Organic Search vs. Paid SEM

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Almost all the clients I work with these days are interested in how search can enhance their online marketing. Search engine marketing is a must, given industry data showing that more than 85 percent of all initial Web site visits originate from search engines.

A new JupiterResearch report, "U.S. SEM Executive Survey, 2006," found that the proportion of marketers using search marketing tools has risen from 19 percent last year to 26 percent this year.

I often explain that search is really two complementary tactics: organic search, which relies on unpaid search listings; and paid search, such as paid inclusion and pay-per-click ad listings. Then clients usually ask: Which type should I use?

The simple answer is that ranking well in organic search results for a relevant and popular key phrase, in conjunction with well-written, well-planned placements from a paid search program, will take the day no matter what your goals.

However, reality often makes this Holy Grail difficult to attain. The realistic answer depends on what you aim to accomplish with your marketing program. Paid and organic search are effective for different tasks and situations.

Immediate action or considered? Paid search is effective for getting your message in front of prospects who are in an acting context. Studies have found that paid search garners greater click-through when the call for action is an immediate transaction.

Paid search also guarantees top placement, gets your message in front of searchers quickly and provides the flexibility to adapt your marketing message. If you have a message that requires an immediate action or transaction, paid search is probably a good option.

Organic search is more effective for a considered purchase. If prospects need to gather information for a purchase that will require more than one step or actor in the buy cycle, organic search is more likely to engage them. While most Web users view paid ads with skepticism, organic search results increase their confidence that the information is trustworthy.

A downside to organic search is that results ranking relates directly to the indexed relevance to the triggering search terms. So it can take months to gain traction. This slow reaction time requires that you develop your search strategy well in advance of any goals you are trying to achieve, which also allows for a minimum of flexibility in your program.

Mutual, not exclusive. What is the bottom line? Paid search is the place to focus if you have immediate search goals or a desired behavior that involves an immediate, single-step action. Paid search is also the path to consider if you need a program flexible enough to react to quick-changing market conditions.

Organic search is the strategy if you are supporting a multi-step or multi-person considered purchase that will stay largely the same for a long time. Organic search restricts flexibility but enhances results by increasing prospect confidence.

Each type of search program has specific strengths and weaknesses. Most marketing communication programs have goals that call on the strengths of both tactics. Therefore, the question should not be "Which of the two should be chosen?" but "How much of each one will be needed?" to achieve your marketing goals.

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Stirista

Founded in September 2009, Stirista is an integrated marketing agency that specializes in ...