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The organic/paid search continuum

The organic/paid search continuum Joshua Palau

About a year ago I came up with this clever (at least in my mind) catchphrase "." It was my mantra to marketers who treated paid and organic separately.

As the year went on, marketers seemed to agree. As the search world evolved, the paid and organic synergies have evolved. You can't say that you want to manage search as one tactic and have it magically happen. However, that's what many marketers want. The feeling is this: "You're my agency. You do paid and organic. You make it happen."

I understand this feeling, but it's not that simple. What both clients and agencies need to understand is that there are criteria that need to be in place in order to reap the benefits of an integrated search plan. And I hate turning conversations like this back on clients; it seems like I'm passing the buck.

I'm only trying to be fair and actually do what clients pay their agencies to do: help them reach their goals and tell them when we're wrong. So let's share the responsibility of solving this issue and addressing those pesky qualifications.

Did you fix the analytics like I said?
I said it in the last article, but apparently, like my kids, nobody listened. Of the numerous clients I have worked with, only a small fraction have had their analytics configured properly. While this is a topic for another article, at a bare minimum one should filter paid and organic down to a keyword level. Remember that the goal here is synergy of paid and organic. Here is an all too typical conversation:

Client: "Can I stop buying certain terms?"
Me: "How well do you convert for those terms organically?"
Client: "I don't know."
Me: "Then keep buying them."

It's a mistake to assume that just because you rank well organically the organic traffic will convert the same as paid. The message and landing pages may be different, and users may have different intentions.

If you're too paralyzed with fear to tackle your analytics, work with your agency to implement Google Analytics or create a custom report in your current package to get the data. Even if you do it just for a month you will learn a great deal.

Where are you with your SEO project?
Just because you signed an SOW to do SEO it doesn't mean that paid and organic synergy will magically happen. If your SEO is focused on a site redesign, synergy can't be recognized until the new site launches. For clients that have their big book of SEO recommendations, the question becomes, where are you with implementation? If you haven't completed at least the most important recommendations then it is a little unfair to expect your agency to be able to help you with search synergy.

It's kind of like when a mechanic tells you that you need to fix several things on your car. You know it has to get done, but with limited time and money you're not sure where to start… so you don't. When your car dies on the highway, you really can't get mad at the mechanic.

Ask your agency to help prioritize the recommendations, and just get them done. If search is important to your brand then there are no excuses.

Brother, can you spare a dime?
Going back to the example of how to lower your paid search spending, how well funded is your current plan? The principle of saving money is basically this:

  • I spend money on words that I rank for organically (usually brand or tail terms).

  • There are words that convert well, but are more expensive (usually head or torso terms) so I cannot afford a high SOV.

  • If I stop buying some words, can I divert the savings into those bigger words?

The challenge for many marketers is that their category is either too big or they are not funding search well enough to use the savings. I have a client working in the healthcare space. Its words are expensive, and the company maintains about a 30 percent SOV on "bigger" words. When I examined how much money the company would save if it pulled back words with good organic conversions, I found it would only have raised the SOV 2 percent. Since it has good analytics, we were able to test and discovered that the traffic and conversions lost when they did not have two listings were not worth it. That's why proper analytics are important.

It's great to see clients recognizing that paid and organic should be one tactic, and yes there are lots of ROI-based synergies that exist. However, there is also a lot of account management; we just can't expect these synergies to magically appear without being upfront and working through the qualifications that need to be in place.

Joshua Palau is group director of SEM at Avenue A | Razorfish. .

For over 15 years, Josh has worked extensively in the digital space focused on sales and marketing. During this time, he's been fortunate to work for and on some of the largest and most recognized brands. This experience has shaped his ability to...

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