Paid Search Monitoring Project Concept – Run with it!
This concept is in my head for far beyond 2 1/2 years and I admit to myself that I am not going to do anything with it myself anytime soon. I outlined the general idea to several companies and people, but only shared the much more specific details only with a person who is as busy with other things as I am myself. I remember talking about it to Shawn Collins back in 2006 when the problem that my proposed solution is meant to take care of, was still on the rise and not that high on the priority list of things of the potential customers and users of the service.
When I saw Mark’s post at 45n5.com about “Steal This Idea – Your Abandoned Make Money Online Ideas“, I thought that my idea would be a perfect fit for this “series”.
I talked to people like Asasf Igell from Syntryx, Balazs Nagy, Tetsuto Yabuki, Andrew Wee, some outsourced development shop in India, a tools development company in Germany (SEO/SEM tools) and others, but somehow was it never going anywhere to make progress and have a real project. In some cases was it my own fault, but in some cases was it also the lack of time, interest and/or understanding of the concept by the potential partners for this project.
I decided to clean up my notes for this blog post and to publish the concept in as much detail as I have in writing myself (a large chunk actually, although there is still some stuff left in my head that was not spelled out yet). Anybody, person or company is free to grab the stuff and run with it.
If you make it happen and it becomes a success, send me an email, call me or buy me a beer at the next Affiliate Summit or something like that to tell me that it actually worked. You would owe me that and a thank you, but beyond that it will be up to you and how grateful you are and what the actual part of my contribution to the success was or not was. I am not a big fan of the ocean, so a yacht would be a waste of money hehe, just kidding.
The post is long, but you only have to read it in full, if you are actually interested in doing something with it. The first paragraphs are also interesting for the potential customers of the outlined services, because it talks about how to automate things that you might not even know about that you should do them in the first place.
There are some new services that are doing at least to some degree what I have in mind, but I don’t know of any solution that takes care of a need of a small and very specific niche with an unfulfilled need, waiting for somebody to come along to solve the problem and the need that was created from it.
Trademark Monitoring in Paid Search
Who is this solution for?
Affiliate Managers, Outsourced Program Management Companies
The trademark concerns moved up to the #1 concern of advertisers in the affiliate marketing space as per Affiliate Summit East 2007 in Miami last July. It was the #3 – #4 concern two years ago. (Note: Shawn, if you would have the links handy to your posts that talk about this and could post them here as comment, that would be great. I have a hard time finding some of your stuff, since your site re-design about one year ago )
The first step advertisers take is updating their affiliate agreement to specify the do’s and don’ts for paid search affiliates. This includes the specification of terms that affiliates are not allowed to bid on and/or maximum bid caps etc. Some prohibit bids on certain keywords to their general affiliate base, but allow selected hand-picked affiliates to bid on those terms.
So far so good; now monitoring and enforcing those policies becomes an issue. Abusive affiliates are also smart and use tricks to bid on forbidden terms without being detected.
The methods used include the pause of campaigns during office hours when advertisers and affiliate managers are likely to check for affiliates, who violate the TOS and also the exclusion of the location(s) where the advertiser and/or affiliate management company have their office locations via the geo-targeting features available at the major paid search providers, such as Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing and Microsoft AdCenter.
Advertisers who already use advanced software or services for paid search monitoring, competitive intelligence etc. can use those tools or services to do monitoring of the SERPs. How good the monitoring works when it comes to all the mentioned tricks, differs from service to service.
The rule of thumb is that the better the service is, the more expensive it is. For existing competitive intelligence services is this use of their solution, to monitor affiliate activities, only a by-product and not their core business. A large number of advertisers cannot afford the big enterprise services out there and/or also not justify the high cost, just for the purpose of trademark monitoring their affiliates.
Scalability (Business Point-of-View)
The solution would be a scalable service with recurring revenue (monthly/annual subscription), probably starting at about $10 per month for the basic service to more, depending on the client needs.
Fees should increase linear, depending on how much more the client wants to use the service.
“More” means not “different” in this case but additional things that are similar (some development to support additional things that are very similar to almost identical to what you started with) and/or more of the things that is already done for the customer and/or doing more often what you also already do for the client as well (= more hardware resources in essence).
Features needed to address those needs
1. Ability to specify a list of terms that need to be monitored
This list is limited in size, because it contains trademark and brand terms only.
2. Selection of Paid Search Providers to Monitor
1st Tier providers:
- Google AdWords
- Yahoo! Search Marketing
- Microsoft AdCenter
- Ask Sponsored Listings
2nd Tier Providers US:
- Miva Pay-Per-Click
- Looksmart AdCenter
- Findology PPC Search
- Enhance Interactive
- Copernic Media Solutions Publisher Network
2nd Tier Europe:
3. Check Frequency
- Every other day
- Once a day
- Multiple times per day
Some randomness should be applied to this to prevent that the monitoring time schedule can be predicted and affiliates become able to adjust their PPC campaigns accordingly and pause their ads when they know that a check will occur.
4. Location where check is conducted from
To prevent that rouge affiliates can avoid detection by excluding the monitoring service via geo-targeting, monitoring has to happen from various different locations around the United States and the world. For the most possible flexibility and ability to predict the location from where the check is conducted, the use of proxy servers is the best way to go. Starting with open proxies and then rent proxies down the road when business expands or find business partner with servers across the country (or world), which could be used as proxy.
The advertiser needs to be alerted about activities for his selected keyword terms. This should be done via email and web interface. The alert needs to follow an action by the advertiser to tell the system the status of this incident and to know what to do with it in the future.
6. Known Ad versus new Ad
If a new ad is detected at a search provider and an alert was sent to the advertiser, no future “new ad” alerts should be generated for the same ad in the future. You need to specify a set of criteria that allow you to determine the unique identifier for each ad, to be able to determine, if an ad is new and unknown or if you encountered this ad before in the past already.You must gather as much information about the origin and target of the ad as you possibly can; the basics include:
- Display URL
- Destination URL
- Final Destination URL (if possible without committing “click-fraud”)
You also need to log:
- search provider
- position of the ad
- used proxy location
- date/time of the check
However, this information is not part of the key to identify an ad as new or old.
7. Actions by Advertiser
7.1 Categorization of Ads
This categorization must be done by the advertiser per hand. We might be able to extend this with some extended configuration options to automatically pre-determine the right category based on parameters such as domain of destination URL etc.
- Own Ad (advertisers own paid search campaign) (okay)
- Approved affiliate ad (okay)
- Competitors ad or competitors affiliated (okay)
- Unapproved affiliate ad (action needed, warning email, reversal of commissions, account termination)
- Violating Competitors Ad (action needed, cease and desist)
The default category would be: “Unknown Ad”
7.2 Action Needed Categories
If a new unknown ad is assigned to an actionable category, an incident is created. The advertiser has to assign the incident to an entity, which he needs to specify. He can select an entity from a list of previously created entities or create a new one. Entities could be a specific affiliate or a competitor.The incident must also contain the keyword phrase(s) as key and date stamps for first and last reported occurrence. Geo-location information might be logged in addition to that (a flag if geo-targeting was used or not might be sufficient at the beginning).The advertiser needs to specify, if the incident can be closed automatically by the system, if the Ad disappears, or if this will be a manual step, the advertiser wants to perform by hand. Re-occurrences of the same incident while it is open are tracked and stored with the open incident.
If an incident was closed and the same ad reappears again, a new incident is created, but with reference to prior incidents that are in status closed.
This allows for example to see, if the same ad is used for another forbidden keyword phrase or if the ad suddenly appears with geo-targeting filters in place after running nationwide before.
All check results should be logged to be able to provide additional functionalities in the future. It should be logged the advertiser, the keyword phrase, the search provider, date/time of check and the proxy that was used for the check and then store all the ads that were found during the check.
- The database will grow and archiving needs to become a functionality that is needed early on.
- The development of the features can be phased-out.
Special Development Skills Needed
- Experience with pulling web page results via HTTP?
- Experience with using proxies to make those requests?
- Experience with parsing SERPS, organic and/or paid search results?
- Know the structure and format of Paid Search Ads to extract information like “Who is the advertiser?” or “What is the landing page URL of the Ad?”
The pricing options should also vary depending on the needs. Pricing will depend on the number of terms to monitor, search providers to cover (1st tier only, 2nd tier only, both), number of geo-locations from where to check and frequency of checks.
The most basic package which will be sufficient to get started and a hang on things should be priced below $20 per month and include up to 5 terms, 1st tier engines monitoring, 2 geo-locations (east coast and west coast) and perform those checks once a day with a randomized time of the day to check during different times of a day and cover every hour of a day within a period of one month.
Fees can then be increased depending on the needs of the advertiser. More terms to monitor, additional search providers, more geo-locations, higher frequency of checks (multiple checks per day etc.)
Getting it up to making a couple hundred dollars each in profits is not very hard (and pessimistic). I would consider $1,000 grand per month in profit for each of us, without the need to spend any time on it other than making sure that the hired services (hosting etc.) do their job and on feedback from users to get new ideas for how to improve and/or expand it.
Everything beyond that is added bonus and would depend on how serious we proceed on that avenue.
Current Market and Marketing Strategy
Initial marketing cost could be kept low to almost nothing and include the use of blogging, posting in forums (where possible and/or applicable) etc. to get the word out, letting people know what you do and how much it cost. Those methods rely on a viral affect to be effective in getting more business.
I would suggest to provide free access to a handful of people, who are influencers, have a voice and like to try thinks out, if they believe that it will help them and their pears doing a better job with stuff they already do today (at least should do), but very inefficient and inadequate. This would increase the likely-hood of success for a marketing campaign that relies heavily on word of mouth promotion of the service.
The businesses talk about those things to a larger degree than other stuff, because talking about this subject does not give anybody a significant competitive advantage over a competitor, which would prevent him to talk about the subject and share useful information and tips, in the hopes that that the competition will find out about those useful information as late as possible. All this is not a problem, which is the reason, why viral marketing might has a good chance to work well and help with some significant business growth initially.
Large companies are not the target, because they get or can get what we provide indirectly (to some extend) from services that are much more expensive, and which they probably already use for other purposes. You can use other services to do what I suggest, but
- A small team of partners or even an individual can do it a lot cheaper and
- Do it optimized to a larger degree to serve this small niche that is probably too small for many of the large players out there.
The other services are designed for other purposes, thus not competition really.
The high price tag of those services puts them out of reach for a large number of businesses who would only be able to leverage a fraction of the features those services offer and never be able to get the returns needed to justify the cost for them.
Players that I am referring to include services like:
To a limited degree services like:
- Trellian Competitive Intelligence – ci.trellian.com
- KeyCompete – KeyCompete.com
- Compete Search Analytics – searchanalytics.compete.com
Other Trademark Monitoring Services include:
- Thomson & Thomson – thomson-thomson.com
- LegalZoom – legalzoom.com
- Trademark Center – tmcenter.com
- Trademark Tracker – trademarktracker.com
- NameProtect – nameprotect.com
Beyond the Basics / Cost and Compensation
After that it depends on how hard you push it.
Press releases, paid search, old media advertising, display ads, sponsorships and all that can all be done and will help to increase the business, but will be completely up to you, if you want to do any or none of those and how much you want to spend on it.
My suggestion is that the first revenue will be used to pay for your time and any outsourcing you are doing to cover the basic needs, then not pay out the profits right after that and accumulate money that will be used for future expansion, including outsourcing of development, marketing and that sort of things.
After that money could be paid-out to be used for other purposes and new projects, but I would still recommend having some money going to a general pool every month and use it for expanding the business. If you think that some of the initial development can or should be outsourced, make sure that you have money available up-front to cover this.
The first profits could then be used to pay back your initial investment.
Another option is that your or your potential partner’s development time will not be paid in cash up-front and considered your or your partner’s investment into the project and you or your partner would have to put the same amount into the project in cash, which then would become the money for marketing and expansion etc.
Important for any fair partnership is, that both parties will have the same share of investments and risks in this project to prevent any unfair imbalance. Some work like maintenance, administration etc. can probably not be outsourced, at least not at the beginning.
While it may not cost anything, does it still take time to do it. You or your partner might be ending up working more on this than the other partner. That’s why should a compensation for this time become part of the partner agreement and considered to be the equivalent of a cash investment right from the start.
Everybody getting the same piece of the pie, no matter if you/he contributed 0 or 100 hours each month into the project is not right. I would suggest that you are not doing that mistake.
How long will it take?
Depending on the existing routines (code) and knowledge you and maybe also your partner has already, a few days to a few weeks for the core, then some time for the user interface and usability features, that you can do yourself or outsource. The standard stuff; such as User signup, account management, recurring billing etc. that is a very good candidate for outsourcing or for the use of an out-of-the box solution.
The audience who is targeted is more Internet- and tech savvy than the average user and could be considered power users. They can be as demanding as they can be forgiving. You have to keep the mix of price, features, support and service just right to keep them happy and turn them into evangelists of the service.
Well, it can take months or years, if you don’t work on it as I did. So go and run with it, now!
Cumbrowski.com – the Internet Marketing Resources Portal – a project that I actually did start and, which made some progress over the years to take it a bit more serious than when I started it in 2006 :).
Update Note! I looked over the post once more and thought that I should add the following:
I do not think that the market for this service is huge. It has certainly not the potential for becoming the next multi-billion dollar company; I even think that a multi-million dollars business is not very realistic.
It is a very small niche, but it can be served and being profitable at the same time.
The approach is scalable to reduce the need for a large up-front investment of time and resources in the hope to get that investment back one day and then some. You can start small and grow while revenue and profits grow at the same time.
Furthermore, your customers will be a very specific kind of customer with many other (related) needs that are growing and multiplying in the years to come with almost absolute certainty. It will only harder to do the job of managing and watching over an affiliate program. The industry as a whole is growing too. You can have your finger on the pulse of your customers and the opportunity to create plenty of spin-off business from them.
Today a watch-tool to detect rogue PPC affiliates and tomorrow some other tool that takes affiliate managers a lot of time to do by hand over and over again.
Considering those facts, things look actually much better overall. I think those facts are actually important and not just pure wishful thinking and a fantasy of nice dreams.