For all you golfers out there, I’d like to present a challenge in the form of a search engine marketing metaphor. Next time you hit the course, what would happen if you alternated your swing using just your right or left arm? For the sake of time, I’m going to skip ahead and spoil the shocking answer – you’d quit after a hole or two! Why? Because each arm has its strengths and weaknesses and without working in communion, your productivity is wasted.
Have you figured out what this has to do with search marketing?
Search engine marketing consists of two primary elements: organic search engine optimization and Paid Search (or pay-per-click marketing). Let’s say SEO represents one arm and paid search the other. If both arms are trained effectively enough, they could support a one-armed golf swing sufficient to make it around the course. But who wants adequate when you are trying to win? Nothing can outperform both arms working together to deliver that harmonious solution.
The same is the case with your SEM. Put, alternately swinging away at SEO and PPC is counterproductive. They are not mutually exclusive ingredients in the search marketing mix. They support and interact with one another. They need each other. Heck, we’re pretty sure they call each other on the weekends. Let’s examine how your SEM campaigns can become even better friends and work together to deliver a holistic SEM swing.
The Backswing – (Research & Development)
As in any marketing effort, knowing your customer in and out is vital to its success. For SEM campaigns, the preciseness of search boils down to keywords. The lifeblood of your SEM campaigns, keyword selection, is a critical factor in putting your brand in front of your target audience. Developing an appropriate keyword foundation may sound simple enough but are you identifying keywords correctly? If you are starting from scratch, using keyword volume tools such as Keyword Discovery and WordTracker are excellent resources to begin understanding search volume. However, as your search knowledge improves, looking at other intelligence most likely already at your fingertips becomes crucial.
For example, many marketers jump head first into paid search as a means to pull traffic into their site to compensate for underdeveloped natural rankings. While the primary objective of any paid search effort is to drive targeted, motivated traffic that will convert into sales, leads, sign-ups, etc., a secondary effect is the insight it provides into user behavior. This data is often overlooked when developing an organic SEO keyword strategy. We see clients who have had previous SEO efforts stall or fail to deliver a return, not because of technical limitations of their in-house staffing or that of their outsourced SEO solution, but because of mistakenly emphasizing keywords that may have driven traffic but traffic that is hollow and unprofitable. This could have been avoided by merely examining your AdWords and Yahoo! Search Marketing campaigns. Here, in your proprietary data, you can not just identify significant traffic keywords that have historically underperformed and should be avoided or approached with caution, but also you can uncover hidden gems that would provide a more robust return on your SEO investment.
The Swing – (SEO/PPC Deployment)
I think we have a question from the audience. Yes? “My right arm has gotten so strong that I’m thinking of just chopping off my left. What’s the harm?” That’s a terrific question, and I thank you for asking it and bringing back my golf metaphor.
This question is brought up regularly when talking about the theory and practice of having two separate listings on the same page. Often, because SEO has not kicked in yet your SEM swing is by default going to be a one arm approach. However, when SEO has taken hold, should you back off your paid search campaigns? This should be addressed on a case by case basis, but let’s provide some context from which to base your decisions.
For your branded essential terms, we advocate always have a presence in paid search. A recent Atlas study will dispute the value of bidding on your keywords but from a traditional marketing perspective when someone is looking for you shouldn’t you give them as many opportunities to find you as possible? Conversely, if you’re not there who could? That’s right, competitors. Branded keywords and the traffic it drives is low lying fruit that should never be taken for granted, primarily when, compared to broad keyword traffic, it converts anywhere from 10-30x more frequently.
Next, what do you do about non-branded keywords you are naturally ranking for on the first page of the engines? For these keywords, especially from a paid search perspective, strict adherence to your return on ad spend (ROAS) objectives should be your overriding concern. However, when those goals are being met, then it’s a simple case of location, location, location. Real estate on the first page of search results is growingly increasingly competitive as advertisers fight for search share. When you have both an organic and sponsored link on a search results page, study after study has shown one of your links is three to four times more likely to be clicked. And since we can agree that natural results are still more trusted and appropriately clicked around 70% of the time it is not difficult to make that jump that your paid listing actually pushes organic (and free!) traffic to your site which is the closest we’ll ever get to a free, targeted click originating from a paid ad.
The Finish – (Analysis & Adjustments)
In the end, merely placing paid ads on pages where your natural rankings are strong is not going to guarantee the most effective use of your search budget. Just as your golf swing requires a steady follow through, your SEM campaigns necessitate constant attention and follow through of their own. The goal here is that your next swing is more refined and better equipped to meet your SEM challenges. Your in-house SEM team or your agency of choice must be proficient in their ability to tweak the approach after each swing. These adjustments should leverage intelligence from your paid search, ranking reports, and analytics and result in a fully integrated approach to SEM.
The most effective and yet overlooked adjustment that should be taking place comes in the form of messaging. Landing pages should always be addressed through multivariate testing and will deliver invaluable insight into your paid search campaigns. Assuming that is a principle most marketers would agree on, let’s discuss the paid search ad messaging specifically in the context of what we discussed earlier regarding having a dual paid-organic presence on search results pages.
As we want to direct traffic to your natural link, there are two adjustments to be made that will focus even more attention on that listing. First, the position becomes less critical, so avoid top spots that can tend to attract less qualified visitors. Second, and more importantly, is to shift your messaging. While your paid ad is there to drive sales and leads in most cases, the messaging should reflect that. But now with the presence of another avenue into your site on the page, we want to move from more sales-driven messaging to a branded one. Instill confidence and project authority. Use phrases such as “trusted” and “leaders,” refer to the demographics of your client base, talk about return policies and other branded value-adds. Leverage your company name and trademarks in the title and description. Approach the ad less as a search marketer concerned with click-through rates and more as a traditional marketer with the opportunity to build brand awareness.
Your SEM Scorecard
When you finish your round of golf, what matters most? The total score is the ultimate judge of performance. It doesn’t matter if you made a hole in one if you triple bogeyed the entire back nine. Sure, the hole-in-one might come with a nice plaque and a free bowl of soup but were you a success? The leader board would say no. The same is true when you hold your total SEM efforts up to the light for scrutiny.
The bottom line is if you or your agency is not going beyond SEO and PPC to research, deploy and score your SEM as a holistic entity your return on the individual investments of SEO and paid search risk being squandered. When deciding on how to approach your SEM solution, make sure that they not only understand the necessity of SEM integration, but they have a demonstrated track record of success.
Only offering both services do not make a vendor a reliable SEM agency just as a golf swing is not a golf swing if one arm does all the work while the other waits for its turn. So go and swing away at your SEM with both arms and move your SEM campaign up the leader board.