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INTERNATIONAL FOCUS: The Search Engine Marketing Advantage

INTERNATIONAL FOCUS: The Search Engine Marketing Advantage

by Marie Howell, January 31, 2007

Search engine marketing consists primarily of search engine optimisation and pay-per-click search advertising strategies. These two online marketing methods should be used in tandem in order to leverage the particular advantages of each and maximise results, profits and your ultimate return on investment (ROI).

Search engine marketing has grown into one of the most popular advertising strategies utilised in the UK. According to the Internet Advertising Bureau, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the World Advertising Research Centre, search marketing revenues have grown more than those of any other advertising strategy, increasing 64.4 percent from £585.4m to £962.6m over the 12-month period between 2005-2006.

Search engine marketing is also considered the most cost-effective marketing strategy, as evidenced in the chart below from a Piper Jaffray analysis, "Cost of Acquisition Across Different Channels."

Cost of Customer Acquisition Cost

Search Engine Optimisation

It is generally recognised that organic or natural search listings are favoured by search engine users. Research indicates over 70 percent of search engine users click on organic links, with only 30 percent utilising PPC sponsored links. Organic search engine listings are based on the quality and authoritativeness of your Web site as determined by search engine robots. The robots crawl the Internet periodically looking for quality content to add to their databases. Once found, the content is then indexed and ranked based upon proprietary algorithms that look at factors such as keyword relevance, link quality, content, etc. Once established, organic listings can last indefinitely with proper monitoring and maintenance.

Organic listings are the authoritative links that every brand wants to exhibit prominently in search engine results. The value of organic listings is not only that they convert better (Jupiter Research and MarketingSherpa) and last longer, but that they are clicked 3 times more often than PPC listings. Search engine optimisation has also proven to be quite cost effective over the long term.

The drawback to SEO is that the process itself is complex and time consuming; it can weeks or even months for organic links to appear in the search engine results and to improve important rankings. Another issue is that precise placement cannot be guaranteed, as the dynamic search environment can affect rankings daily.

Pay-Per-Click Search Advertising

Pay-per-click advertising are the purchased listings that typically appear at the top, bottom or right side of the search engine results page. Sponsored listings are ranked based on multiple factors including bid price, click-through rate and advertisement quality. The advantages of sponsored listings are that campaigns can be created rather quickly, providing instant visibility and allowing for some degree of control over positioning, pricing, message content and landing page.

The drawback is that bidding strategies can be difficult to master for optimum results and top positioning often requires a large budget. Additionally, campaigns must be tested and monitored closely for best results, often with frequent changes being made to bid prices, advertisement copy and advert targeting. If not watch carefully, listings can disappear when the budget runs out.

Leveraging SEO and PPC Synergy

By now, you can see why we recommend utilising both search engine optimisation and pay-per-click search marketing strategies. When used together, SEO and PPC complement one another since both have advantages that can help minimise the other's disadvantages. Savvy marketers will learn to leverage the knowledge gained from one campaign to enhance the success and profitability of the other.

For instance, running dual SEO and PPC campaigns can enhance your keyword analysis and selection process. Since PPC campaigns are set up fairly quickly, it allows you to test keywords for effectiveness so future campaigns focus only on the most targeted keywords with the highest conversion rates. Knowing which terms perform the best allows you to make informed decisions when deciding what keywords to include within your site copy and Meta tags to improve organic results.

When properly integrated, SEO and PPC strategies combine to form a symbiotic relationship where one nourishes the other and vice versa. This synergy produces results that outperform what both campaigns would achieve if conducted separately.

Advantages to Using Both SEO and PPC

Wise marketers will use both SEO and PPC search strategies to avoid leaving money on the table. Contrary to what is sometimes advocated, it is not always wise to stop your PPC campaign once your SEO campaign starts performing. This strategy is usually recommended as a cost-saving measure but evidence has proven that in some cases it can be counterproductive. If you have ads that perform well and lead to excellent qualified traffic, ending your PPC campaign will result in a significant loss of conversions, thus lowering your overall profitability. Make sure to look carefully at the performance of your ad campaigns before making a rash decision to cancel them.

When marketers decide to eliminate their PPC campaigns once organic rankings are achieved, conversions decline by approximately 60 percent. Experience shows that most of these marketers will reinstate their PPC campaigns in a matter of hours. Everyone has heard the story of the company that pulled its PPC campaign during the holiday shopping season when keyword prices went rising out of control. However, the net effect was so devastating that eventually the person who made the decision was fired because of all the business that was lost to competitors.

Continuously Refining Your Campaigns

Search marketing campaigns must be continuously refined in order to achieve optimum results. Just because your SEO and PPC campaigns are up and running does not mean you can put them on autopilot. You must evaluate the performance of your keywords and determine which phrases result in the most qualified visitors and generate the most leads and conversions. The continuous fine-tuning of bids, advertisements, advert groups, targeting (if applicable) and even landing pages, is necessary on PPC campaigns. The same monitoring and maintenance is also necessary for the best performing SEO campaigns.

Marketers can no longer afford to ignore the synergistic relationship between PPC and SEO and the positive returns resulting from the effective combination of these two strategies. The payoff when running simultaneous SEO and PPC campaigns is superior results and a better marketing ROI.