Fathom Online, a search engine marketing company, reported this week that there continues to be fierce competition for online keyword advertising among mortgage companies.

“The mortgage category can’t be kept down,” Fathom Online reported, and is “still the highest price of the keyword categories studied.” In October, the average search engine keyword price in the mortgage category increased 9 percent over September, to $3.68.

But that represents a 15 percent drop in keyword prices for that category compared to October 2004, according to a report by eMarketer, an Internet market research company.

Of the eight markets tracked by the Fathom Online Keyword Price Index, four categories increased and four decreased from September to October, and the average search engine keyword price remained virtually flat during that period, increasing from $1.44 to $1.45.

Automotive and auto parts keyword prices dropped 14 percent from $1.51 to $1.30. “Advertisers appear to have put their search campaigns on hold as sales stalled under a variety of pressures, including escalating fuel prices,” the company announced.

Finance-investment advertisers, meanwhile, boosted their keyword campaigns and created a 14 percent average rise in keyword prices from $1.46 to $1.66. Keyword prices over the last year increased from an average of $1.37 to $1.44 reflecting an overall 19 percent change, Fathom Online also reported.

The Telecom-Wireless category fell $0.16, or 13 percent, to $1.06 in October.

“Most surprising is the comparatively flat performance of the consumer-retail category that dropped 2 percent, despite predictions of record online holiday sales this year,” Fathom Online announced. The index for the consumer-travel category, meanwhile, jumped 7 percent from September to October.

“We believe the Index continues to move toward more predictable keyword stability as advertisers and search marketing firms have learned to anticipate seasonal swings and optimize their keyword buys,” said Gregg Stewart, senior vice president of channel management and marketing for Fathom Online. “The value of the (index) is to track keyword price trends. Advertisers must study post-click behavior and optimize the pages that users ‘land’ on to convert to higher sales.”

Fathom Online, which has offices in San Francisco, Chicago and New York, tracks keyword prices daily to spot trends and to provide its clients with buying opportunities. The tracked keyword list consists of 500 generic keywords across eight categories for the top five ranked positions on selected search engines, the company reported, noting that pricing fluctuations measured by the index should be viewed in the context of the eight categories reported and not as a proxy for the entire search industry.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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