen. Sure, individual keyword volume will always be in flux, but I would suspect that most search marketers out there have a pretty good understanding of how many search impressions are available for them each month. For as great as paid search is as an ROI marketing channel, most large advertisers will always have the problem of scale –  they would take as much of their high-converting traffic they could get their hands on, but there’s just never enough.

So what can you do about it? You can try for higher click-through rates. If you’re getting a certain percentage of users to click your ads, you could effectively double your traffic by doubling your CTR. Great! But wait—how many times can you do that? Well, you can always try expanding your keyword lists; but, usually, an advertiser has already honed in on their top converting terms and adding more keywords may mean adding less relevant/more general ones and that hardly ever produces a top ROI.

So what is a search marketer to do? You’ve taken search engine inventory as far as it can go. What now?

My answer?  I think that most search marketers  will eventually evolve into keyword marketers. Heck, any search marketer who has purchased Google Content inventory is, almost by definition, also a keyword marketer because the impressions aren’t exactly search-triggered, right? Just because it’s sold by Google on AdWords doesn’t make it a search product. Meanwhile, in most cases, contextually targeted ads are usually considered to fall under online display, not search. But, because it is keyword driven, search marketers have generally been the ones to buy it.

With so many inventory sources now available at the keyword level and growing, just working with search engine keywords as a sole specialty might seem almost ridiculous in a decade. In an article earlier this year here on SearchEngineLand.com, It’s A Great Time To Be A Search Marketer…It’s About To Get Better, I outlined the huge opportunity for search marketers to become analysts and manage ad exchange inventory based on its real-time bidding environment as that channel grows.

Who better to handle any kind of keyword inventory than search marketers? One day, an advertiser’s keyword list maybe seen as a  powerful business asset that becomes as important as the Colonel’s Secret Recipe is to KFC. The list will be sliced and diced and categorized for use on the variety of keyword channels. There will be a need to gather insights and trends from these various advertising sources and optimizations that will go across them. Even hard decisions will be made to navigate through channel conflicts as different business units of the same company bicker over which keywords their segment should own.

So, what kind of ad inventory is out there for keyword marketers? Some of it, like search retargeting, is a relatively new offering while others like internet yellow pages (IYPs) and shopping engines have been used by SEM pros for years. Whatever the channel, if it involves a keyword, let the keyword marketers handle it.

11 Great keyword marketing sources

Search Retargeting

Probably one of the most exciting things to happen to search since quality score, Search Retargeting companies such as Chango, Simpli.fy, and Magnetic have deals with various web entities to enormously cookie users based on their search term. The various sources of this data are proprietary, but it seems to be coming from secondary search engines, browser search toolbars, and even internal searches on websites. You can then work with search retargeting companies to serve display ads to users who have searched on your key terms via the ad exchanges.


What can you say about this web behometh? With a 16% market share of all online display ads now running through the social network and tremendous amounts of data on their users, the possibilities are endless. Using their self-service platform, marketers can target ads to users based on keywords that have shown up in certain sections of user profiles and behavior. The platform is very “search like” with advertisers able to create campaigns, generate ads, and even bid for their impressions. With Facebook growing so quickly, the opportunity seems to be very huge for advertisers to reach their target demo.

In-text advertising

Ever been reading an article or blog and see those double underlined or bolded words? When you mouse over them, you get served an ad. Companies such as Vibrant Media and Kontera work with publishers to embed their code into web pages which enables advertisers to buy these links inside their content. Kontera has marketed this as story-level marketing and is completely driven by keywords. It’s one level above standard contextual advertising because instead of the ad appearing alongside the content, it actually appears in the text itself.

Buy the page after a search click

A few years ago, our agency was working with an advertiser in the finance category and we were being outbid on some of our very important high-volume terms by an online financial publisher. So, instead of going head-to-head against their very deep pockets, we analyzed their site and engaged with the publisher to advertiser at 100% SOV (Share of Voice) on specific key pages where these top search terms were being directed. We bought a sponsorship that included banners as well as inclusion in some very eye-catching editorial space. So, even though we weren’t able to directly capture users at the Search Engines Results Page (SERP) level, we in essence were still reaching users who had searched on those terms and clicked — that’s a very solid demographic and it worked well for us.

Internet Yellow Pages

IYPs have been a solid source of secondary inventory for search marketers for years.  Web sites such as YellowPages.com, SuperPages.com, etc. have AdWords-like platforms to load ads and target search terms used on their proprietary platforms.  It’s certainly not specifically search engine traffic but it does happen in real time when a user is demonstrating some level of intent and can get matched to a relevant business.

Shopping Engines

Another solid performer, shopping engines like Shopping.com, Bizrate.com, etc. have offered keyword targeting solutions for years to advertisers. The main benefit to being on these platforms is that you’re usually reaching users who are the best demographic on the web, i.e. in market shoppers. The shopping engines do not usually have sophisticated real-time bidding platforms but they have enough technology to do the job.

Publisher-based search term targeting

Because the engines pass through the query to the landing page within the URL, some ad networks and publishers can already target display ads based on specified keywords. They can then cookie tag those users based on their keyword and retarget to them throughout their network. You can setup your buy to serve different (i.e. more relative) creative to users who have searched on different terms.

Via Display

So many studies have been done on the synergy between search and display. I have personally seen the power of display and other media (both online and offline) and their impact on search. A few years ago, I worked on the agency team that was handling the paid search for a top five spender online. The banners weren’t working and the advertiser mandated the program to be shut down. Within the weeks following, the search volume on their highest converting branded terms began to wane which began to rack up millions of dollars in lost gross revenue. When the display program was reactivated, we saw the search volume slowly creep back up to its normal levels. For anyone that knows anything about the purchase funnel, using other media to drive users to search is an integral part of a successful search strategy.


If Twitter ever got their act together and really monetized the platform, it would seem to be a keyword marketer’s dream. Its 100% word driven and streamed in short bursts that ads would fit fairly nicely between. There have been some startups that have tried to take advantage of this opportunity but finally Twitter is releasing their Promoted Tweets program which is rumored to be setup very much in the AdWords model. The future seems promising for this channel.

Mobile Search

I’m hearing more buzz that mobile search is going to be a completely different animal than the fixed web version that we’ve all been using for years. First of all, engines will lose a lot of mobile search market share to specialty apps. For example, why search on a general engine like Google for a local restaurant if users can not only get listings, but reviews, menus, and even book tables via their favorite iPhone or Android restaurant apps. As well, the mobile providers may have their own ideas of which search engine should receive top billing on their handsets. I’m sure when Microsoft finally releases their iPad competing device; Bing will probably be the engine of choice.

Content and editorial links

Recently, I heard about a new company called Skimlinks that “creates new affiliate links by automatically converting product references in editorial and user-generated content into geotargeted links directing consumers to specific purchase points.”  This is some cutting edge stuff, so I don’t know how it’s going to be used, but I immediately thought of some kind of in-text ad solution in an AdWords-type platform. You would be able to attach your links to certain keywords inside content. That sounds very promising!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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