Search Marketing: Optimizing Organic and Paid Search


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Search marketing is a term that has different meanings for different people. As I will use it here, it means the practice of marketing your business through search engines, and includes both search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search (aka PPC or Pay Per Click). Just be aware that some people mean only PPC when they use the term search marketing.

SEO is the practice of obtaining visitors from your web site from the unpaid portion of the search results (aka the “organic” or “natural” results). We call it unpaid because you do not pay the search engine for the visitors you get. Your ability to get traffic from this portion of the results depends on your success at sending signals to the search engines that your web site or web page is one of the best answers (if not the best answer) to a user’s search query. Doing this successfully requires you go through constant analysis and promotion of your web site.

PPC is the practice of obtaining visitors to your web site from the paid portion of the results. You pay the search engine for each click on one of your ads in their results. As you can imagine, this is a pretty competitive marketplace, so success here depends on doing a better job of optimizing your marketing campaign than your competitor, and this requires constant effort as well.

Role of Search Marketing

Search Marketing serves three major purposes:

1. Protect your brand. When someone types in the name of your organization or your product / service, what comes up? You should want to be number one in the organic results, and number one in the PPC results. Usually, ranking number one for your brand in the organic results requires little or no effort, and ranking number one in the PPC results requires some effort, but not much. Do both of these things! Why would you want a competitor to get new customers who conducted a search on your brand name?

2. New customers. When someone searches on a generic query (such as “digital cameras”) it is a clear indication that they have not yet decided to do business with a specific company. This is where new customers come from! If you can rank highly in the search engines (either organic or paid) for these terms, you can obtain your share of these and expand your business.

3. Harvest repeat customers. Even after someone has become your customer, they may still not be committed to make their next related purchase from you, and may still enter in a generic search query in a search engine.

When to Invest in Search Marketing and How to Measure Results?

Like all marketing mediums, how much you invest in search marketing will largely be determined by the ROI you can get, and your ROI targets. This means you must measure your results to see what type of ROI you are getting. This requires at a minimum that you implement a web analytics solution, such as Google Analytics, Omniture, Unica NetInsight, or something similar.

A key here is to take the time and effort to implement conversion tracking so you can tie the event of a conversion on your web site back to the actually key phrase the user entered in back at the search engine. This allows you to measure your ROI on a keyword by keyword basis so you can see where you are getting the best ROI. Do not skip this step!

Both SEO and PPC are extremely competitive. You need to plan on having an expert practitioner spend significant time on optimizing your results in order to have a chance to beat out the competition. In addition, you must be prepared for this to be an ongoing investment. You don’t want to be the company that achieved top search results, only to sit back and watch your competition go roaring past you.

Setting up proper analytics and conversion tracking provides your expert practitioner the tools they need to succeed. They can also use tools such as, Hitwise, SEMRush, or SpyFu to collect detailed data on what your competitor is doing.

What is the ROI Potential that Leaders Achieve?

It does take a commitment to pursue search marketing, and that can be daunting for those who don’t understand it. However, there are two major reasons why you should pursue it:

1. Your competition is doing it. If your competition pursues it, and you don’t, they are getting customers that you aren’t. For many businesses, one of the best ways to get new customers is via search.

2. Competitive advantage. You can gain a significant competitive advantage if you are smarter about how you make your search marketing investments. This results in your business getting customers from search instead of your competition! This is true even for B2B oriented companies that sell very expensive equipment.

Ultimately, the goal is to implement a campaign that provides an acceptable or better ROI for your organization. Leading SEO practitioners can derive extremely high levels of ROI – 100% or more, for their efforts. Due to its direct response model, PPC is a more competitive area. However, PPC campaigns can yield ROI levels on the order of 50%.

Need Help Selling Search Internally?

Once you become convinced of its benefits, you may find yourself having to try and persuade others in your organization for the need to pursue search. This is often more difficult in a large enterprise, particularly as it relates to SEO. Two resources that can help you with that are:

  • Getting Top Management Buy In for Enterprise SEO

    These tools can help you learn how to make the internal sale. Once you have done that you will have taken the first major step towards search marketing success.


    As you can see there are high rewards for pursuing search marketing. It does require some upfront investment, patience, time, and ongoing investment as well. However, there are those among your competition that won’t hesitate. Set yourself up to execute a superior search marketing strategy and you will create a significant competitive advantage for your business.

    This article is part of a free e-book for Chief Marketing Officers:
    Strategic Roadmap for Digital Marketing
    Learn how to engage with customers and create value for stakeholders in a complex digital world. Covers digital channels, marketing techniques, accountability and technology. (No registration required to view/download PDF.)

  • Eric Enge
    Eric Enge is a partner at Stone Temple Consulting (STC), which has been providing SEO Consulting services for over 5 years. STC has worked with a wide range of clients, ranging from small silicon valley start-ups, to Fortune 25 companies. Eric is also co-author of The Art of SEO book.


    1. Eric,

      Your analysis is interesting. I tend to look at SEM as a sum of segments that are interdependent, and focus around the brand’s message, which keyword phrases undergird. Investing then in SEM requires setting measurable goals that the analytics measure. ROI is accountable to the KPIs that are set from the goals. PPC ads need to speak to audience personas that are uniquely coupled with idiosyncratic psychographics, and the ad has to land where the reinforcement of why the person clicked on the ad is justified. Meaning the scent trail has to be strong, or the bounce rate will be high. Each landing page context, and content needs to relate back then to the PPC so the spiders rank high quality scores for the keywords that are being bought which in turn effects ad position as well as bid cost. Here is where A/B and multi variant testing swing into action. Would you not agree? Thus by keeping focused on the keywords, content, and context of the web site, landing pages, and the ads; the culmination feeds into the larger SEO corollary.
      It is true that you need to make an investment, and measure-test-measure-test. Thanks for the read.

    2. Interesting article; I think I agree most with using internet marketing to protect and build your brand. Certainly that’s the case with my own business, I go to great lengths to ensure the brand is protected across a wide spectrum of social media and business sites.

      However, ROI for search can be spotty at best. Yes, you do need to do it because your competitors are. How do you do it smarter than them, though? I mean, beyond implementing SEO and SEM best practices, what does a website owner do? I think one way to quicken the pace of a search engine marketing strategy is to study the competition in your area and even outside of your area to see what they’re doing.

      Overall, great piece.


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