Friday, February 27, 2009

Search Insider: A Search Tale: Good Quality Puppies At Reasonable Prices

A Search Tale: Good Quality Puppies At Reasonable Prices

I recently found myself in need of a puppy.  The last time I found myself in this situation it was 1997.  Back then I started my search with Uncle Henry's Swap It or Sell It Guide, a free classifieds publication serving Maine and northern New England.  In 1997 these publications were ubiquitous.

I asked some of the younger members of my team if they had ever heard of Uncle Henry's, or The Want Ad Digest, or The Auto-Trader, or any of the other regional, printed classifieds that used to line convenience store magazine racks.  Children of the Internet age, they, of course, had not.  (Them: "You mean like craigslist?" Me: "Yes, kind of. But more of a cheap booklet that stains your hands with ink, is only updated on Wednesdays, and distributed by gas stations.  Oh, and also, you paid for your ad per letter." ) Now, feeling like a relic, knowing the primary means of second hand commerce from my youth had faded into oblivion, I turned to searching online for puppies to cheer me up.

Here I beheld the great democracy of search engine marketing.  For unlike other categories like finance or travel, there are no dominant entities in the online puppy market.  Aside from a few enterprising aggregators (e.g., who possibly have an ingenious puppy fulfillment system), the ads confronting me were made up of a hodgepodge of local and home-based businesses. Given my profession, I found myself equally interested in product (i.e. puppies), and the search ads themselves. Keep in mind I had a specific need here.  My exact query, in fact, was, "Labrador Retriever Puppies."  Here's what I found:

Listing 1
Labrador Puppies for Sale.  
Quality Affordable Labrador Puppies  Save $200 with Online Coupon!

Interesting ad, and nice use of all caps and matching the copy to the query.  Looked like they were selling what I was looking for, but "quality?"  I like quality in the context of, say, power tools.  But "quality" puppies -- what does that mean? Also, I never thought of using a coupon for an online puppy purchase.  Coupons aren't cute or cuddly. And $200 off seems scary. How much do puppies cost, anyway?  I do not click.  

Listing 2
Labrador Retriever Puppy.  
We Are Confident That Our Puppies Will Make Excellent Companions

I am also confident your puppies will make excellent companions.  That is why I am willing to turn my apartment into a chew-toy for the next year.  No real call to action here, but I like their old-school "we stand behind our product" tone.  David Ogilvy would approve, so I click.

Listing 3

Labrador Puppies New York.  
Buy a Labrador from a Breeder.  Healthy, Playful Pups. See Photos!

Another good use of all caps and copy-to-query matching.  Also, a great call to action.  I would, indeed, like to see photos of puppies, especially after the aforementioned conversation with my search team.  I click!

Listing 4
Rescue Dog
Buy, sell, and adopt puppies for free. 100% free pet classifieds at Kijiji
New York, NY

Not quite what I was looking; all and all, not terribly relevant to my query.  But two geo-targeted ads in a row piqued my interest.  Throughout this, and subsequent searches, all the ads geo-targeted to New York came from advertisers in New York State.  Geographically, I'm closer to Richmond, Virginia than I am to, say, Buffalo, and within easy driving distance to eight states.  Seems like dog breeders in the mid-Atlantic and southern New England are missing a big opportunity here.  I do not click.

Listing 5
Labrador Retriever Search
Learn more about purebred Labrador
Retrievers with help from the AKC.

This ad threw me. What do you mean by "Labrador Retriever Search," AKC?  Are you competing with Google as a meta-search engine in the puppy vertical? Are you trying to draw me in with your gently affirming copy?  I know as much about labs as I'm ever going to need to know.  But a breeder directory would be nice, and since you are the AKC, I assume you have one.  Here, your brand works to your favor. Though your search ad is not stellar, I click.    

Listing 6
Dog Breeder
Ask About Our Delivery Options!
American Bulldog Puppies for Sale.

This one wasn't even close.  Likely a broad matched ad that Google threw in the mix because they know what's good for me: I really shouldn't be so choosy about the particular breed or dog I'm looking for, anyway; one puppy is as good as the next.  I will not allow Google to thwart my free will, but I will ask about your delivery options. Do I need to sign for the puppy, or can you just leave it at my door?

Listing 7
Puppies for Sale  
Find good quality puppies at reasonable prices in New York

Here, again, is the "quality" theme.  At least I know I need to be on the lookout for defective puppies.

Listing 8
Golden Retriever Lab Puppies
China, Crystal, Silver Old & New
286,000 Patterns. 12 Million Pieces

What the...? Is this some broad matched, dynamic keyword insertion ad gone horribly wrong?  Or a magical, whimsical puppy factory that churns out cross-bred water dogs made of shimmering crystal in 286,000 patterns? The display URL,, didn't clarify things for me, so I clicked. Ah-ha!  Miniature, porcelain statuettes.  Just the sort of thing I'm not looking for.  Impressed by their mysterious and bewitching search ad, nevertheless, I promptly order two dozen porcelain Schnauzers and return to my previous task.

Listing 9
ACK Weimaraner Puppies
10 puppies born 1/29/09
call 603-555-1212

(They used a real phone number, actually, but I masked it).  Here is Google again trying to cross-sell me, this time on Weimaraners.  Overall, though, I liked this ad: I could simply call for more information, or click through to see what four-week-old Weimaraners look like.  I chose the latter!

And finally...

Listing 10
Silver Labrador Puppies, AKC
Joey's silver litter born 2-11-09 excel dispos, Check them out.

I love this ad. It harkens back to the days of Uncle Henry's, when frugal Mainers, charged by the letter, developed a near comprehensive shorthand to cut their advertising costs.  Now, constrained by 95 characters, this advertiser employed a similar trick: "exel dispos" in place of "excellent dispositions."  And unlike Listing 8, it's fairly clear that these dogs are not made of silver, but silver-colored - a trait I didn't even know existed.  The born-on-date is intriguing, and the call to action, though not perfect, is at least present.  I click.

I didn't talk much about the site-side experience across these searches.  For the most part, it seemed to me that all the dog breeders in the country got together sometime last decade and made a collective pact to maintain their site look and feel for the rest of time.  Navigation structures were incomprehensible, animated .gif puppies abundant, and musical jingles frequent.  One site even made my cursor turn into a paw. The information on these sites, once found, however, was surprisingly current and comprehensive, with photos, pedigree information, training tips, and customer testimonials.  Just as their search ads were, with some exceptions, well-crafted and on-target, these small businesses were using their Web sites as effective pre-sales vehicles, user experience be damned. 

Though the realm of classified advertising is radically different today than it was in 1997, puppies remain unchanged: delightful, fluffy, perpetually peeing, bundles of energy.  I found mine from a breeder in Virginia (through the natural results, I must confess).  He is black, not silver, and of the highest quality, I am assured.  

Matt Greitzer is vice president and global discipline lead of search marketing at Razorfish.

Search Insider for Friday, February 27, 2009:

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