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Wharton feels the Google love

Radio ads airing in Los Angeles and San Francisco for the school's executive M.B.A. program are promoting Google searches to deliver Web surfers to Wharton's site.

Wharton School of Business is agog over Google.

Radio advertisements airing in Los Angeles and San Francisco for the school's executive M.B.A. program are promoting the Google words "Wharton West" on the popular search engine to deliver Web surfers to the site immediately--even though the top-listed links are not paid for and could change at random.

Neal Neveras, director of executive programs at the Wharton School of Business, said that Google's quality of search and the simplicity of results played into his decision to use the search term in radio advertising. He said that because radio airtime is limited it makes more sense to advertise a keyword search on Google than to broadcast a long university Web address that will be hard to remember.

The tactic is the latest sign of Google's ballooning dominance in Web search. The strategy also draws from a mainstay Web marketing strategy--America Online's Keywords--that could be languishing as the online portal struggles to re-establish its service as top dog.

For years, companies showboated their Web pages through AOL's service by buying one or two words that could be associated with a site search--an effort to make it easier for consumers to find a long, complicated Web address or even simple ones. For example, Amazon.com would pay for keyword branding so it could be found at the AOL keyword: books. Still, the strategy is not as popular with marketers following the dot-com fallout. An AOL representative said that "branded keywords" are currently being reviewed, along with other ad sales strategies.

Google is the most widely used search engine on the Web, according to recent research from Amsterdam-based Web Statistics. For executives, the results are salient too: Google scored No. 5 among the top 10 Web sites that businesses use to market themselves to other businesses on BtoB Online.

Search marketing, in which companies pay for listings, is on the rise, too. According to the trade group Interactive Advertising Bureau, search engine marketing grew from 1 percent of total online advertising in 2000 to 4 percent in 2002, comprising about $288 million of $7.2 billion in online ad revenue.

However, the Wharton School of Business did not pay for the keyword search terms on Google, which is constantly changing its formula for search. Neveras had to rely on the results remaining the same for the ad campaign to work.

"We took a calculated risk because we figured out how to get (top billing) in the first place, but we keep monitoring it, and if it changes we have to do something else," Neveras said. "But why do I pay for it if I don't have to."

Google spokesman David Krane said this is the first he's heard of a company using its search engine to advertise itself.

"Our index is changing all the time; there's no guarantee that the first result for Wharton West will be a link to their school," said Google spokesman David Krane. "On the other hand, it is such a specific query, that it's likely that it will remain at the top of the results for a long time."