Chinese Food and Chocolate Pudding: SEO And Paid Search Go Together

To understand where SEO fits in the marketing mix, you first need to consider the behavior of the online consumer.  When searching for a product, either hard goods or services, the first step is typically a very general search like "home theater" or "dresses."  As searchers become more familiar with their options, they conduct more specific product searches.  The evolution of a consumer's search for a digital camera might look something like this:

1.    Digital Cameras
2.    Digital Camera Reviews
3.    5 Megapixel Cameras
4.    Inexpensive 5 Megapixel Cameras
5.    Canon PowerShot A460

What we can infer from this behavior is that as consumers refine their search, they identify more specific product needs and, therefore, move further down the Long Tail of search.  By entering a more general search term, the consumer is identifying himself as an information seeker.  As a search becomes more specific, the consumer is far more likely to become a purchaser.  

The Roles of SEO and Paid search
In the paid search arena, more general terms like "digital cameras" are in higher demand and, as a result, are more expensive than more specific ones.  Many online retailers can't afford to compete with online giants like Amazon or in paid search for exactly this reason.  This is where building the right SEO strategy will complement a paid search campaign.  Identifying challenges in a paid search campaign will help focus efforts in SEO.  

Of course, the mid-size retailer may not be able to procure a page one organic search result on a general term like "digital cameras."  In a popular category like this, the first page (or two) is often completely filled with reviews and articles.  Moving slightly down the refinement spectrum to "5 Megapixel cameras" offers great opportunity for the smaller retailer to secure visibility in organic results.  

Tracking & Measurement
To better understand how SEO and paid search work together, advertisers need to stop looking at them as separate entities.  In traditional media, we don't seek a separate brand impact from print and broadcast channels, but rather their collective effect on overall brand goals, despite differences in their delivery and consumer mindset.  The same holds true here.  Once you begin to measure results of paid and organic together, you can capture the full spectrum of consumer behavior in the search space.  

One approach gaining ground is to track the first and last keyword activity of consumers via cookie - regardless of whether the activity is through paid or organic search.  By first and last activity I mean the first keyword entered by a consumer that led to a click and the last activity that led to a conversion.  So, for example, if a consumer enters "plastic spiders" into Google, clicks on a paid search result and does not make a purchase, but then returns five days later through a search on "Halloween party" and makes a purchase through an organic link, we understand significantly more about that consumer's behavior by evaluating the overall search experience -- rather than just tracking the session that led to the purchase.  As a result, optimization will be far more meaningful and, of course, accurate.

The divide between SEO and paid search is narrowing, particularly in the Google arena.  As Google continues to evolve in an effort to enhance the experience of its users, Paid search results will mirror organic results more closely.  One example from this year alone is the increased weight the Google algorithm places on landing page relevance in paid search campaigns.  In short, we can no longer view SEO and paid search as separate efforts, but two complementary disciplines within your overall marketing mix.



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