[This article has been translated into Spanish and can be accessed here, if you would prefer to read it in that language]
In late July of 2008, I was assigned the task of launching a SEM program for small and medium sized businesses in an emerging market. The SEM program included pay-per-click advertising on search engines using a fixed monthly budget. At that time, one study, commissioned by the Sales and Marketing Executives Association, showed that only 38% of the population of Puerto Rico was connected to the Internet. This was a stagnant growth of only 3 percentage points over the same group studied in 2006. For its part, comScore data showed that top visited sites were Google, Yahoo, and MSN (now Bing), indicating that those local people that searched the Internet began their browsing with a search engine. As we developed the program, four major issues arose as a result of the nature of pay-per-click advertising in an untouched market.
1. How many clicks am I going to get?
There were only a few advertisers experimenting with AdWords when we contacted them. These pioneers were mostly in the hotel and car rental businesses, running their ad in English with English keywords, perhaps to target tourist and business travelers searching in the USA while planning their trip to Puerto Rico. At this point, there was little data for Puerto Rico searches in Spanish via the recently launched Google Keyword Tool. For all other business categories, we relied on Cincinnati Metro Area trends in order to determine our target market for the SEM program. We used this data as it came from a sales division within our parent company already implementing PPC. It was pure guesswork to determine budget performance with the primary data sources available.
2. I want my keywords in Spanish, but also some in English.
The second most pressing issue had to do with determining the language for PPC campaigns. Businesses wanted keywords in English and in Spanish, with the expectation that they could reach a wider audience. In a market where people communicate socially in Spanish but in many cases conduct business in English, it sounded perfectly reasonable to require bilingual keywords for the PPC program. But this is not how search marketing is configured, since keyword and ad copy have to be in the same language. In many cases, to please advertisers, we would run keywords and ads in Spanish, but included a link to English information (and vice versa) in the landing page reached by the consumer upon clicking an ad.
3. I can’t see my ads.
Unlike local Yellow Pages directories where your ad is ALWAYS present in a name or category search, budget-based PPC ads are not always available in a given search due to pacing of the assigned monthly budget. This created enormous anxiety in many advertisers. In fact, as many of them fell prey to ‘vanity search’ – the act of wanting to see their ad in ALL results for a given keyword search. We found ourselves putting together ‘print screen’ pages of searches made from different personal computers in order to show advertisers how their ad was active through the month.
4. You did something to my ads. I’m not getting as many clicks as last week.
Once an advertiser got used to monitoring detailed statistics about their PPC campaign, they start to wonder why they didn’t do this before. At this point, advertisers want to jockey for keyword performance on a daily basis. However, traffic is driven by humans searching totally at random and based on their day-to-day needs. Performance can go up or down, depending on seasonality and the day of the week. Ultimately, advertisers know this all too well from running their businesses.
In conclusion, the issues detailed above make PPC advertising in emerging markets with little-to-no market data a challenging task for SEM resellers. However, as advertisers begin to reap the benefits of betting on a medium where they have control and can measure their performance on a daily basis, they get excited about reaching consumers at the precise moment that they are ready to buy and the advantages to such a system become self-evident.