What’s Best – SEO or Paid Search?

July 29, 2008 by

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What’s Best – SEO or Paid Search?

This is a very common question we get to hear from marketers and is a subject I spoke on recently when the New Zealand Marketing Association ran one of their bi-monthly ‘Brainy Breakfast’ seminars. The seminar was about Search Marketing and a sell out. Despite an antisocial 7am start more than 230 marketing professionals from a wide range of NZ organisations attended, demonstrating the intense interest in search marketing.

Is search marketing taking off in New Zealand? Absolutely!

Speakers at NZ Marketing Association Search Marketing 'Brainy Breakfast'. Mark Sceats 3rd from left.

I was one of the six presenters on the panel which also included Google New Zealand, Yahoo! Australia, plus several other search marketing specialists. (That’s me, 3rd from the left).

We all spoke about different aspects of search marketing & the specific topic I covered was “What’s Best – SEO or Paid Search?” Because of the interest I’ve decided I to cover off the presentation here.

The short answer to the question is…it depends on your objectives & situation. Both SEO & Paid Search are
incredibly effective methods for driving more customers to your website. Like all things they each have their pros & cons and understanding these will help you decide which to use.

It’s easiest to start off looking at Paid Search. That’s because fundamentally it’s media buying, so most marketers find it easier to grasp than search engine optimisation.

Paid Search (PPC) Pros:

  1. Performance based – a key aspect about paid search marketing which makes it so appealing to marketers is that, unlike almost all other advertising, it’s performance based. With PPC if people don’t click on your ads you don’t pay. And not only that, when people do click on your ad they’re actively seeking you out. What a contrast to traditional interruption based media! No wonder so much advertising spend is being switched to paid search.
  2. Speed of implementation – compared to SEO it’s much quicker to implement a paid search campaign and few, if any, site changes are needed (at least initially). This makes it much easier for marketers to commit to because they can comfortably put a toe in the water & retain control without it becoming a major project involving IT etc.
  3. High Control – this is another appealing aspect of paid search.
  • On demand. Campaigns can be turned on & off as desired (ideal for tactical purposes)
  • Landing pages – you control which specific page your ad links to.
  • Specific audiences can be targeted using geo-targeting so your ads are not viewed & clicked on by audiences you can’t serve
  • Compared to organic search results the advertiser controls the message presented in the search results i.e. the ad copy messaging (within editorial bounds)
  • The keywords triggering your ads (if you’re selling widgets & don’t want a particular keyword to trigger your ads, such as ‘free widgets’ then you simply don’t include that in the keywords being bid on &/or make it a negative keyword)

This control is illustrated here (Ferrit is NZ’s biggest online shopping site with over 80 retailers):

Ferrit PPC control

In addition, less obvious benefits that paid search offers is testing.

With paid search you can & should test all of the following:

  1. Keywords – with SEO a page can only be effectively optimised for 1 or 2 closely related keywords. However with paid search you can literally target thousands of different keywords in a campaign. So one of the things we always recommend is using paid search as a keyword validation tool to quickly identify the most effective keywords (i.e. the ‘money’ keywords that bring traffic that converts). Those are the keywords that the site should then be optimised for.
  2. Ad copy – with paid search it’s easy to split test ads to find out which generate the greatest response from both a click through rate & more importantly, conversion rate. If you’re a company renting out motorhomes should your ad headline be “New Zealand Motorhomes” or “New Zealand Campervans’? With split testing you’ll know with certainty which appeals to your prospective audience, rather than guessing. (By the way, depending on the market being targeted one of those terms way out performs the other).
  3. Landing page testing – again as with ad copy split testing you can test different landing pages to see which has the greatest impact on conversions. Simply A/B split testing can be done, as well as sophisticated multi-variate testing where a range of different factors get tested (eg 3 different headlines + 2 guarantees + 2 different prices + 3 different ‘buy now’ buttons). With most websites having dismal conversion rates in the 2% region using conversion optimisation to improve conversion rates can have a massively positive impact on your bottom line.

As you can see there are many compelling reason for using paid search. But it’s not all upside, there are a few cons.

Paid Search Cons:

The biggest negative is that paid search only works whilst you’re able to keep putting money in the PPC machine. Stop, and of course your ads stop running.

Fundamentally PPC is an auction and with increasing competition as more advertisers enter the market bid costs are increasing. NZ still an immature market with low competition but ‘keyword inflation’ is begining to happen which is a reason to get in early now. In the US paid search growth is starting to slow as many smaller to medium sized advertisers are having to cut back on PPC because bid prices are getting too expensive. This means it’s critically important to understand what you can afford to spend and having smart bid management strategies becomes increasingly important as CPC increases.

OK, to avoid this being too long an article we’ll take a break here. Tomorrow we’ll switch gears and look at the pros & cons of Search Engine Optimisation.

See you then.

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