Now add in the less frequented but still popular FindWhat and Ah-ha, plus some geo-targeted CPC engines such as E-spotting (Europe) and it's sister site Kanoodle (US) and you have a good place to start.
So which one first? Google Adwords would have to be the market favourite at the present and would be a good choice given it's ability to target not only specific keywords but also the location and preferences of the user. There is however a learning curve with the Google system whereby your adverts will be taken off-line if they fall below a specified CTR (click-through-rate) of .05%. This can lead to a number of on-going maintenance issues if your text-only advert is not quite up-to-scatch for attracting your target audience.
Overture is the alternative leading CPC search engine for high-end traffic, allowing a simple keyword interface and some sophisticated bid management tools. Overture is however increasingly moving out of the price range of SME's for highly relevant terms. In February 2003 Overture increased it's minimum bid price to 10c US. Overture also tend to have a well deserved reputation for ignoring the 'little guys' and concentrating on large corporate bodies spending in excess of $5000 US per month. A good example of this is the 'e-commerce' keyword in an Overture search which will cost the advertiser over USD$4 per click (at the time of writing this). Only large multi-nationals such as Verisign can compete in this bracket.
The CPC engines with expanding networks of affiliate sites (FindWhat, Kanoodle and Sprinks) appear to have become less popular over the last six months due to lower relevancy and conversions on click-through with the major search properties taking such a large percentage of the search traffic. These engines do offer traffic at a lower cost than the better established engines, however there are drawbacks. The predominant drawback being the increased potential for fake traffic (affiliates sites clicking on their own links to earn money which comes off your account) with the increase in affiliate sites.
Finding the engine with the best reporting, support and traffic quality controls weighed against the actual CPC value of key terms is the challenge.
Where do you go from here? Test, test and test some more. Sampling the traffic from the respective CPC engines becomes the only option when dealing in such highly variable circumstances. Having your hand in each cookie jar and spending some time putting together results from each one will give you the best returns. Developing a scenario where exposure is increased or decreased each month depending on traffic and ROI from each CPC engine is actually an attainable result.
Most engines will allow accounts of around USD$50 as a starting point which should allow a test base for traffic through to your site. Although this may appear at first to take up a fair amount of valuable time, the benefits down the track will be worthwhile.
If you have any questions in relation to CPC traffic for your site or alternatively require a consultant to manage your accounts for you contact Gary on firstname.lastname@example.org.