Michael Cottam will be speaking about “Landing Page Testing” at SearchFest 2010, which will take place on March 9th at the Governor Hotel in Portland, Oregon. Tickets are available now. To purchase, please click the following link.

1) Please give me your background and tell us what you do for a living.

Was at STEP Technology, a leading Microsoft Solution Provider, for a number of years working on online banking, e-commerce, and real estate projects until the dot-com bust in spring 2001.  Then, started www.thebigday.com, a honeymoon registry and travel company. There I got most of my SEO/SEM experience, as the vast majority of our customers were coming to us from natural search, where we were competing with Expedia, Travelocity etc. on honeymoon travel search terms. At TheBigDay, I managed our PPC campaigns on Google, MSN, TheKnot, Yahoo/Overture etc. as well as writing our own wedding vendor self-managed ad system for www.thebigday.com.  Today, I have an SEO consulting business (www.michaelcottam.com) with a mix of large and small clients, and am a regular blogger at SEOMoz.org as well as serving as one of their Q&A team.

2) AdWords is now giving product listings more prominence.  How is that working out for advertisers?

It’s a very interesting topic, actually, with Google moving from PPC to CPA, i.e. getting paid not for traffic, but for conversions.  Certainly bound to drive more people to get involved with Google Merchant Center.  What will be really interesting is how users treat the images of the products & the psychology behind this.  Traditionally consumers have triple-thick lead blinders on when it comes to banner ads.  Will the product images attract more attention & clicks, or less?  I think it’s fascinating (baffling?) that the extensions under the product ads are still PPC though.  The news I’ve seen is saying conversion to purchase rates are better by 5-10%; however, I’d be taking this with a huge grain of salt, as I’d expect the store brand name and the type of product to have a huge effect.  Also, it’s relatively new on Google from the consumer perspective, so right now, it’s going to really get noticed….will this die back after 6 months to a year?  And what if Google intensifies the amount of image-ad placement….will that dilute the effectiveness BELOW what their traditional PPC top-3 listings deliver?

3) From the consumer perspective, it’s really bringing a lot of power, as the multiple-store results let you see both seller ratings and compare prices.

I suspect there’s a lot of money to be made in the short term by getting your product feed properly loaded ahead of your online competitors, so that certain product models that aren’t found in competitors’ feeds result in you being the only result for that product & image, sidestepping the seller ratings and comparison price screen.

If you were negotiating with a site owner for a display ad placement, what portions of a typical web page are the most desirable for getting surfers to notice your ad?

Well, typically people will tell you that you need to look at the traditional heat map and place your ads there (the tipped-over L shape), however there are two problems with this:  (1) those two areas that people’s eyes scan tend to be where the main nav and category nav reside, so that space isn’t available….and (2) if you CAN get your ad there, it’s questionable whether you’re going to get conversion as that’s where people are looking for the nav elements, not your ad.  The latter of course will depend on the kind of ad….if it looks like the rest of the nav and takes someone to the right product category on your site, you might win.  However, the best conversions I’ve seen have been off of in-text explicit recommendations, i.e. where the site is reviewing or describing the major products in a given industry and mentioning your company or site. 

But….your question was DISPLAY ad placement, so in short, I’d say get it in the middle, as left as possible, with article text wrapping around it.  The banner space at the top of the page gets universally ignored, as does box or skyscraper ads to the far right.  And we won’t even talk about below-the-fold 🙂

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