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Catering To Online Shoppers

This year online retailers are paying more attention to people browsing at search engines.
But even at $4 or $5 per click, paid search is probably more effective than TV advertising, he says. The Body Shop, Crabtree & Evelyn, Disney and Restoration Hardware are all ICrossing customers. "I expect less hysteria and less people overpaying for traffic this year," Sardou says. But if Father's Day is any indication, the spending frenzy could be wild. Last June, he says, the term "father's day gift" went from a dime to $5 within a week.

It's common sense to bid on product names as terms, like the Roboraptor, one of the season's popular toys. But choosing terms also requires anticipating shopper behavior at a search engine.

"It's not just the hot toy, but how are they going to misspell it? What are the keywords that surround it? That takes research," says Marckini of IProspect. "Anybody can go and buy ‘Roboraptor,' but what number of people won't remember the name and will search for ‘robot toy' instead?" And what happens after some toys inevitably sell out? The searches for them won't stop, he says, so retailers are building a strategy for terms that introduce shoppers to substitute items.

Since last summer, if not before, retailers have been testing the "landing pages" on their sites, where shoppers arrive after clicking on an ad next to search results. Sardou says more merchants than last year are studying how subtle changes, such as to a headline or a buy-now offer, can make people more likely to buy.

Search engines have become the gateway for many people on the Web looking to make a purchase. Traffic monitoring firm Hitwise reports that for the week ending Nov. 12, the top five most popular sites in its Online Retail Index -- Froogle.com, Bizrate.com, Shopzilla.com, Shopping.com and Nextag.com, all shopping comparison sites -- each attracted more than half their traffic from search engines. In the three most popular shopping subcategories -- rewards and directories, intimate apparel and accessories, and house and garden -- search engines accounted for one-third of total traffic.

Overall, Hitwise says traffic this year closely follows 2004, with a big spike predicted on Thanksgiving, when many people go online to research sales, and the days immediately following.

However, Google and Yahoo Search sent 25 percent more visits to the 10 leading shopping comparison sites for the week ending Nov. 19 compared to the same period a year ago, according to Hitwise.

Editor's Choice
Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing