emerging opportunities

Posted by Rachel Malone, Account Director

SEM and SEO listings are being displayed to the same searchers.  So, why are some advertisers still treating them separately?  A synergistic approach to paid and natural search can more efficiently drive results in both channels.  When striving towards holistic SEO/SEM integration, we recommend that you break the process into three simple optimization focus areas:

1) Page Domination:  There’s no doubt that page domination is ideal.  Many studies show that users pay attention to both paid and organic listings, and optimizing both gives you an opportunity to repeat or broaden your message.   In fact, Performics found that 48% of searchers are more likely to click on a search result if the brand name appears multiple times on the search results page (Performics & ROI Research, 2010 SERP Insights Study).

Because the search landscape changes so rapidly, your best bet is to skip the test phase and reallocate your energy to SEO/SEM integration now.  Just DO IT!  Start with paid search because keyword data is so readily available.  You know what keywords work for you in paid search.  Paid search insights on metrics like traffic and conversions should be used as key inputs in developing SEO strategies.  Ensure that high-converting paid search keywords have coverage in both channels.  Additionally, identify paid search keywords that searchers use for research, as these terms may be more appropriate for SEO because users trust natural results more for research queries.  For example, engage users that are more action-oriented with paid search keywords while engaging users in the research/discovery mode with SEO keywords.  By using both SEO and SEM, you can dominate the search engine results page and perhaps match two different user intents with one query. 

2) Cost-Saving Strategies:  Some executives are looking to reduce costs and are satisfied with a “free” organic listing only.  However, this strategy often does not align with company goals to maximize reach, traffic and response/revenue.  No doubt there are cost savings to eliminating your SEM listing and relying exclusively on SEO, but think carefully about the lost opportunity before testing this strategy.  Also keep in mind that SEO/SEM integration can help to better allocate budget across paid search keywords to gain search efficiencies.  Uncover each keyword’s potential value in SEO and SEM to determine which channel is the better investment per keyword.  Then allocate paid search funds efficiently, making new strategic investments where appropriate. 

Another way to gain efficiency in paid search is to leverage best practices from SEO landing pages.  Often, an SEO landing page ranks well because it’s the most relevant page for that searcher’s query.  Because relevancy is the key component of Quality Score, applying learnings from high-ranking SEO landing pages (and results page titles and descriptions) to paid search landing pages and messaging can help boost paid search relevancy.  This can improve Quality Score, which helps preserve paid search budget.

3) Copy Optimization:  This is the area you should be testing.  Because there are risks involved with manipulating your SEO listings, make your SEO listings as strong as possible—the brand should be prominent and trademarked if relevant.  Highlight your strongest value proposition and call-to-action.  Then test your SEM ad copy.  What happens when you display consistent messages across SEO/SEM listings?  What happens when you vary your messaging to speak to different users and take advantage of every character available to you on the search engine results page?  For paid search, messaging can be more actionable and promotion-based due to the ability to quickly roll-out copy and promotions.  For SEO, messaging should be timeless as it takes longer to gain authority in the listings.  Results are going to be different for every advertiser, so test, test, and test some more until you’ve found the best mix for your company. 

By focusing on these three optimization areas—and rigorously evaluating search analytics to continuously improve performance—you’ll be well on your way to achieving SEO/SEM synergy.

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