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May 20, 2009

Canada-specific SEO and PPC Issues - Inside the Marketers' Studio

Editor's Note: This "Inside the Marketers' Studio" post, where we ask savvy marketers for their take on the burning marketing questions of the day, is inspired by a panel on Canada-specific search issues at the upcoming Search Engine Strategies Toronto conference.

In working with clients on their search engine optimization and paid search programs, I'm often asked questions about Canada-specific search topics that run the gamut from spelling issues (that darn "u") to bilingual challenges. I asked a few marketers who specialize in SEO and PPC to answer the following three questions:

  1. What do you think is the key Canada-specific challenge facing Canadian paid search marketers?
  2. What is the first step they should take to address that challenge?
  3. What are your top 2 or 3 favourite resources/tools/blogs for marketers who want to be more effective at search marketing?

They've shared their experiences and insights below - we'd be delighted if you shared YOUR answers in the comments!

Ari Shomair

Ari-shomairAri Shomair is the Director of Marketing Optimization at henderson bas in Toronto.

1. What do you think is the key Canada-specific challenge facing Canadian paid search marketers?
Although the environment has been improving, there is still “noise” in the Canadian PPC marketplace from click arbitrage businesses. The SEM arbitrage business model is basically to use highly-optimized SEM campaigns to acquire cheap traffic, and then resell that traffic at a profit. You have probably seen click arbitrage sites before; they normally contain a generic image in the top left corner of the screen (e.g. two hands shaking, a picture of a woman smiling), a heading which contains the keyword you searched for (“find credit cards today!”) as well as a list of links with one line descriptions.

Click arbitrage businesses flourished in Canada specifically because many American companies use North American geo-location databases, meaning their ads showed to both Americans and Canadians. Because of this, historically a click arbitrage firm could buy search ads in Canada at lower CPCs than the United States (both due to currency and competition differences), and then resell that traffic to Americans at a profit.

While click arbitrage may seem relatively harmless, it both increases CPC rates on the search engines, as well as sours user experience when clicking search ads. The reason why Canadian businesses specifically should be concerned is many click arbitrage sites are now populated with Canadian ads. In other words, many Canadian businesses are effectively paying click arbitrage firms to bid against them in the SEM marketplace. This occurs because the Canadian business is buying ads on content networks, which are then being served on the arbitrage sites.

2. What is the first step they should take to address that challenge?
Measuring traffic quality from content networks is the first step in the battle against click arbitrage sites. As it is possible for search arbitrage traffic to convert profitability, it is important determine which arbitrage sites are generating sales, and which are eating dollars. This can be done either via the use of a traffic quality analysis service, or by analyzing content network traffic logs by hand and comparing clicks to conversions.

3. What are your top 2 or 3 favourite resources/tools/blogs for marketers who want to be more effective at search marketing?
The official Google Adwords blog should be essential reading for all search marketers. Beyond that, I check into http://www.searchengineland.com regularly for my “official” search engine news. I have found that while it is valuable to read about SEM, most of my education comes from doing. Hence, I highly recommend anyone interested in SEM to set up a small SEM campaign and begin running real tests. Just make sure to set appropriate campaign budgets!

Marc Poirier

Marc poirerMarc Poirier is the Co-Founder and CMO of Acquisio.

1. What do you think is the key Canada-specific challenge facing Canadian paid search marketers?
In one word: Fragmentation

First - There are 2 official languages, both are important to cover, especially for national companies - which makes creating campaigns with full coverage very difficult. Not only do you need bilingual campaigns with all the structural issues these can raise, but you also have to follow through with a bilingual site and with bilingual touch points inside the company. Companies who are not ready to serve in both languages can be at a disadvantage.

Second, you need to work with at least 5 different search engine accounts to cover the whole country in both languages with the main search engines used in Canada:

  • Google AdWords account, which you can fund in Canadian dollars
  • Yahoo requires 2 accounts, one for US and Canada (English) and is funded in US dollars and another for French Canada which is in Canadian dollars
  • Microsoft adCenter
  • Canadian only search engine Klix by Canoe

So you have to operate with multiple engines and with 2 different currencies, which obviously makes reporting quite challenging, to say the least.

2. What is the first step they should take to address that challenge?
Working in both languages requires changes at all levels of a company, so I would say that it's not specific to SEM but to all forms of marketing. If your company is bilingual, then by all means you should advertise in both languages, but if that is not the case, obviously you don't want to market to people you can't serve.

Getting organized to manage multiple accounts requires a lot of time and discipline, or a good PPC management platform that will provide you with a single interface to manage all campaigns across all engines. There are several options in the market, and (shameless plug) I think it's definitely safe to say that my company, Acquisio (www.acquisio.com) offers one of the top PPC management applications available today.

3. What are your top 2 or 3 favourite resources/tools/blogs for marketers who want to be more effective at search marketing?
I get my industry news from RSS feeds at searchengineland.com and seomoz.com, also twitter works great for me because it allows me to follow a lot of very, very smart people. You can follow me - and thus gain access to my list of super-bright SEM friends on twitter @marcpoirier

Guillaume Bouchard

Guillaume Bouchard Guillaume Bouchard is the Co-founder and CEO of NVI.

1. What do you think is the key Canada-specific challenge facing Canadian paid search marketers?
Canadian are forced to compete with US advertisers, as most of them advertise for North America and not just America. The key challenge is two fold:

a. High bid prices despite a relatively small market that should allow cheaper clicks

b. having a bilingual site if you don't want to forget about the 25-30% of French Canadian seeking services online.

2. What is the first step they should take to address that challenge?
a. Canadian tailored PPC ads to get a higher CTR/CR and overcome the massive amount of US advertisers

b. ensure that their site is 100% bilingual and translate by native French Canadians and native English Canadians.

3. What are your top 2 or 3 favourite resources/tools/blogs for marketers who want to be more effective at search marketing?
Go-Referencement.org in French; SEOmoz.org and SEOBook in English

Heather Dougherty

Heather DoughertyHeather Dougherty is the Research Director of Hitwise.

1. What do you think is the key Canada-specific challenge facing Canadian paid search marketers?
Search is by far the largest Internet activity in Canada, capturing 14.58% of Canadian Internet visits in April, providing many opportunities to reach searchers through both paid & organic search. One the biggest challenges facing Canadian paid search marketers is geo-targeting the appropriate Canadian market, particularly as US-based companies may inadvertently run PPC campaigns in Canada and where French is the predominant language. The second challenge is the efficiency of paid search campaigns and their ability to drive clicks while organic traffic is rising as the result of improved SEO efforts and the usage of social media.

2. What is the first step they should take to address that challenge?
The first step is monitoring geo-targeting settings along with the websites competing for terms, if competing heavily with companies running irrelevant campaigns, prices will be high until they revamp their campaigns to improve efficiency.

3. What are your top 2 or 3 favourite resources/tools/blogs for marketers who want to be more effective at search marketing?
I often read John Battelle’s Searchblog for commentary about the industry as a whole and read the Searchday and Searchcap newsletters for an aggregation of relevant search news. And Hitwise of course! We’re very excited to be entering the Canadian market to provide our clients with competitive intelligence.

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