All good marketers begin search engine efforts by identifying online business goals and vetting a set of high volume key phrases that best match the goals. Frankly, we guess what terms we think will work.
Next we usually apply our knowledge to work these terms into the structure of the Web site to start driving free traffic and rise in the ranks of organic search listings. This often comes with an assumption that we’ll decide later whether paid search is even necessary. However, once you stop to explore the strategic differences between paid and organic search, the opposite approach begins to intrigue.
First, organic optimization involves friction. Re-writing existing site copy based on the chosen key phrase set and making the required changes to site code usually involves several steps. There are IT copy writers, management and legal department approvals that make it more difficult to change if the initial effort doesn’t perform.
Then you wait for search engine spiders to find the site and post new listings. It can take weeks or months to see the results across the entire set of key phrases. Eventually the site earns several listings with titles and descriptions culled by the spiders that may or may not best represent the business value you’d hoped for.
Industry knowledge indicates that a mid-sized company would do well to earn listings on the first page in major search engines for 20 to 30 terms. So performance knowledge builds at a rate of about 25 terms per month. Not too bad for ‘free’.
Now imagine that you could be actively listed in a couple days using 200 to 3,000 terms. You can try general industry terms, every variation of your brand message and services as well as competitor terms, without the red tape of department approvals.
You also control the titles, ad descriptions and listing positions every day side by side while monitoring and reworking the strategy based on profit performance, according to a well structured testing matrix. This allows for even more data insight.
In a month you’ll have more valuable data than a year’s worth of organic search alone. At the end of a quarter you can even know the market size and costs with some degree of accuracy. Only pay-per-click delivers this immediacy, breadth, knowledge and control for each campaign it is used for.
Making your organic search investment second allows for a much more accurate and powerful ‘free traffic’ play. Once you know what phrases, titles and ad copy resonates to the point of profit with your customers, you’ll want to use that information to empower all your marketing initiatives.
(This article first appeared in the June 2007 edition of the Essential Guide to Search Engine Marketing.)