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Coordinating Paid and Organic Search Efforts

Published: January 16, 2012

Author: 3Q/DEPT

Defining the difference between Pay Per Click (PPC) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) varies depending on whom you ask. The PPC community knows that the value of paid search is that you can often show results, both good and bad, very quickly – and in some cases, in just a matter of hours. The SEO (or organic) search portion of search marketing takes a good deal more effort and time with a longer- term prospect of results. My experience has shown that this difference has caused a good many search marketing experts to focus only on PPC.
Maybe it is my competitive nature, but I like the challenge of SEO – even when the search engines appear to conspire against legitimate websites in an effort to fight search spam. This seem analogous to chemotherapy for cancer patients. The drugs allow you to live cancer-free, but the side-effects can leave long-lasting damage or, in the case of SEO, reduced results. (I’ll stop my rant here.)
In both paid and organic search consulting, we focus on finding keywords that can drive users to our sites. These phrases can tell us a great deal about the intent of the visitors and help us to refine our selection of terms. There are a couple of main tenets we all need to follow in coordinating paid and organic campaigns:
Understanding the Objective
Let’s be clear that our objective of coordinating these campaigns is to leverage any and all synergies that come from having both paid and organic results display on the same search engine results page (SERP). There have been several studies involving the both eye-tracking and click behavior on search pages. One of the most well-known studies resulted in coining the phase “Google Golden Triangle,” which referred to the tendency for users to concentrate on the top five results. Google shows off its own eye-tracking study results in this blog entry from 2009.
The vast majority (80-90%) of search engine users will try to find the organic result that most closely matches their needs. The other 10–20% will view and potentially click on a paid link. If we have a page that is ranking organically on the first page of the SERP and this keyword is also part of the paid campaign, then our brand has a greater presence and therefore higher number of click opportunities for that search term.
Pick the Low-Hanging Fruit
One place to test the value of keywords across both efforts is with “brand” terms. Brand terms include the company name and any specific product or service keywords that are associated with your company. These are good keywords to test since they often rank at the very top in the organic results, and you will pay a discounted PPC rate for your branded terms.
In one test we conducted, where we looked at 50 brand-related keywords, we found that the paid campaign was just slightly revenue-positive by less than $100 with an average position between 2 and 3. The organic behavior was interesting since we saw the same weekly trending consistent with the rest of the site; the difference was that the drop, or “valley,” trend was less than for other non-brand terms. We conducted this test of several months; the trends seemed to be consistent, and we did not lose money. This same test can be expanded over many more keywords, but this requires a significant integration effort since the position of non-branded organic keywords can vary dramatically from week to week. Having worked for some very large companies, I have rarely built enough motivation or executive support to justify this level of integration.
There are a number of experts and consultants who have experimented with coordinating paid and organic results. Greg Jarboe cites an example in an article on “Balancing Organic and Paid Search Listings” where the click-through rates tripled for sites positioned in top spots for both paid and organic listings. This sort of performance increase may not be the norm but is certainly worth visiting with your search team.
Kent Yunk, Vice President and SEO Strategist, RoaringPajamas.com

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