6 Steps To Prioritize Natural & Paid Search In A Holistic Search Strategy
The synergy between paid search (SEM) and natural or organic search (SEO) remains a popular topic due to the many benefits a business can experience from their synergies.
From leaning on organic results to offset paid search costs to using paid search targeting settings to tailoring results to distinct audiences, opportunities abound for organic and paid search synergy.
Google’s move this year to prioritize broad matches within paid search creates even more urgency for natural and paid search synergy.
With less control over paid search results, there is a greater chance of paid search campaigns cannibalizing natural search efforts.
Marketers who do not regularly review organic and paid traffic share side-by-side will be surprised to find that paid search has expanded to capture more traffic from new query results, which may not convert well and need to be exluded.
With this shift in the paid search landscape, develop a holistic search strategy. Follow these six steps to ensure you address all new paid search implications for organic search.
Before developing strategies for prioritizing natural and paid search efforts, it will be important to take several foundational steps and analyze how your site analytics trends.
1. Restructure Your Paid Search Campaigns
First, ensure that your paid search campaigns have adopted the latest keyword best practices.
Specifically, restructure your efforts to leverage broad match paying close attention to negative keywords.
On the one hand, your campaign will likely shrink in the number of groups and positive keywords.
At the same time, the number of negatives should grow. Negative keywords are more crucial than ever to prevent budget drain and ensure paid search ads show only in the desired circumstances.
2. Establish New Performance Baselines
Before designing strategies for natural and paid synergy, it is essential to establish new performance baselines across paid and organic search.
Gain Statistically Significant Data
With your paid search account restructured, ensure that you acquire statistically significant data across your campaigns to understand new performance dynamics. The longer your site’s conversion cycle is, the longer this will take.
However, it is well worth it. First, you will gain clean and reliable paid search data.
Secondly, this calibration period will double as a reset time for organic search and for your organic presence to adjust.
Keep Adjusting Your Paid Search Negatives
During the above calibration period, closely watch your paid search query reports for additional negative keywords to mine.
Leveraging scripts is highly recommended to automate at least some of the steps. Using negative keyword lists in shared libraries will help reduce heavy manual lifting.
Monitor Change vs. Prior Baselines
Aside from the “before and after comparison” (i.e., comparison vs. the period preceding changes), look at the change vs. the same period a year ago, so you account for any seasonality.
3. Use Multiple Success Metrics
Consider what metrics are important to monitor for comparison and will be most actionable for your team.
If a KPI is hard for your team to influence, it becomes secondary importance.
Use a weighted, multiple metrics approach rather than pinning the analysis on any single success criteria.
- Conversion rate, cost/conversion event: The most intuitive metrics consider how successful and costly it is to leverage each site visit. Other metrics will explain why a given performance is observed and how to improve it.
- Clicks or visits: This is a helpful guide for prioritizing opportunities. Any identified opportunity or insight should pass the test of being scalable enough to impact your business. Opportunities with limited traffic impact are ultimately not worth a resource investment given the small effect on the bottom line.
- Bounce rate: Frequently used in SEO and overlooked for paid search, bounce rate is a good indicator if your user’s intent is aligned with the search result’s message (more on that later) and the landing page content.
- Time on site, page views, pages/visit: Together with bounce rate, knowing how long users spend on the site and how much content they have consumed provides much-needed context for conversion metrics. Are people converting poorly after seeing much content? Maybe they are not bouncing but still not finding what they need, or conversions are strong with high page views. This is an opportunity to look into the landing page content and shorten the site journey.
- Click-through rate (CTR): If traffic opportunity is much greater than your visits, CTR is a good metric for keeping those seemingly little opportunities on the radar. Here, even a small SERP language optimization would notably boost site traffic.
- Rank/position: Any organic versus paid search analysis would be incomplete without considering SERP rank or position. It can explain a lot about performance, but prioritizing a natural or a paid result, shouldn’t be focused solely on rank. Maximizing conversions and site traffic can be achieved even without ranking in top organic or paid search positions. Being in the striking distance of a couple of listings is still worth getting excited about.
4. Analyze Organic And Paid Search Contribution To Driving Site Engagement
As natural and paid search trends stabilize, analyze how users interact with various portions of your site and to what extent natural vs. paid search drives these activities.
With this information, you can then determine if paid search efforts complement natural search.
Consider how each channel drives engagement with each website area and to what extent the cost of paid search traffic and organic search resources are worthwhile based on how engagement from each channel supports business objectives.
With natural search costs being indirect, there is often a tendency to view organic traffic as “free.” However, it is not accidental, resulting from deliberate content creation and site optimization efforts.
It can also effectively create paid search savings by offsetting costly paid search activity. Thus, it is only fair to factor in the cost of natural search resources and programs alongside.
This will set the stage for how to align organic and paid search strategies to support business needs holistically.
Consider ramping up the natural search if paid search costs are escalating (to start saving) or if paid search activity is plateauing for an extra boost.
Alternatively, paid search is worth prioritizing when natural search traffic has been challenging to garner or grow.
While either paid or the natural search may end up in a leading role, it is worthwhile not to choose one channel at the expense of the other.
As the search space evolves and audience behavior shifts for the channel being deprioritized, it is best to maintain a base presence. It can then be ramped up if needed without doing so from scratch.
5. Understand The Full SERP Landscape
A truly holistic search strategy would be incomplete without considering the competitive landscape.
Comparing your own natural and paid search performance is helpful, but doing it without the context of who appears alongside misses valuable perspectives on why results are what they may be.
Incorporating competitive and universal search insights is essential for a thorough organic versus natural search analysis.
- Ranking gets tricky when the first organic results appear much lower in the SERP than their high rank may suggest. The first organic result often appears below metasearch, shopping, and paid search listings, thereby not being in the implied first position a user may see.
- Messaging in ads and organic description is key for understanding what happens onsite. Poor performance could be due to competitors having more compelling organic result descriptions or multiple assets appearing in the SERP, not missteps in one’s own organic or paid search tactics.
- Misalignment of landing page experience with what users see in the SERP is another dynamic to look out for, particularly with the mobile device experience in mind. With natural search results heavily determined by the organic algorithm, achieving the desired visibility may take a few rounds.
6. Establish A Regular Review Cadence With A Scalable Reporting Process And Joint Ownership
Finally, establish a scalable process that allows consistent data gathering, measurement, and insight sharing.
Close monitoring is key to spotting emerging trends and ensuring that any shifts are quickly addressed.
In doing so, ensure that natural and paid search findings are jointly reviewed with single ownership.
Too often, paid and organic search performance is reported separately without an easy way to align them for joint analysis.
Ideally, ownership of success across organic and paid search performance would reside within the same team and the same lead.
Aside from facilitating a joint search vision, having a singular stakeholder for natural and paid search strategy will ensure that neither channel is favored over the other, with paid and organic tactics truly complementing one another.
With paid search execution updated to account for the latest broad match dynamics and a complementary approach between natural and paid search, you are ready to harness natural and paid search most synergistically.
Setting up scalable joint reporting and singular ownership for natural and paid search success will ensure that your organization has the proper process, tools, and people to prioritize natural and paid search efforts most effectively.
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