When Brian Rauschenbach bought his first collection of popularly searched terms from Google in early 2001, he had to buy an entire three-ring binder full of terms related to “dating.”
“Russian mail-order brides were even in there. You couldn’t take that out,” Rauschenbach said.
But the best part: No other companies could buy those terms. Rauschenbach’s clients had them exclusively.
“We kept Match.com (online dating service) out of the top two results for two years,” he said.
These days, three or four paid search results for products typically appear at the top of any Google search a person does, and companies can buy very specific terms. And now that more people search using mobile devices rather than desktop browsers, Google even lets companies buy a search term and all the misspelled versions of that term, like buying “Restaurant” “Resturant” and “Restraunt” all at the same time.
After working together at various agencies for 15 years, Rauschenbach and his business partners, Paul Uhlir and Tim Wisner, started search engine marketing agency Add3 three years ago. They keep on top of the ever-changing search engine marketing and advertising industry.
In a bright office above Elysian Brewery in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, the trio and 20 employees help clients purchase the appropriate search terms, also called “ad words” on both Google and Microsoft Bing search engines (90 percent Google, 10 percent Bing, they say), so that when customers seek those words, the clients’ ads are what appear as results. And they optimize what’s called “organic search” – the results that come up thanks to the search engine’s algorithm rather than because the company paid.
Business is growing fast. Add3 was entirely bootstrapped when it started and brought in $4.3 million in revenue by 2011. Last year, the company saw revenue grow to $6.1 million, and it expects to cross the $10 million mark in 2013.
“We’re successful because it’s fun,” Uhlir said. “Search is always changing.”
For instance, Google recently began offering paid product listings as part of the search results. So if a person searches for “high definition TV,” images of TVs for sale appear at the top of the page.
For retailers and manufacturers, Rauschenbach said, that presents a dilemma. In the search results, original manufacturers and resalers are selling the same thing.
“You’re bidding against people that are your retail partners,” he said.
For example, Best Buy might be bidding against Toshiba, even though they’re both selling the exact same Toshiba television.
For Add3, it’s all about staying on top of the ever-changing search market. Mobile devices, for instance, have changed things significantly for search-term purchasing. Google allows only two paid search results to show up on mobile search, as opposed to up to 10 on a traditional desktop, for example.
“If you’re not paying attention to mobile, you might not show up,” Uhlir said.
But it’s not just showing up that’s important, he said. While the company does not do mobile website design, Add3 helps its customers identify ways their mobile websites can be optimized for people searching on a smartphone.
For some popular search terms, Uhlri said, like those in the personal finance sector, companies can pay upward of $30 per click. (If someone clicks on a paid search result rather than an organic one, that company pays Google a certain amount of money per click.)
“And if your landing page isn’t optimized (for mobile) and you get 1,000 clicks in a day, you’ve lost $25,000,” Uhlir said. If your website can’t be used on mobile devices, that’s money wasted.
The company sees many opportunities for app and game developers in mobile search, since a person who searches using a tablet could potentially download an app directly to that tablet.
There is a downside to mobile, though. Voice-based search like Apple’s Siri could change the way people search. And if people are only using apps and never going to browsers, they’re less likely to use traditional search engines.
“I’d be scared if I was Google,” Rauschenbach said. “Yeah, if they didn’t own more than half the mobile device space,” Uhlir added with a smile.
While Add3 did consider getting into social marketing to help clients better use social networks like Facebook and Twitter, ultimately the leadership team decided it was better to stay focused on search. To stay on top of trends, Add3 helps organize the Seattle Interactive Conference and Northwest Internet Advertising Group, which bring together search and digital marketing specialists every year to talk shop.
Rauschenbach, who developed the Seattle Interactive Conference last year, said he’s glad it gives people from the area an inexpensive way to get together and stay on top of industry changes. Nordstrom sent 22 employees to the conference last year, he said, and REI sent 17.
In addition to being leaders in their industry, Uhlir said, it’s also important to hire the best people who stay on top of search marketing. Sometimes the best, though, are hard to hang onto. “You have to keep them as happy as possible,” Uhlir said. “Amazon is hiring everything that walks these days.”
Article written by Emily Parkhurst, Staff Writer- Puget Sound Business Journal & originally featured in the Puget Sound Business Journal Print Edition: How Add3’s tech-savvy trio grew their search engine marketing firm. Photo by: Karen Ducey