From the Trenches: Why Paid and Natural Search Are Better Together

By Dave McAnally, Product Specialist, Natural Search

As is my typical modus operandi for coming up with subjects for blog posts, a few cases arose over the past several weeks with clients that got me thinking about how much more efficient paid and natural search programs are when integrated.

The camps are divided it seems among large brands over whether or not these two practices should be silo'd. On one hand, there is an argument to specialize these disciplines and on the other, the logic is that there are learnings to be had by bringing the two together.

Which is better of the two options is an issue that engenders a lot of debate in our industry. I'd say we've reached consensus that at least HAVING listings in both paid and natural search results is optimal (and studies have been done that back it up).

I'm of the opinion that managing both paid and natural search programs under one roof is optimal. Here are some practical everyday benefits I've encountered that support my point of view:

Keyword Research Synergy
At the end of the day, it’s the same set of eyeballs looking at a SERP. Whether they see the paid or natural listings, they arrived at that page from the same query. Accordingly, when doing keyword research, you want to use the same process for understanding the intent of the searcher when deciding what keywords to buy or optimize for. Having 2 separate teams execute keyword research is inefficient.

With the advent of quality scores and on-page factors affecting paid search bids, there’s a lot of cross-learning to be had with natural search efforts. Many of the same optimizations we make for natural search should now be applied to paid. For example, creating tightly themed landing page content for improved relevance (not to mention load times).

Improves IT Workflow
Almost invariably, IT resources have constraints (I’ve yet to meet a company with an IT department that is begging for more things to shoehorn into a deployment schedule). Based on my experience, when IT is overloaded they prioritize based on when items are submitted to the queue and who makes the best business case. Determining priority based on a business case is a lot more effective when you've got things under one roof and the agency determines if the paid landing page development is or isn't as important as say rewriting URLs before sending it to the IT team for deployment.

Shift Priorities On the Fly
Let's say you have a promotion coming up and need to win on queries that aren't in an active set of keywords already. Determining the competitive landscape of these keywords for both paid and natural can (and oftentimes does) lead to different tactics than if the two are silo'd. Perhaps a wide net needs to be cast for the paid while natural is focused primarily on transactional terms (or vice versa). Obviously it isn't impossible to share data across agencies or functional groups, but when time is a factor, the ability to react quickly is greatly improved when the teams operate under one roof.

Reporting Insights Improve
This goes far beyond "Our paid listing did pretty well for this term, let's try to get ranked naturally". When looking at both paid and natural conversions, CTR, CPA and more, some pretty important trends emerge. If the goal is CPA, we can recognize where a combination of paid and natural listings might not actually deliver incremental return and turn off the paid listings accordingly. Or, if our goal is share of voice, we might want to increase our paid search bids to own more real estate the SERP. The more data shared between the two, the more informed and successful the overall strategy tends to be. This seems to hold true across every category I've encountered.

Knowledge Share Is More Efficient
When a unified team is managing both media and optimization, it’s able to pass information back and forth much quicker than two separate organizations. The caveat of course is that this team needs to be a fine-tuned machine or else it become a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. In any case, walking across the office to talk about an anomaly in a particular paid campaign and how it could affect natural search is much easier than scheduling a meeting and determining in that window of time how to handle the situation

Centralizes Accountability
It's not that agencies are passing the buck, but when one agency is overseeing paid and natural, it's a lot easier to pinpoint what's not working (especially when you consider the reporting involved). I'm a natural search specialist, but one of my favorite aspects of paid search is that you can 'fail fast'. If something isn't going to work, you'll know it a lot faster than you will with natural search. When those two practices are working towards the same goal together, this can have huge effects on the shape and direction of a campaign. I can think of at least a dozen times in the past few months where a particular messaging in paid search informed (positively and negatively) the direction we take with our natural search efforts.

There’s a lot more that goes into having paid and natural operating under the same roof, but these are the impact points I’ve seen firsthand. Keeping the team aligned (assuming the expertise for both is there) helps optimize for the big picture and improve the insights and results each program provides.


Copyright © 2008 Resolution Media, Inc. All rights reserved.