SEO - The Yin To Paid Search Advertising's Yang

So you've figured out Google Grants and paid search advertising – but have you balanced your overall search efforts, and looked into search engine optimization (SEO)? SEO is the non-paid, somewhat trickier side to search marketing, but it is equally (and some would say even more) important. Are you a complete newbie? Well, then welcome to SEO 101 – please make sure your cell phone is in the off position, and keep all hands and arms inside the cabin at all times.

How Google Generates Organic Search Results

Here's where it starts to get tricky – no one really has the complete answer. Google's organic (non-paid) search results are generated by a secret algorithm that we don't know everything about. And quite often Google will update it, sometimes resulting in extremely different rankings for websites (don't even get me started – here's a complete history of all Google's algorithm updates if you're curious). Here's what we do know: Google is out there to serve the most relevant web pages to the user's specific search query as possible. They want the user to be able to find the information that they're looking for as quickly and efficiently as possible.



From your point of view, you want your web pages to rank highly in the organic search results – meaning that it shows up sooner, on the first page of search results if possible. The first page of search results – aka the first 10 listings – gets 94% of all clicks on Google. The first listing on the first page alone has an average click-through-rate of 36.4%, a lot more than the 12.5% for position 2, and substantially more than the 2.6% for position 11 on the second page. So where your web page ranks is important – you get it. But how do you affect it? Enter SEO practices.

The basic rule of SEO is that you want your website pages to be relevant. The more relevant your information is to the user's search query, the more likely it is that your web page will rank higher. But when literally billions of Google searches are performed every month, how do you choose what queries to try and make your page relevant for? Think high school – a popularity contest, of course! You want to optimize the pages of your site for the search queries or phrases that have the highest number of searches each month in order to make the biggest impact. I don't mean the most popular searches on the internet period. (Please do not optimize your Save the Children website for the most recent Ann Curry/Matt Lauer debacle search queries). Use the most popular searches in your particular field or niche group.

For example, we were recently trying to decide whether to optimize our pages for "global warming" or "climate change" phrases. Well, what are most people searching for? We used two different tools to research it:


  • Google Keyword Tool – If you put in sample keywords, it will give you the monthly searches on each phrase, globally and locally, as well as a list of similar keywords. One note on the Google Keyword Tool – on the left hand side of the tool you’ll see three different match options – broad, phrase, and exact.  If you want the most accurate numbers for monthly searches, I would choose exact match.  Basically, exact match means that the tool will show you data for only that specific phrase.  Otherwise, the data it shows for the phrase “moose in Alaska” might also include synonyms, misspellings, or plurals like “mooses in Alaska" or "moose in the Arctic."

  • Google Trends – This tool will show you what searches are currently trending in the U.S. or abroad (under "hot searches") as well as the trends of specific keywords (under "explore trends"). If you put in specific keywords, you can see how "hot" those keywords have been in the past, and it will forecast how they may act in the future. You can compare multiple keywords to each other, see regional interest across the world, and see related terms.

Continuing with my example, both the Keyword Tool and Google Trends think that we should optimize for "global warming" phrases: 

  • Keyword Tool: "global warming" gets 450,000 global searches every month, where as "climate change" only gets 110,000. 

  • Google Trends: "global warming" has been consistently more popular than "climate change" over the past nine years, particularly in the United States. 

Using that research, we decided to use the phrase "global warming" across our site, compared to "climate change."

One Pitfall to Watch Out For

Sometimes, particularly when you're dealing with scientific language, the phrase with the most monthly searches each month might not be the scientifically (or even grammatically) correct phrase. That's when things can get even trickier. You don't want to include any incorrect information on your site, but you obviously can't change how people search on Google. One solution to this problem could be a page or section that discusses "X incorrect name" and why "Y correct name" is more accurate. That way, you can include the most popular phrase, but also educate people on why your site uses "Y correct name" instead.

Questions? Leave a comment below.

1 comment about "SEO - The Yin To Paid Search Advertising's Yang".
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  1. Jennifer Sanford from Dominion Dealer Solutions, April 22, 2013 at 12:15 p.m.

    A very nice synopsis to help marketers get started with effective content writing.

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