Five Tips For Assessing The Value Of Natural Search

In my last column I talked about the search hit that Bodog was taking from an unexpected domain name change, and how this underscored the increasing recognition and importance of natural search.  Since that time, the New York Times opened up subscription-based content for free based on the value driven from natural search visitors alone, and it is rumored that the Wall Street Journal may soon follow suit. 

While many large-sized corporations are still slowly discovering the power of natural search in new and creative ways, it can be a bit challenging to demonstrate this value to others within their organizations. And it is often equally difficult to help various stakeholders make informed decisions about their roles and impact on natural search.   



Whether you are trying to justify natural search during a site redesign or domain move, or even pitching to open up your paid content to the crawlers for free, here are five ways that natural search provides value, and can help you appeal to various people in your organization who have an impact on natural search performance:

1) Know how much revenue natural search delivers.  Simply put, knowing how much revenue is driven at the keyword level, the search engine level and aggregate level will help you and your company make smarter decisions about redesigning your site, or make any major site changes that may impact natural search revenue.  This is a basic metric for most companies that are monitoring natural performance, so if you're not doing this, put it at the top of your list.  For some this means going out and getting a better analytics package; for others it means following up with sales departments to see how many of your company's natural search leads closed last month.

2) Know your rankings. It is important to know what rankings you maintain, for both traffic and revenue, and also the perceived credibility of possessing top rankings for terms and phrases important to your business. Take a two-pronged approach to assessing ranking visibility by 1) looking at traffic driven from search engines in your logs, and adding those terms to your ranking report, and 2) assessing the most important terms to your business through market research, competitive research and internal research.  If you are Fortune 1000, you may very well find at least a few holy-grail terms in your logs and rankings reports that are worth preserving, if for no other reason than for public relations. And as a bonus: you might also find a few highly positioned beauties that are also driving major revenue.

3) Know how much traffic you are getting from natural search.  Whether you are getting 2% or 50% traffic referrals from natural search, you need to know this number prior to a redesign in order to determine its impact.  This can help determine how critical natural search is to your overall online business, and it is not uncommon to find many companies driving anywhere from 10% to 40% of total online traffic or revenue via natural search.  In the case of ad-supported sites that sell on a CPM basis, more page views equal more ad inventory, and search traffic can be attributed directly to this measurement.

4) Know the market value of a search click.  In addition to the actual revenue derived from natural search, there is one other often-overlooked value, and that is the value of a click in paid search.  It's fair to assign a CPC value that you are currently paying in PPC to make a case for the value of traffic, because that's what you are willing to pay.  If you're still hitting a wall when making this case, ask your boss to consider this: If you were to lose all of your natural search traffic today and wanted to get it back immediately, how much would it cost to kick-start a quick paid search campaign of equal quality?  I had a client who did not consider the value of natural search and experienced a loss of close to 200,000 search referrals per month. Relative to their paid search spend at an average of four dollars CPC, they lost $800,000 worth of traffic per month.  Ouch.  (Not to mention lost revenue that traffic would have brought). 

5) Know the value of natural search traffic over an extended period of time.  Be sure to consider that increases in natural search traffic are not just a one-shot deal like a PPC campaign, and they often last for months or years in ongoing traffic referrals and conversions.  Project your monthly traffic increase and applying the relative CPC costs and/or revenue generated over 18 months, and the numbers are generally very appealing, and justify your spend many times over. 

These are just a few metrics I have found to be helpful in illustrating that your "natural search equity" is something worth preserving and building upon. I invite you to share any other insights you have used to measure natural search value in the Search Insider comments section, linked below.

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