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Most brands now engage in organic and paid search to a greater or lesser degree, but most do so with little understanding of the interaction between the two mediums, and therefore fail to acknowledge that search is one medium and not two and should be managed as such for maximum return.
The key differences between organic and paid listings are more about the mechanics that power them than how searchers actually engage with them. For the consumer they are simply using Google, Yahoo, or Bing, and not algorithmic listings or sponsored ads.
We have found that managing the medium as one can increase budget efficiency by 30% on average. Ultimately, search is two channels within a single medium with huge gains to be had if this fact is reflected in their management.
The benefits of operating a 'One Search' vision
The ultimate benefit is a 30% improvement in the efficiency of your search campaigns. That's 30% less costs or 30% more sales, or indeed somewhere in between. How does an integrated approach achieve this? Essentially through efficiencies, economies and improvements in the following areas
The management of all search data, its retrieval, analysis, and presentation, should happen once, not twice. Your consumption of that data again should be based on one material output, not two. It facilitates better and faster decision making, ROI clarity, and both saves you and makes you money as a result.
A disparity in performance between a paid search ad and an organic search listing can identify problems or issues with particular pages and messaging in one channel over another, and your identification, investigation and response can then be and should be, rapid.
Should you bid against your brand terms? The answer is yes, but all the time? Regardless of what’s happening in your natural search space? Looking holistically you can experiment with your levels of brand bidding, including day-parting strategies or even the need to saturate your organic search space with your own web assets if necessary.
The search engines operate in a heightened competitive universe, fuelled by rapid innovation and significant R&D budgets. This means that they develop and change quickly and this is true for both organic search (algorithmic changes, for instance) and paid search (trademark policies, one-box implementations, etc) and as such, your revenue stream from each can be open to significant fluctuation. Operating organic and paid search efficiently implies that you know if, when, and why to move budget to the other, across which keywords, at what time and for what length of time to mitigate your risk and maintain total revenue and CPA levels as forecasted.
Ad copy effectiveness
Testing paid search ad copy effectiveness is the mainstay of all good paid search campaigns, but these insights are hardly ever ported over to your natural search listings. When research suggests that natural search achieves between 2.5x and 4x more traffic than paid, this is unforgivable.
There are various instances where your organic and paid listings will cannibalise the clicks of the other and understanding when this is happening is important and acknowledging that not all cannibalization is bad, given that you may have CPA or volume targets that this cannibalisation actually helps you achieve. Being able to manipulate this cannibalization is key.
A limited degree of paid and natural search technological convergence has occurred over recent years, largely limited to Google looking to on-page relevancy for both organic and paid search. Within paid search, on-page relevancy affects what you pay per click as part of how your Quality Score is calculated. This means that optimizing your pages for the keywords you are buying against will, all things being equal, reduce what you pay per click. Given that SEO as a discipline is the principle authority on on-page relevancy, there are clear benefits of using SEO expertise to produce landing pages for both natural and paid search.
Businesses will often have targets and objectives that they formulate forecasts to achieve. A forecast, to be anywhere near accurate for organic and paid search, must reflect the effects of each of those activities over the other. Planning which keywords should be primary, secondary, or discarded keywords for natural search and paid search can deliver incredible improvements to your ROI very quickly.
Alignment of method to goal
What are you using search to achieve? And how does each medium better reach different goals? Paid search is great at aggressively pushing a new promotion that may need to be pulled at a moment’s notice. It is also great at carpeting an entire keyword set, even if you don’t have the pages to perfectly reflect the keywords you’re targeting. It also has a great branding role to play. Organic search in contrast delivers traffic and sales at typically a cheaper rate and is utilized more and indeed trusted more, for informational searches, which means it has a reputational (PR) and social media role too. Organic search is also often the first click, with paid often the last click, and so they have goals in relation to each other’s goals too that should be understood and optimised against.
The multiplier effect
Perhaps most important of all, research points to a clear statistical advantage in securing the click from a searcher if you are holding more real estate on a search engine results page (SERP) than just one solitary organic or paid listing. This means that occupying more of Page 1 of any given results page not only increases your paid search click through rate (CTR) and therefore increases your number of visitors and decreases your per click costs (due to quality score improvements) but also reduces your click costs further by ensuring that organic search is doing its part in facilitating a blended cost per click (CPC) from the medium which might not have been possible with PPC alone. On that basis it’s important to understand how your paid and organic visibility overlaps and when and where to create this multiplier effect.
However, it’s easier said than done...
Most agencies, brands and search professionals will place an emphasis on either organic or paid search and as a result fail to optimise the medium in its entirety, ignoring that organic and paid search power each other, have their specific benefits and drawbacks, and also represent an opportunity to optimise spend and ROI for the total benefit of the advertiser. More specifically, the holistic optimisation of search is a rare activity due to the following reasons:
Paid Search is often treated like TV advertising
Much of this lack of strategic integration stems from a hugely flawed outlook on paid search, propagated by the more traditional agencies who view paid search as something you simply allocate spend to, as a trivial bolt on to a TV, radio and print budget, where the media planning objective of negotiating the lowest rates reigns supreme. But paid search is not TV - it can achieve some of the same objectives - but TV cannot be optimized to the same extent as paid search and so it cannot be managed in the same way.
To put this into perspective, and I appreciate controversially perhaps, the optimization of a TV campaign has only a handful of variables that can be manipulated - which TV channel, at what time of the day, before/after/between which programming. A paid search campaign will often have hundreds of thousands of keywords being targeted, with every single one being a variable that needs to be optimized against the same variables as TV and a few more too. Paid Search is not TV; it is an optimisational discipline, just as SEO is.
Furthermore, paid and organic search not only need to be optimized in their own right, but also optimized against each others’ performance as they are targeting the same user, on the same SERPs, at the same time. If you're not talking about paid search as an optimisational discipline you’re losing money right now and the benefits of strategic integration far beyond your grasp.
An imbalance in capabilities and competencies
Most people, brands and agencies only have genuine competency and experience in either natural search or paid search, very rarely both, in many cases neither. For instance, only 20% of the top 30 search agencies in the UK are in a position where at least 30% of their revenue comes from natural and 30% from paid search. A third of all search agencies focus exclusively on just SEO or PPC.
It’s worse for the full service media agencies where they treat paid search as a media buy and employ a handful of really capable SEO and PPC practitioners at best; limited resources in a vacuum of genuine leadership isn’t the best recipe for cutting edge search.
It's all very confusing
Does a natural search ranking affect my paid search click through or conversion rate if the user sees both listings and clicks on one or the other? Are there instances where you shouldn't use paid or natural search? Are there ever grounds to not bid against a keyword? Most marketers and agencies acknowledge that these are important questions, but the answers are specific to your brand, your spend, your website, your sector, and cannot be found in a manual. The only way of integrating your search strategy is to dare to collect, disseminate, analyse and test your own data and build your own models. Not an easy task and one that most will simply not dare tackle because, well, its just very confusing and time consuming.
Lack of analytics & mathematical modelling
It is only quite recently that most brands have robust enough analytics in place to be able to measure the contribution of natural search and paid search, and indeed the relationship between them with click path analysis. Click path analysis is key to running a holistic search existence, as you will only know how the two channels behave in isolation and in various combinations of the other once you’ve gathered and analysed the data. Current analytics provision only provides the raw data however, it still needs to be analysed and modelled to have any bearing on how an integrated search system should operate.
Based on the above obstacles, gaining competitive advantage from running a real, integrated search methodology necessitates that five requirements are satisfied:
- The treatment of paid search as an optimisational discipline.
- Genuine capabilities under one roof in both SEO and PPC, either in-house or in your agency of record.
- Real time interpreted data and the ability and agility to manoeuvre based on that data. This implies consistent action-inspiring mathematical rigour, i.e. technology making millions of calculations each and every minute analysing scenarios and trading off metrics against each other.
- Inter-disciplinary experts, data-driven, with PHD-level mathematical modelling capabilities.
- Brands and agencies ready and willing to go on the One Search journey and invest ahead of bearing the fruits of it.
These five requirements are undoubtedly tough obstacles - it’s not as easy as just sharing the odd piece of data between agencies or moving desks around so your organic people are sitting near your paid search people.
Bearing the fruits of ‘one search’ entails a much more ambitious approach to analytics, reporting, expertise, messaging, mathematics, and user engagement, pulling all these things together to produce intelligent, actionable information.
Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Many agencies, brands and professionals have for years spoken about the benefits of SEO and PPC ‘integration’, but have done little to make it a useful reality.
The benefits however are very clear and may perhaps represent the last major area available to marketers to create some real competitive advantage in their search channel. Moreover, this doesn’t even begin to touch on other beneficial integrations, such as search with social media. On that basis, there really is no excuse, so start now.