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Search engine optimization versus pay-per-click advertising

Patricia Hurst of SmartSearch Marketing, a full-service search engine marketing agency, had a nice article entitled When To Optimize and When To Advertise in High Rankings Advisor published by Jill Whalen.

Because of recent discussions on the subject of pay per click advertising on the Legal Marketing Association listserv, I asked Patricia if I could share it with you. She was nice enough to oblige. So take it away Patricia…

Are you struggling with how to combine search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising? In this article, you’ll find tested guidelines and business scenarios to help you plan a successful, integrated campaign that is aligned with your business goals and market situation.

Which Elicits More Clicks?

One of the questions most frequently asked of search engine marketers is, “Which do searchers click on more frequently: natural search engine results or paid ads?” Recent studies have verified that the answer is a definitive…”It depends!”

Searcher behavior varies greatly depending on the demographics of the searcher (men vs. women, experienced Internet users vs. novices), the type of search a person is conducting (information-oriented vs. purchase-oriented) and the engine where the search is being conducted (Google vs. MSN).

To reach the greatest number of prospects and maximize the results of your campaign, you must be visible in natural results and sponsored listings.

Here are six prioritization guidelines for you to follow when setting up your search engine marketing campaign according to your company’s unique business goals and market characteristics:

  1. Limited Ad Budget. If budgets are tight or nonexistent (meaning you can’t afford to pay for website visitors, even after taking into account the value of their desired online action), then you will want to place a great deal of emphasis on effectively implementing search engine optimization in-house.
  2. Website That Can’t Be Modified. Optimization typically involves modifying a site’s design, content, and navigation. For example, heavy reliance on Flash, frames, or graphics may need to be changed in order to incorporate more optimized text. However, some businesses feel that an optimized website does not provide the multi-media experience their customers require or

    expect. If your business falls into this category, then advertising may be the only way to achieve results.

  3. Need Immediate Results. A basic Google AdWords campaign can be up and running — driving visitors to your site — in a matter of hours, while significant improvement in natural rankings may take several months to achieve. Therefore, if you require immediate results, make pay-per-click advertising a top priority.
  4. Guaranteed Top Placement. If you absolutely must guarantee consistent top placement on high-volume keywords in a competitive market sector, you will likely need to rely heavily on advertising (assuming your budget can accommodate it). Investigate current bid rates. Can you afford top placement on the highest-volume words? If not, expand your keyword list beyond the obvious, most popular search queries and advertise across a larger number of less popular, more cost-effective words and phrases. Ultimately, focus on the keywords that work best, based on conversion results.
  5. Need To Control Ad Content or Timing. If you need to control or frequently change the content of your ad, to place seasonal offers or to respond to current events, for example, or if you want to turn your advertising on and off, you will need to rely on the control and flexibility offered by pay-per-click advertising.
  6. Ad-Adverse Audience. If you believe that your target audience is very Internet-savvy and is unlikely to click on information that they realize is a purchased advertisement, then the credibility associated with a high natural ranking is invaluable. In cases like these, optimization should be your main focus.

The above guidelines will help you assess the relative priority of optimization and advertising, but how should you implement each method? Simultaneously? One at a time?

Here are four business scenarios and recommendations for blending optimization and advertising campaigns:

Scenario #1: Money is tight; you can afford to wait for results.
Recommendation: Focus on a full-bore optimization effort first. Take the time required to maximize your natural ranking for a select set of very important search phrases. After several months, supplement your optimization efforts with paid advertising only if and where needed.
Scenario #2: You need immediate and long-term results, but you have a limited budget.
Recommendation: Launch both efforts simultaneously and spend proportionately more money on pay-per-click during the first few

months until your natural rankings improve. Then reduce your ad spend over time, especially in less critical areas where you’ve already achieved a high natural rank.

Scenario #3: You need immediate results and have a decent budget, but you’re not sure how to best optimize your site.
Recommendation: Initially, launch only a robust pay-per-click campaign. Use campaign data to quickly improve landing pages, increase conversion, and learn which search phrases deliver the best results. Then, use these findings to launch a targeted optimization project that will support your most important search phrases.
Scenario #4: You need maximum results and have no budget limit as long as return on investment is there.
Recommendation: Go full-steam-ahead with both approaches simultaneously. Make sure that you know what a website conversion is worth and that you know the costs (hard and soft) associated with optimization and advertising. Strategically test and measure results to optimize your efforts. Invest as much money as possible as long as you are satisfied with the volume of conversions and your return on investment.

Today, most marketers realize that website optimization and search advertising is not an “either/or” proposition. To reach the greatest number of searchers, marketers should blend both natural and paid listings, capitalizing on their complementary strengths and weaknesses for a well-rounded and effective search marketing campaign.

Thanks much Patricia. If you are looking for help on search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising, SmartSearch Marketing would be worth a call.

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