Organic search gains as complement to PPC
One way that marketers are using their paid search campaigns to communicate with their SEO is to engage paid search's precision targeting and real-time results. Restaurant.com employs paid search as a placeholder on keywords for which the site doesn't come up in results organically, says Phil Volini, senior search marketing manager at the restaurant couponing site. Volini's team will then examine how the paid campaigns perform in order to see if the keyword is worth targeting organically. If a keyword is deemed of value, "we'll put the pedal to the floor on both channels," says Volini. "When we do catch up on the SEO side, we'll take a step back and look at how we're working together on that keyword bucket and how aggressive we need to be on the paid side."
By using paid search in this fashion, Volini's team is essentially putting a down payment on a keyword that will require relatively few future funds but can generate consistent returns. Rob Garner, director of search at digital agency iCrossing, says that "an ongoing natural search campaign can easily have a 10 to one ROI and can grow as time passes because that same content deployment would still be producing for years to come."
The integration of paid and organic can also boost a brand's credibility. The integration is necessary, says Performics CEO Daina Middleton, because there is "a little bit of a confidence hit in the mind of the searcher" when a brand doesn't appear in both paid and organic results. She says the new perspective needs to be "how can I take advantage of the whole owned, earned and paid space on the entire search engine results page."
Searching for friends
Today, even the integration of paid and organic doesn't fully account for the deluge of factors that affect search rankings. To ensure a successful search marketing strategy, search marketers must enlist entire marketing departments and their customer base.
"We're past the time where the occasional summer intern can help you track what your top 10 search rankings are," says Anderson. "It's a more complex world that requires better tools and real-time information."
One such tool is social media. Paul Elliott, partner in consumer products and retail at interactive marketing agency Rosetta, says that integrating user-generated content from social media "opens you up to keywords and copy that go beyond a brand's professional writers or marketers." These cues can even be used to inform paid search via organic results, further integrating the two channels.
For an example of how significant it is for companies to tie their social marketing to SEO, one can point to the proximity of Restaurant.com's search marketing manager and social media manager: their desks are side-by-side. Volini says that the closeness allows them to coordinate conversations taking place on the social networks with keywords that the site's landing pages are optimized for.
"Now we have this 100,000-plus focus group to help inform us on what keywords we need to go after on the search results page," says Volini.
Search marketers are also employing complex data tools that are finally lifting the fog surrounding SEO and companies' bottom lines. "One of the reasons why paid search has been so successful is it works and you can measure the heck out of it, so much to the point that companies invest in paid search at a loss just because it's so measurable," says Seth Besmertnik, CEO and cofounder of SEO platform provider Conductor.
Analytics vendors such as Conductor and online intelligence providers have enabled companies to eliminate inefficiencies in their search marketing by identifying landing pages and keywords that would garner better results than those that marketers are otherwise targeting. "A good landing page can convert at 2.5% whereas a homepage against that same keyword will probably convert at 0.5%," says Besmertnik. Rich Stokes, founder and CEO of AdGooroo, adds that by analyzing competitors' inbound links, marketers are able to eliminate more than 95% of underperforming pages.
PM Digital's Sandberg notes that the rise of precision analytics has allowed marketers to more directly attribute their organic results. "There's finally a broad understanding that you can look at your analytics and your referral URLs for your natural search traffic and you can get the trends and the uptick in revenue after you execute changes on the SEO side," she says.
Difficult as the integration and the data-diving can be, the hardest slog for search marketers is the one up to the boardroom. Volini says that having company-wide support is crucial to the success of search marketing, particularly SEO. "You have to be an evangelist for the channel to get the company to understand what an SEO strategy looks like, that it's slower and needs to grow and evolve and it's never done," he says.
Other marketers say that the improved ability to measure performance in organic search has enabled them to communicate the opportunities in organic search to the senior executives at their companies, which has resulted in more support and investment in SEO.