HOW TO: Unify Your SEO & SEM Strategies

search imageMatt Lawson is the vice president of marketing at Marin Software, the largest paid search management provider.

For years, advertisers have run their search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) programs separately. The SEM team would focus on bidding, campaign analytics and the complex science of managing millions of keyword buys to drive maximum conversion. The SEO team lived in a world of internal and external linking, and optimizing pages to maximize reach and relevance in organic search engine results.

But today, more marketers are realizing SEM and SEO are not separate disciplines. Instead, they are two sides of the same coin — complementary programs that, when managed correctly, can benefit each other to increase conversion rates and share of voice. Insights gained when buying pay per click (PPC) keyword ads can positively impact SEO creative initiatives, while natural search queries and clickpath data can, and should, influence keyword bidding.

But how do you more closely integrate the “bid kids” with the “white hats”? How can SEM and SEO teams work together to improve results on their respective programs, increase return on search marketing investment and drive a lasting lift in conversion across the board?

Here are three practical steps every marketer can take to begin this integration.

1. Identify Overlap

The first step in combining SEO and SEM programs is to identify where the programs overlap, where they don’t and where they should. Paid search advertising programs cannot be successful without top-ranking natural search results and vice versa, so you need to use your search management platform or web analytics tools to identify which keywords are performing well on both sides of the table, and see which ones are “lone wolves” driving only PPC or organic search traffic.

When SEO and SEM teams are operating independently, there are often high-volume keyword terms that drive traffic from only one of the two search channels, either paid search or natural search. When you find these terms, you can better optimize them. For example, if you have a term for which traffic is only driven through paid search clicks, there is opportunity to focus SEO efforts on obtaining organic ranking on these terms. Conversely, if your organization is generating revenue from organic search terms that don’t match any of the keywords in your paid search program, there is probably some incremental revenue you can capture with paid keyword expansion.

It would be impossible to compare organic and paid search coverage on each of the millions of search terms that are driving traffic to your site with even the best analytics tools. As with all analysis on large data sets, it is important to take a management-by-exception approach. Start by identifying the high-volume and top-converting search queries in each channel. Once you have filtered to find the most impactful search queries, the next step is to evaluate how they perform.

2. Measure the Paid Click Percentage

Measuring the click-share of each channel is a better way to find coverage holes and overlap than trying to compare the number of impressions, clicks and conversions that each channel is driving. Depending on the type of tracking system you use, there are a variety of ways to get this metric. To keep it generic: Match raw query search terms across paid and organic results, sum the total clicks, then calculate the paid clicks as a percentage of that total.

This single metric, called “Paid Click Percentage,” makes it easy for advertisers to quickly identify holes in either paid or organic search coverage. For example, you can look at paid click percentages greater than 75% to quickly identify key revenue-driving terms for your paid search program that are receiving fewer clicks from organic search results. Because searchers are more inclined to click on organic results instead of ads, you know that a term with zero organic clicks must not be resulting in first-page organic results.

Sorting these terms by paid search revenue impact will give the organic search team a ranked list of queries (and landing pages) to optimize against, allowing them to more efficiently prioritize SEO projects.

After you address this, you can use the same report to identify keywords that should be added or refined in your paid search campaigns.

3. Refine, Review, Repeat

When paid and organic search channels work together, marketers get maximum revenue from both programs. Identifying holes in paid and organic search campaigns using the method described above should help improve overall performance, but remember: It is not a one-time project.

Websites and advertising programs are continually changing. This analysis should be done on a regular basis. If your organization is large enough to have disparate paid and organic search teams, set up a regular meeting between both teams to ensure your SEM and SEO programs are friends, not distant relations.

Image courtesy of Flickr, alternativemeans

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