Now that we understand the two timeless categories of marketing channels, search and contextual (which we covered in “Online Marketing Fundamentals For New Professionals, Part 1“), let’s divide each into two subcategories: paid and organic.
That’s right. Both search and contextual marketing channels come in free and paid versions. In channels where customers can walk-by or ask questions (contextual and search traffic), advertising messages can be inserted both for free and for money. Here are some examples.
Remember, the way we know a search has taken place is because a user types a question, in the form of a keyword, into a search engine’s box and submits the form.
- The term “keyword” is interchangeable with “keyphrase,” “search term” and “query.” Even a multi-word phrase like “best hotel in Duluth, Minnesota” is called a “keyword.” “Keyphrase is used by some professionals, but not many.
- “SERP” means “search engine results page,” as does the plural, “SERPs.”
- SEO practitioners are sometimes called “SEOs.”
- “Ranking” is interchangeable with “rank” and describes how high up in the SERPs a page appears in relation to a specific keyword searched. Attaining high a high organic ranking for a keyword is sometimes called “organic prominence.”
- Attributes associated with a web page, which result in the page attaining organic prominence, are often called “SEO ranking factors,” which we’ll discuss in some detail later.
- “SEO” is interchangeable with “search engine optimization.”
The page of results is called a search engine results page (SERP). We know it’s an organic search result because the listings aren’t paid.
Certain sites’ pages show up in the organic SERPs because the search engine has “ranked” the page as “relevant” for the keyword “queried.” Pages listed in the organic (natural) SERPs have a headline, brief description, and a link. Search engines use content on the web pages to formulate the headline and description.
Because getting pages ranked in organic SERPs is free, competition can be stiff, especially for highly desirable commercial keywords. Making things more complicated, starting in 2008 the “big three” search engines (Google, Yahoo, and Bing) have gradually “personalized” SERPs based on search and click history of individual users. This makes measuring organic prominence difficult for all but the most advanced professional search optimizers.
There are many good resources for studying the anatomy of organic SERPs and web pages’ ranking factors. For now it’s good enough to know that what organic search is: web pages that rank for keywords and appear in the SERPs without any money changing hands.
The art and science of tweaking pages and building their “authority” on the Internet until a search engine ranks them for keywords is called “search engine optimization” (SEO). Obviously, SEO is a valuable skill because prominence attained in the organic SERPs can drive a lot of free traffic.
Here are some examples of organic search results:
- Google’s free search results (not sponsored results)
- A video that comes up naturally in YouTube’s free search results
- A person, application, event, group or fan page in Facebook’s internal search engine
- Anywhere users search, a web page is listed and the advertiser does not pay the search engine for placement in the results
Bullshit Alert! There are plenty of shady SEO techniques and shifty purveyors of such services. Some of these “black hat” tactics are much more likely to get your site minimized or even banned from search engines. We’ll list dangerous black-hat SEO scams to avoid in much more detail another day. Tune in to the risk and be prepared for spammy SEO snake oil salesman. They absolutely exist and businesses have been terminally devastated by horrible SEOs.
The good news: it’s getting harder to fake out mainstream search engine sites, like Google and Bing, these days. Google has a search quality team, charged with ferreting out junk and removing it from organic SERPs. Because organic rankings are so valuable, natural results are among the most seriously abused spam playgrounds on the web.
There are perfectly legitimate SEO methods, starting with great content, published properly and promoted. Totally legitimate SEO tactics are often referred to as “white hat” techniques.
Paid search is a different animal and how search engines make most of their money. The concept is simple enough. Advertisers pay the search engines to achieve rankings in the sponsored SERPs.
Paid search is usually referred to as “PPC,” which stands for “pay-per-click.” However, not all pay-per-click is search PPC. Contextual pay-per-click isn’t search.
Unlike organic search, paid search advertisers have the opportunity to write ads, which appear in the paid SERPs in close proximity to the organic results.
- Google AdWords sponsored search results
- YouTube sponsored videos
- Anywhere a user tenders a search the advertiser’s message appears and the advertiser does pay the search engine for placement in the results
- Tweeting in Twitter
- Commenting on a blog
- Posting videos to YouTube
- Anywhere participation and sharing earns visibility in the community
- Facebook ads
- Ads by Google on the Washington Post
- LinkedIn ads
- Anywhere buying a display ad creates visibility on a community site
“Organic” can be used interchangeably with “free” and “natural.” “Paid” is interchangeable with “sponsored.”
When deconstructed into simple terms, the Internet, for all its meteoric growth, is only another set of channels where we can target customers by these two essential methods — search and contextual. Search and contextual come in two flavors each, organic (free) and paid (sponsored). Until the day comes when we can cut off customers’ heads and physically pour messages in or communicate directly by brain waves, basic marketing methods won’t change.