Balancing Paid and Organic Search

By Catherine Parker on 2004/11/11

As the search engine marketing industry matures, its two main branches - pay per click marketing and search engine optimisation - have each become defined "sub-industries" in their own right. Pay Per click marketing refers to placing sponsored or paid results on a search engine results page, while search engine optimisation refers to optimising your site so that it performs well in organic or natural listings. The major difference is that a marketer pays for clicks on a sponsored listing, while clicks on a natural listing are free.

Research has found that more people click on organic listings than paid listings, but if you want to market your website, both have their own place - depending on your priorities. Moreover, a combination of both tactics may be the best tactic in increasing your brand reach on search engines. Why? The answer lies in examining how people actually use a search engine.

Search marketing firm Enquiro conducted numerous studies into searcher behaviour and found that there is a major discrepancy between how marketers think people behave on search engines and how they actually behave.

While most website marketers think of a typical search process as linear, i.e. a searcher moves from the search result to the site and then on to the shopping cart or enquiry form, the reality is quite different. Searchers tend to use the results page as a navigation post to which they return frequently throughout their search session. They might visit many sites to satisfy their query, and refine their search as they go along, so creating an increasingly narrow "search funnel" of results.

"Having your company listed on both organic and sponsored listings at various stages of the search funnel will reinforce your market presence"

What this means is that although most searchers start by clicking through on organic or natural listings, a good number of searchers will click on sponsored results further along the process if they do not find what they are looking for in natural listings. Having your company listed on both organic and sponsored listings at various stages of the search funnel will reinforce your market presence - and therefore increase the likelihood that a searcher converts into a site customer.

There are various factors to consider when deciding whether to start a pay per click or organic campaign, or both. These could include:

1. Timing

If you're looking for a larger, long term investment, an organic campaign may be the right choice. If you're short on marketing budget due to the time of year, a small pay per click campaign might be the right start.

2. Availability of Funds

Although an organic search marketing campaign is a sound investment, you might be in a small company that simply does not have the funds for a full blown optimisation effort. On the other hand, if you're in a larger company where funds are more readily available, an organic campaign might be a worthwhile investment of money. And until you achieve high rankings on organic listings, a pay per click campaign can ensure search engine exposure.

3. Ability/Willingness to Change Site

Organic search engine optimisation often involves changes to a site to make it indexable by search engines. If you are unwilling to make structural changes to your site such as removing Frames, adding in more text or removing site-wide Flash, pay per click might be the best option, as you don't need to make site changes to ensure your listings appear.

4. Need for Immediate Results

You might not want to wait three to six months for your organic listings to rise to the top of search engine listings. In this case, pay per click is an immediate solution - all you need are your credit card details, ad copy and some keywords and your campaign can go live. If you're willing to wait though, organic listings might cost less in the long run, since you aren't paying for clicks.

5. Need to control or change your message

If you sell Christmas decorations online, chances are you won't be advertising much in June or July, but will want a full marketing drive in November/December just as the festive season arrives. Pay Per Click listings allow you to add and remove listings as you like - so you can run your ads for two months of the year and keep them offline the rest of the time if you so desire.

On the other hand, if you sell non-seasonal goods, you might want prime exposure no matter what time of year - so organic optimisation might make more sense in the long term.

6. Attitude of Your Target Market

Studies have found that hi tech and business to business searchers tend to click on organic listings, while business to consumer searchers are less likely to have such a preference. There's also a chance, depending on who you're marketing to, that your potential customer does not know the difference between sponsored and organic listings.

Like any marketing planning, get to know your target market as well as the main goals of your site. Then assess your available resources, some of which are mentioned above, and plan your search marketing campaign. With just the right mix, you can maximise search engine result "real estate" ownership and drive truckloads more targeted searchers to your site.