SEO vs. Paid Search

A millionaire friend once told me, "What it all boils down to, Paul, is that I always keep my shovel in the manure pile." He was referring to how successful C-level executives always maintain complete awareness of every aspect of his or her business-- not only knowing everything from the bottom up, but actually digging into every nook and cranny. His management style is reminiscent of Tom Peters' management by walking around.

I admire a business manager who digs into every aspect of the business, and I believe this quality remains the distinguishing characteristic of today's successful C-level manager.

C-level employees need the knowledge

As we all know, search engine marketing is a critical and effective marketing strategy that provides an excellent return on investment (ROI). By virtue of the improved KPIs (key performance indicators) in web analytics reports, savvy marketers understand SEM's value. But what about your C-level execs? Do they know? Do they care? A word of advice: they better know. 

The company website: your internet presence

Your website touches virtually every aspect of your business, as well as every one of your employees, new and old customers, vendors, investors and business associates-- even your competitors. Your site has a tremendous impact on achieving your business goals. It is the workhorse that pumps up your bottom line. This means its health and maintenance are key to your company's success.

While your website is the engine that drives success, search marketing is what fuels that engine. That's because search engines drive qualified prospects to your site that are likely to convert. This is most certainly something you can quantify and bring to the attention of your company leadership. It will quickly show them the value (ROI) of your efforts. 

You can also direct customers to your online website through offline and online marketing campaigns. Just imagine the implication of this statistic reported by comScore recently: U.S. residents conducted 5.15 billion searches in November 2005. Google's search sites processed 2.05 billion of those searches (39.8 percent of web traffic), followed by Yahoo sites with 1.52 billion (29.5 percent).

Both your corporate image (brand), and your company's product/service, are being viewed and sought while you sleep at night, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Where is your shovel?

Search is a great place to start digging, and if you don't like to dig, then delegate it to your VP of marketing, asking him or her to keep you informed. Whatever you do, you must get your website and its search marketing strategy under tight control. You must understand every aspect of what's going on in the search world as it relates to your business and your competitors.

Know all the search strategies available that can drive unique visitors and conversions to your site. With search engine optimization (SEO) as your foundation, you can also take advantage of various paid search strategies including paid inclusion, pay-per-click, search contextual ads, pay-per-call and more.

Don't play Russian roulette with your marketing program; get educated on how search marketing can enhance your internet presence while improving your bottom line. Recent research shows that national advertisers are creating a new budget item for search marketing while other companies are shifting money from existing marketing and website development programs to search engine marketing. But remember, your C-level decision makers will need to be constantly aware of the progress of your efforts.   

Don't do the hokey pokie
Do not "put your left foot in, put your left foot out." Jump in with both feet and familiarize yourself with the features and benefits of all search marketing strategies.

While the uninitiated may simply grab the low-hanging fruit of pay-per-click, savvy marketers will lay the foundation with organic SEO. Research shows that 70 percent of internet users click on natural listings, versus 30 percent on paid listings. Organic links are perceived as unbiased, therefore more credible than paid links.

When you don't have SEO in your marketing mix, you incur an opportunity cost as search rankings and keywords become more competitive from year to year. One of my clients wanted to be well ranked for a keyword with 1.5 million pages indexed in Google two years ago, relying only on sponsored links. Today, that keyword has over 80 million pages indexed in Google. And according to Yahoo Search Marketing, that keyword is now searched over 1 million times each month, averaging about $2 per click. It now takes at least two years to become well ranked in the natural listings. That's your opportunity cost. 

Empowerment with analytics

Web analytics both validate and empower search marketing. Search is the first step toward improving your internet presence. That's because the majority of web visitors start with search engines to get where they're going, and search is the most popular internet activity after email. This means most of your traffic comes from search.

The first step after setting up your KPIs through web analytics is to address your organic search results before your sponsored search results. According to Jupiter Research, 87 percent of commercial traffic from major search engines is organic or natural, non- sponsored traffic results.
Your analytics KPI reports are the first line item to check off your list. KPIs are one of several items on the dashboard. If you're going to drive company profits, make sure you have a dashboard to look at-- and a rear-view mirror to see where your business comes from. This data is available with web analytics, the tool that contributes to the continuous improvement of your website and marketing campaign performance. This can also be an extremely useful tool, providing an analytics dashboard for your C-level execs. 

Search marketing as part of IPM

At Red Door, Internet Presence Management refers to the ongoing improvement in the way your company functions on the internet. The term itself evolved out of the desire to distinguish between web development (i.e., the programming and design of web-based applications, emails, websites, and so on) and the ongoing (or "evolving") nature of the way companies do business online, which includes not only the site (a destination), but also search engines, blogs, wikis, business process automation software, and so on.

Limitations of sponsored search

Sponsored search requires significant management and controls to achieve the results you need. 

Yahoo Search Marketing is one of the leading providers of sponsored search traffic. Two examples of sponsored search case studies conducted by Yahoo Search Marketing are quoted below:

  • Fairmont Hotels has been able to achieve an average cost-per-sale (CPS) of 3 percent within its Yahoo Search Marketing campaign. Fairmont increased its revenue by a whopping 57  percent and its brand awareness went from 2 percent in 1999 to 17 percent in 2003 to 26 percent in 2004.
  • EverythingHome, formerly EverythingBagel, is an online retailer that offers hundreds of home-related products. They wrote customized titles and descriptions that attract interested buyers to their site, EverythingHome's search listings grew to nearly 5,000, so did their business. Consistently, EverythingHome has seen results as they have achieved almost a 50 percent ROI while generating close to $500,000 in sales.

Imagine the pleasure your execs would have with these results. Now remember, in both cases, it took a lot of time and investment to acquire, and it was no easy walk-in-the-park. Yes, it can be done. No, it's not just a matter of signing-up and counting the clicks. There are dozens of granular issues to address.

Virtues of organic search

With organic search, your search engine results page (SERP) translates into the real estate mandate for "Location, Location, Location!" Type in a search query at Google for "Fraud Protection" and you may see the following SERP with listings in the Golden Triangle (the F-shaped area on SERPs where websites appear for optimal search engine visibility in both paid and natural listings).


A primary factor to consider in organic search is user preference for organic links, illustrated in the chart on internet user behavior.

Studies suggest that B2B internet users prefer natural (organic) search results when presented with a choice.

As shown in almost every instance, users chose organic over sponsored search results. Other studies indicate that B2C and B2B2C internet users mirror B2B user behavior in similar percentages.

When you consider roughly 70 percent of searchers at Google and Yahoo prefer organic to sponsored links, and given the Golden Triangle eye tracking results, you can begin to appreciate the value of being listed in the top three organic search results for your industry. 

Reinventing your business

Once you've integrated web analytics with your website functionality and achieve a good balance of organic and sponsored search links, you will have reinvented your business with improved website performance. Installing analytics and search on your dashboard will require the completion of several other prerequisites, including site architecture, page construction, content and linking. Your site architecture will be a thematical vault of valuable data. Your page construction and content will match up with the science of relevance. And popularity, as others link to you, will be yours to have and to hold.

In the process, you will have developed a superior site and will be presenting yourself to the world as the subject matter expert. Your competitors may try to take you down, but it can take them years to catch up. And when budget time comes rolling around, you'll have plenty of backing to show your value to the company and its success.
Your next step will be to set-up a perimeter, define additional objectives, add new features to the dashboard and continuously improve performance. You'll be strong and centered with support from the basics that got you there. 

Search industry standards

The call for search marketing industry standards dates back to 1996, and thus far the industry is yet to step up to the plate. I trust we will see the search marketing industry continue to increase its value, authenticity and integrity by identifying standards and supporting ethical business practices in the future.

Perhaps due to the lack of search marketing standards, many businesses have ignored this valuable marketing strategy and at their peril. That said, I have one tip for you before I sign off: get a methodology document from your search marketing vendor or agency. Read it and understand every detail; study it as you would study the manual to your new 60" plasma screen or Bentley Arnage T.

And most importantly remember keep that shovel in the manure pile, and always, always let your company leadership know and understand your work and its amazing impact on the firm's bottom line. 

Paul J. Bruemmer has provided search engine marketing expertise and consulting services to prominent American businesses since 1995. As director of search marketing at Red Door Interactive, he is responsible for strategizing and implementing search engine marketing activities within Red Door's Internet Presence Management (IPM) services. Paul has provided search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) services to thousands of websites, including clients like Lexis-Nexis and NASDAQ. Paul is a well-known industry columnist, having written articles for ClickZ, iMediaConnection, Search Engine Guide, Pandia and MarketingProfs. He has also been a featured speaker at the Search Engine Strategies Conferences and at eComXpo. Paul can be reached at 619-398-2670 ext. 127.