Mixing Organic SEO and Pay Per Click Marketing

SEO Question: What is the best way to determine what resources should be put into pay per click marketing versus organic SEO?

SEO Answers: There are a near endless number of factors in determining how you should spend your marketing money online. The good thing about search is the implied intent while people are searching - which can lead to quick feedback on efficient accounts, but there are certain businesses that are hard to sell via search.

This site ranks fairly well via search, but most of my conversions come from other marketing mechanisms because there is so much hype in online marketing and so much distrust toward marketing ebooks. About the only search terms that convert for this site are searches for my name or the official name of the site (part of that is also because the brand name of this site is rather generic in nature). When selling unbranded commodity based products at low cost I think search works much better than expensive products or services that require building trust first. If you build a brand it makes it hard for competitors to compete on your branded terms because your conversion rate will be so much higher on the branded searches.

I think prior to determining how you break down your marketing spend you first have to determine what your short term and long term goals are. Do you want to rank for certain competitive terms in Google? Is your goal to get a certain amount of traffic? A certain amount of profit? Develop a brand or market reach that allows you to profit indirectly?

Some business models work great with pay per click marketing. Particularly small uncompetitive niches or high value markets that do not have much advertising depth. Using PPC to market in local niche markets tend to offer under-priced leads. In many markets people bid on the most common terms but leave off higher value related terms. Also some markets are far under-priced since PPC is newer there. Based on talking to a few friends I think PPC in Germany on average would offer higher returns than PPC in the UK or US.

Some business models work horribly with pay per click marketing. Particularly businesses that have no recurring income streams and/or lower product prices in a market crowded by competitors with higher price points or higher profit margins. If you have a product which may be priced out of the more common high value terms you still may be able to find a few niche terms and bid on your brand, but you may need to rely more on organic search for traffic in this scenario.

Within pay per click marketing I have seen some topics where the Google AdWords ROI is much greater, but, more commonly, Yahoo! has less reach but greater ROI. Because of differences in how their systems work it may mean that leads which are prohibitively expensive in one channel may be cheap in another.

Since right now MSN has few ad distribution partners and is still in beta they should have some of the cleanest traffic and least competition within their new beta system. But they may not have much traffic in some markets due to their small search market share compared to Google or Yahoo!

To do pay per click well you really have to track your conversions so you can calculate your lead value / income per unique visitor. If it is hard to track the exact lead value it is important to find a proxy for value. If your costs seem prohibitively expensive and your business model is similar to competing sites you need to look at what is going wrong in your conversion process. Competitive PPC markets force you to be more efficient, which helps you woth conversions on both PPC and organic search.

Many non search ads are also sold through the PPC interfaces at the major search engines. Cash rich companies or exceptionally efficient businesses may consider bidding low on contextual ads to help give them a brand lift. Since many of these ads have a low clickthrough rate you can get hundreds of thousands or millions of impressions for a few hundred dollars. Increased mindshare leads to greater search volume, so the contextual ads play back into your PPC and organic search marketing campaigns.

There is an appeal to the concept of retail without the risk, or turn key operations, but a business without risk is a business without growth or purpose. Even if things seem like they are churning along smoothly with pay per click marketing the players may change the rules of the game, and overnight many of the terms and techniques that were once exceptionally profitable are less so. In much the same way they want to keep noise out of their regular search results to keep them relevant they also want to keep ads relevant. And then competitors can enter the market and shift the game plan overnight as well. This can happen in organic or paid results, so using both can help lower your risk from things going wrong with either, plus you can take information your learn from either discipline and use it to refine the other.

As far as organic SEO goes I could write a 100 page long post that nobody would read (or perhaps I could sell it as an ebook and then people would read it), but generally the four major questions are:

  1. Should I do PPC? is composed of the following elements:

    • Do I have enough cash to at least give PPC a try?

    • Does my business model preclude PPC?
    • If so, are there ways I can improve my business model?
    • You can learn a lot from PPC, like market value estimates and what terms are really important. I think just about everyone should try and track PPC, at least for their own brand names and some of the underpriced edges of the market (although I think it is best to stick with the major players - Google, Yahoo! and MSN Search).
  2. Is there enough traffic to justify outlaying an SEO expenditure?
  3. Can your site compete in Yahoo! and MSN?
  4. Can your site compete in Google?

One way to test how much traffic there is for a given keyword phrase or group of keyword phrases is to start up a test Google AdWords account. If you need a primer on PPC marketing my free PPC tips ebook may be of use.

You can also estimate the size of a keyword market using keyword research tools, although many of them have sampling errors due to small search volume or inflate the search volumes of the most competitive keywords due to automated traffic sources.

If you learn SEO yourself and are in a small niche market you may be able to do it for a hundred or a few hundred dollars. But also do not forget the value of your time. SEO Moz also has a free keyword difficulty estimation tool which some people may find useful.

If you outsource SEO it is hard to find someone who is honest and willing to give you personalized attention unless you can afford a decent spend. Some people may not know what their work is worth and be willing to work dirt cheap, but if you are paying less than $1,000 you probably have about a 95% chance of being disappointed. Depending on your market the cost can scale up to a much larger number. Some people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

With MSN it seems that just publishing content, using targeted anchor text, and getting low quality links (like links from junky general directories and article syndication sites) is all you need to do to rank. Yahoo! is the same way, although they are a bit more advanced than MSN search is.

With Google, to compete in saturated markets, you need to have an old trusted domain name, or be able to come up with ways to get natural citations from quality sites - and even then it helps as the site ages.

There are ways to get some quality links that may seem like natural citations (like perhaps links for donating to related charities) but the easier it is to get a link the quicker that source will get spammed out. The more abstract your donations are the harder it is for competitors to compete with you. Realistically all links occur due to donations. Creating funny, useful, or compelling content is in a sense a donation to whoever reads it or watches it.

If you are in below-the-radar industries and are creative some of your links can stick for an extended period of time, but if you are competing in savvy fields you also want to ensure you get some legitimate citations that would be hard for your competitors to duplicate. Also keep in mind that if you get exceptionally powerful links via creative means some people in other industries may do research to see what other links you have, and may even start competing in your industry.

You need one or more of the following to compete in Google:

  • a brand that you can leverage

  • viral marketing
  • a rabid following that you can contact
  • influential web friends who can help spread your message

In non competitive markets you still may be able to do well in Google right away, but the keys there are to make sure you mix your link anchor text and also create content that is long tail in nature.

As stated above, the budget mix is going to be hard to come up with exact percentages due to various competitive landscapes and different business models working better with different parts of the search space. If a site already has a large brand it is important to make sure your content management system is working well with search and your site is getting well indexed.

For just about any long-term website I would recommend doing at least the following for organic SEO either before or in conjunction with starting a pay per click account:

  • Unique page titles on each page. If you have a huge branded content site and were not doing this you may see your traffic double just by placing unique titles on each page.

  • Ensure your site is getting well indexed (which has multiple parts to it):
  • Ensure you do not have duplicate content issues
    • each page has unique content on it

    • the same page is not available at multiple URLs
    • the PageRank should be the same at site.com and www.site.com (or at least they should not be different numbers unless one of them is 0)
    • when you did the site searches mentioned above you did not see the exact same content over and over again listed many times in one search result page
    • if you have many pages indexed in the major search engines you should probably be fine on this front.
    • also make sure that your Google listings do not have the words "supplemental result" near them. Those are typically caused by things like orphaned pages or duplicate content.
Published: March 19, 2006 by Aaron Wall in Q & A


March 22, 2006 - 8:50pm

This is one of the best posts I have read about PPC / SEO in awhile. Great job!

Don't just assume Yahoo has greater ROI than Google. BigResearch conducted a recent study on which SE's convert the best for specific industries (http://www.centerformediaresearch.com/cfmr_brief.cfm?fnl=060221)

And, remember everything is a test. It is important to track and measure everything. Your metrics could be very different than the industry as a whole.

March 19, 2006 - 9:20pm

Another insightful post Aaron! You offer a lot of valuable advice would you please clarify a couple points?
You need one or more of the following to compete in Google:

a brand that you can leverage

viral marketing

a rabid following that you can contact

influential web friends who can help spread your message
How do you 'leverage a brand' or 'contacting your audience' for better organic search results?


March 19, 2006 - 9:25pm

Hi Dave
The theory is this...

If you are in a competitive marketplace and you have to request every link you get then you are going to either need a better business model that lends a large ad budget or else you are going to need to get some links that you did not have to request.

Also quality unrequested links are the hardest types of links for competing sites to replicate, and are the least likely to get penalized or filtered in search algorithm updates.

March 20, 2006 - 8:48pm

Good article. I think content is the king. I think half the battle is won once you have good content for your targeted audience. No doubt good SEO strategy is key to success.

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