Do you know what the number one item that has been searched for in Google since it started? Britney Spears!  I’m not sure what that says about our society, but as a retailer, I found it telling that the number two search target today is “coupons.”

I recently went to a seminar sponsored by Google at the Chicago Merchandise Mart, and I thought I’d share a few things that I learned. The first is that with the exception of events like the one that I attended, and the option of paying someone who is a free-lance consultant, those using Google’s online ads are mostly signing up on their own. In a world filled with eager ad reps from t.v., print and radio media, this is quite a change. To advertise on Google, you go to and teach yourself how to do it.

If you Google our store name, Orange Tree Imports, you get 205,000 responses (not many compared to 76 million for Britney!). Happily our web site comes up as the top choice, and we don’t pay Google anything for this service.  But the online ads would allow us to also come up on top when someone searches, for example, for Thymes bath products in our area.

The Google model (which is also used by other search engines) is unlike any other advertising. Instead of knowing how much it costs to be the number one choice for the Thymes in Madison, WI, Google would ask me to bid on how much I feel this would be worth.  I would only pay them when someone sees my ad under sponsored links and clicks on it.  This cost-per-click model allows you to not only bid whatever a contact is worth to you, but also to set a daily budget so that you only pay up to a certain amount. When your upper limit is reached, your ad disappears.

One of the interesting features of Google ads is that you can target your market area if you are a locally owned business.  I would not need to bid on the Thymes for the whole country, in other words.  Of course I could be outbid by Amazon or E-Bay, since they seem to bid on the most general search criteria and broadest geographic areas.  But any placement on the first page of search results is considered to be beneficial, and there are usually 8 sponsored links on a page.

Using paid advertising on Google and other search engines is probably very important if you are primarily concerned about driving traffic to your web site. But even if you are not selling online, it could be worth investigating whether it might be a good investment to help bring customers into your store.  Take a look at the wealth of information available on Google’s site.  If you get overwhelmed, you can always take a break and look at the latest on Britney’s love life.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder