By Marc Purtell | Director, SEO
Paid vs. organic. It’s the Hatfield vs. the McCoys of the online marketing universe.
Marketers playing in the paid search arena have undoubtedly recognized the increasing bid amounts required to generate impressions brought on by increased competition. According to a recent Forrester/Shop.org report, the gap in spending between paid and organic search (40% to 14% of U.S. company investments, respectively) indicates that companies are increasingly likely to invest more in paid search than organic search marketing (SEO).
This trend isn’t encouraging for marketers like myself who believe that an even balance between paid and organic search marketing is necessary for a brand’s long-term success.
Marketers must be careful not to tip the scale by over-investing in paid search while not giving organic search the resources needed to effectively supplement their paid search activity. In order to achieve the optimal return on investment (ROI), paid and organic search must work together and complement each other. Otherwise the blended cost-per-acquisition (CPA) will not reach its full potential.
Marketers should be aware of three important organic search opportunities brought on by this new paid search goldmine.
- More paid search real estate equals more paid search competition. As the major search engines and social networks continue to open up new paid search real estate, competition for those slots – and the keywords that fill them – is heating up. Marketers should offset this by increasing their spend on organic search marketing. Only 14% of companies surveyed by Forrester and Shop.org indicated they spend more on organic than paid search. Therefore, the real estate available to organic listings is far less competitive – and expensive to secure.
- Organic search listings are becoming more valuable than paid. Marketers need to understand the trust value of organic vs. paid search listings. Consumers are increasingly savvy of the difference between the two and tend to trust organic listings more. That not only positively affects the click-through-rate of organic listings, but could also lead search engines to pull back on their eagerness to display paid ads. With too much emphasis on paid advertising in the SERPs, consumers are less likely to have a positive experience, driving them to alternative search engines.
- Government regulators are watching. Further adding to the trust value of organic listings is the Federal Trade’s recent warning to search engines sent a clear message that the days of mixing paid with organic search listings will soon be coming to an end. While Google and other search engines like to bluster that they won’t be bullied by government regulators, the FTC’s warning will undoubtedly have an impact on how paid search ads are displayed. This, in time, will increase the value of organic search listings.
With the above trends in mind, it’s surprising that so many marketers fail to consider the synergy between paid and organic search.
Paid search is appealing to many brands because it generates an almost instant return. You turn on a campaign and begin generating traffic right away. Efficiencies in paid search campaigns can be built over time to bring down the CPA, but the fact is that every click throughout the life of the campaign costs money.
Companies are often hesitant to invest in SEO because there isn’t an immediate ROI. Investing in organic search generates return over time. Once that return begins, it continues to build on itself. The assets acquired in an organic search campaign will continue to generate return as opposed to paid search, in which you continue to pay for each and every click. A mature SEO campaign will generate acquisitions at a much higher ROI than a mature paid search campaign.
The increasing price war in paid search may be good for the search engines but it portends a whole slew of problems for digital marketers. Savvy marketers will mix paid and organic search to generate a higher blended CPA and improve their overall search rankings. Like all things in life, a healthy mix of paid and organic search is the recipe for a successful search marketing strategy.