Amazon's new PPC network, Clickriver, is still in beta testing, and I have been experimenting with an account since February. The plain-text ads appear about halfway down book product pages under the heading "Customers viewing this page may be interested in these Sponsored Links."
First, the good news:
Clickriver is much easier to use than Google AdWords. The interface is clean and it responds fast. If you ask for a keyword, your ads begin appearing within seconds. It's also relatively cheap compared to Google. You can buy impressions on practically any keyword(s) for 10 cents per click. Perhaps the low prices indicate that not many advertisers are competing for the keywords - at least not yet.
Clickriver does a great job of suggesting additional keywords. For example, let's imagine you're advertising a book on "orchids." Once Clickriver knows you're targeting orchids, it will suggest every book title and author name in the orchid space, at least those with good sales records. This helps you get your ad in front of the right people. It sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised how many good keywords Clickriver will suggest that you didn't think of. One thing I found odd, though: Clickriver didn't suggest any titles or author names or titles for books newer than two years. Perhaps this is a glitch, and this feature will be fully up to date when Clickriver leaves beta testing.
Keywords aren't the only prospecting tool on Clickriver. You can also target entire categories in Amazon's bookstore in one fell swoop. For example, if you wanted your ad to appear on all Amazon book pages related to "gardening," you'd create a new ad and use the keywords "category gardening."
The bad news:
Clicks are very, very sparse with Clickriver. The ad I'm running, for example, has many thousands of impressions so far, but only a few clicks. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Impressions are tabulated when ads make appearances on users' pages, clicks when the ads themselves are clicked into.]
If this were an AdWords ad, Google would have shut it off by now for poor performance. So, on the one hand, Clickriver hasn't cost me very much money; on the other, it's brought in very, very few sales.
I'm sure the reason for the low click-through is that Clickriver ads just aren't that visible on Amazon's detail pages. Visibility will probably always be a tension for this program: For Amazon to make serious money with this, they're going to have to raise the profile of the ads. But the more the ads dominate the page, the more buyers will be distracted from buying the Amazon product they were shopping for in the first place.
I've always suspected that pay-per-click is not a particularly effective way to market low-margin products like books. There's simply not enough profit margin in the typical book to pay for much advertising. But as part of an overall strategy of building your customer base, PPC is an option.
The Future of PPC
Like many other Internet tools, PPC is evolving at a breakneck pace. So far in this article, we've examined only "keyword-based" PPC systems. But there's a whole other world of PPC that can work for online sellers, and these are known as "product PPC" or "price comparison PPC." Some well-known examples of these are Shopzilla.com, NexTag.com, BizRate.com, Shopping.com, and PriceGrabber.com. It works like this: Participating advertisers upload a feed of their inventory. When visitors search for a product, the links to various advertisers show up. Advertisers who pay more are given prominence, but users can also sort the listings to find the lowest price. Each time a visitor buys, the advertiser pays a fee.
It's likely that the competition for PPC advertisers will heat up significantly this year. Microsoft is also getting into the act, beta-testing a PPC network called MSN adCenter.
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