Optimizing Across Paid & Organic Search: 3 Ways to Maximize Value

Over the past few years the world of digital marketing has been fragmenting across devices (mobile, tablet, and desktop) as well as platforms (apps, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, Instagram, etc.). This has made digital marketing more difficult for brands.

Search has also continued to evolve, but it’s less about the players in the game and more about the integration between search, social, paid, and organic.

The overlap of paid and organic has been a subject the industry has wrestled with for a while now. Over the past four years I’ve been monitoring a segment of keywords to see if this landscape evolves. The key metric is the percentage of brands that have both a paid and organic listing on the page.

What Did This Year Reveal?

Paid and Organic Overlap 2010-2014

Overall, the number of brands that had both paid and organic listings was roughly flat year over year at 21 percent, down from 22 percent last year.

The really interesting part was at the industry level. Across various industry groups there was as much as a 15 point increase in technology and a 10 point drop in travel. Pharma continues to lag behind the market mostly because of the lack of content depth by brands in comparison to sites like WebMD and the FDA.

To be honest I was expecting an increase across the board. My hypothesis was with the focus on strong original content that big brands would have an advantage in organic, as well as deeper pockets via paid.

However, what you’re seeing is potentially a validation that brands are being more strategic about when and where they overlap. As the paid and organic report within Google AdWords rolled out there is more data available for brands to optimize against.

The one thing we can agree on is brands use of data across all tactics has increased. We’re smarter now about harnessing our data and using it to create meaningful insights.

3 Ways to Maximize the Value of Paid & Organic

So what should you think about for your brand as you optimize across paid and organic? Here are three things to consider to maximize the value.

  • Evaluate the tradeoffs: What is the cost investment needed in terms of developing content, technical updates, etc., to reach the first page of organic results? How does that compare to your investment in paid advertising?
  • Test the value of both: Run a test on a few keywords to understand the impact on click-through rates and conversion rates. Is there a lift? How does it change across various positions? Making a business case to reallocate dollars or focus on maximizing share of voice on a search results page can be a very powerful statement to your internal marketing teams. The previously mentioned paid and organic report in AdWords can be a good start to this. Attribution across tactics can be a great, although slightly more advanced look at cross tactic impact.
  • Get your digital marketing teams together to talk: So many brands still don’t view their programs as a collective search program. They think about paid and organic as church and state. It can be more impactful to take $10,000 from a paid search budget and put it toward content creation vs. allocating that $10,000 to print or display to maximize results.

Final Thoughts

Running this report for me has become a great way to remind myself about how connected search is. Consumers don’t do a search thinking, “I’m going to find a paid search ad that answers my query.” They just search and click on what they think is best. So why do we as search marketers think so much about these programs as specific silos?

The same could be said for those teams who think just about a mobile strategy. I think having a mobile strategy is great and very important, but a customer doesn’t just think about buying a pair of shoes as a mobile strategy. The business implications of thinking like a customer makes optimizing your paid and organic programs together more reasonable.

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