Recently, XBIZ discussed the state of the adult search market with Wildline!'s Web Traffic Consultant, John Van Arnam.
XBIZ: Give us a brief overview of what SEM encompasses and the benefits and drawbacks of using SEM as a part of an adult website's traffic portfolio. What percentage of a site's traffic should ideally come from SEM efforts?
Van Arnam: SEM or Search Engine Marketing combines technology and expertise to increase visits from qualified customers to your website. Simply bidding on keywords that are relevant to your online offering isn't enough, you must make sure that the message they receive will make them click and the landing page you send them to will convert. As far as a percentage goes, that is tough to say. Our agency delivers all the profitable traffic to our clients' sites we can. If you're making money, then the percent of traffic that comes from SEM is irrelevant. I would suggest that you try each and every type of traffic available to you and see what works. Many different types of traffic work differently with different niches.
XBIZ: How does Wildline!'s adult-centric focus provide more value for its adult advertisers? Isn't all SEM the same, or is the adult SEM landscape so different from mainstream that it takes a specialist to maximize results? Could you cite a few areas where this specialization provides a true advantage?
Van Arnam: All SEM is not the same. Wildline! has a history of competing with "mainstream" SEM agencies and beating them every time. Although the lure is there for some adult companies to hire a mainstream agency, mostly due to some shiny marketing or sales technique, we have seen over and over that there is no shortcut to effective SEM in this vertical. Mostly the benefit goes to the mainstream agency that profits financially at the expense of their client while "learning" about the adult vertical. This is not a benefit to the adult company.
The reason for this is simple. There are terms, titles and descriptions used in the adult world for every genre of site, that any mainstream SEM agency would never have a chance to use (and much less optimize for) in their daily work. This means they target each adult campaign with very generic and mainstream terms, almost all of which are incredibly more expensive than more niche based, less frequently used terms.
Second, our SmartFeed™ Platform was built over the last five years to handle the demanding requirements of the adult vertical. Its ability to manage campaign profitability at the individual URL level lets our clients set the business rules for each page, each category or each site. This means that we can tune campaigns to run within a range of profitability, volume or conversion (e.g. sign-up).
Having firsthand knowledge of what has and has not worked in the past is invaluable to our success. Being "Dedicated to Adult" is not just our catch phrase, it is how we operate our business. There are a great many searches in the adult vertical, and we believe that our clients should profit from absolutely every single one of them.
XBIZ: There has been some recent high-profile instability in the adult advertising market, where some marketers lost substantial money on unfulfilled ad buys due to company closures. How does the nature of your SEM services help mitigate these concerns?
Van Arnam: Wildline! has an eight year history of providing outstanding service to the adult industry. We started in 2001 as an affiliate for many of the large adult programs. We submitted advertising for adult websites to the major search engines. We learned the intricacies of advertising adult content and built a technology platform to support our ad campaigns. Over time we forged strong relationships within the adult industry and with the search engines. These relationships, combined with our top flight personnel, unparalleled technology platform, and willingness to grow thoughtfully and carefully are key factors to why Wildline! remains the top SEM agency in adult.
XBIZ: Wildline! is seen as having been instrumental in creating SEM opportunities for responsible adult marketers that simply were previously unavailable to them, or even generally unavailable to them today without the aid of Wildline!'s expertise. Are there any specific concerns that the major search companies have over adult content that merchants preparing a campaign should be aware of? And even knowing these concerns, is the nature of competitive SEM such that a DIY approach, or using a less specialized service, simply won't provide the same results / ROI as using Wildline!'s service?
Van Arnam: Your question has two parts.
First, has Wildline! helped open advertising channels for the adult industry through the search engines? The answer is absolutely yes. We worked for many years to get some of the engines comfortable with refining editorial policy to allow a broader range of adult advertising. Our efforts resulted in the number of biddable keywords expanding greatly in bidded search. We are currently hard at work to repeat our success with the other engines.
Second, are adult clients best served by an agency or DIY approach?
SEM is not a part time job. Any company that is looking to go it alone should understand that the amount of time, effort and energy needed to create, optimize and maintain a profitable SEM campaign is not something someone can do part time. Also, a DIY approach can actually be harmful, especially if you accidentally get your site banned from a search index!
The landscape is changing constantly, policy and editorial restrictions change as well, and your bids that you have on as many as 100,000 profitable keywords changes hour to hour. To stay on top of that you must allow the proper amount of time to any campaign, and we feel that is a full time position of at least one person based on their skill set and experience, and the size of the company they work for.
No one knows a company's product better than that company; the keywords associated with their offering, the history of sales and the recurrence of purchasers. Having said that, just optimizing in the engines for targeted traffic to your particular focus could leave sales on the table, so we start with a broad campaign so that when we decide a niche is not working we can eliminate it, each with full knowledge that we are not leaving money on the table for our clients.
XBIZ: The work of ASACP and its supporters in reaching out to the major search engines over a variety of issues is an under-reported story that many industry operators may be unaware of. Could you elaborate a little on this work and your involvement in it?
Van Arnam: I have been a supporter of ASACP since its inception and have been able to be of assistance to them in many ways, including serving as the Director of Corporate Outreach; a position specifically designed to work with the engines to create safe environments for the children searching in those engines, for advertisers who do not want their product viewed by minors, and assisting in the reduction of the exploitation of children online.
Wildline! works free of charge to create search campaigns in Yahoo!'s two main products to accentuate the exposure of ASACP and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), and at the same time advance any searches involving underage children to ASACP or to NCMEC. Yahoo! has adopted this measure and sought every opportunity to protect children, and we look forward to working with all the engines in the same way.
XBIZ: Do you believe that your recent Adult Traffic Summit has paved the way for increased acceptance of adult advertising in the mainstream search venues? How conditional is this newfound acceptance of adult ads (given that no company names were mentioned in the reporting of this event)?
Van Arnam: Without question, advances were made in the meeting that will lead to a better opportunity for adult advertisers. It is critical that our industry demonstrate that it can be trusted and our largest companies operate with the same professionalism as their mainstream counterparts. Wildline! and the other participants took a big step forward in instilling the confidence in our industry that will be necessary to open new avenues of advertising.
There were no names of companies mentioned at this event or others that we have created because we wanted a free and open flow of information. While every mainstream engine realizes that approximately 15 percent of all its searches are adult in nature, none of them are in any hurry to "endorse" the adult space, or even mention it by name.
As far as acceptance of adult ads goes, any engine by its very nature is designed to return the most relevant result possible for any individual query. Any engine receiving 15 percent of its queries in any vertical has to address that vertical effectively. The acceptance of adult ads is not conditional; the reporting of that acceptance most likely will be for a very long time.
XBIZ: How has Wildline!'s work with the major search companies better prepared it for the challenges of bringing these opportunities to adult, and how is the company preparing for what could be a dramatic influx of activity in this space?
Van Arnam: Wildline! has been dedicated to the adult vertical for the past seven years. Over that time, we have developed the industry's leading account team and technology platform. We are in a unique position to work with all search engines to responsibly refine their editorial policy to allow more content from our advertisers into their index.
We are able to scale our business through a combination of technology and touch. Our account managers hand-craft titles, descriptions and other content tailored to the unique needs of each of our clients. We leverage this hands-on touch with our SmartFeed™ platform, which combines content, customer business rules for profitability and real-time performance data to insure campaigns meet our clients' objectives. We feel quite prepared for any increase of activity and hope that members of the adult community see us as a safe and profitable haven for the SEM business.
XBIZ: Thanks Johnny — with organizations such as Wildline! working to improve opportunities for adult marketers, the industry has a bright future ahead.