It’s probably the most coveted spot on the Internet – ranking first on Google’s search engine results page (SERP). That’s when you know you’ve made it as a company. Look at all of the also-rans underneath your top spot. How puny they look.
What’s that? You’ve never made it to #1 on the SERP? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Your competitors are working just as hard, maybe even harder, as you to reach the top. There’s a good reason why you want your company to rank high on Google and other search engines. Studies show that the top three links on the SERP receive 61 percent of clicks.
To rank higher on the search engines and drive more traffic to your website, you need a plan. Part of that plan is to decide whether you want to increase your ranking organically or through paid advertising. Each has its pros and cons to consider when formulating your strategy. I like to think of organic search and paid search in terms of personal transportation to steer people to your site.
Organic search uses search engine optimization (SEO) to determine search ranking. It’s kind of like owning a car. You have fixed costs each month – monthly payments, insurance, fuel, etc. With SEO, you can either hire Internet marketing pros or retain a firm skilled at SEO. Either way, you have fixed costs each month – salaries, benefits, or an agency retainer. It can be expensive, and you have to continually budget for it. (To all my employees reading this, you’re worth every penny.)
Strategies such as constantly updating content, establishing external links to your website, and effectively using keywords are just a few ways SEO professionals can improve your company’s rankings. And it can take time. Search engine specialists may spend hours contacting bloggers and other sites to form the foundation for a backlink strategy for your website.
Pay to Play
Paid search is like the Uber of search rankings. You only pay for it when you use it. While there’s still some staff time involved, you can eat up your budget fast with a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign. With a paid search strategy, you can bid on keywords and topics that can help your site appear higher on the search rankings. Google used to place ads to the right of the organic results on the SERP, but the ads now appear at the top and bottom of the SERP. This gives the ads higher visibility, and since ads are the main source of income for search engines, they want as many people to click on the ads as possible.
Since you only pay when someone clicks on your ad, paid search gives you the flexibility of how much you choose to pay for keywords and topics, and how you allocate your budget – by the day, week, or month. For instance, you may have a weekly budget of $1,000 for paid searches. Let’s say you pay $5 per click for the keywords “Orlando Auto Dealers.” Once your ad is clicked on 200 times, it stops being listed. So, your ad could reach that number early in the week or take all week to reach it. But once it hits $1,000, the ad no longer appears on the SERP.
Which is Better?
Now that’s a loaded question. Let’s take a look at ways you can be successful using both methods:
Organic – Of course, SEO experts will tell you it’s the clear winner for your search engine strategy, and it’s easy to see why. A British research study conducted in 2011 found that organic search results are clicked on 94 percent of the time. Why is that? It seems people feel companies with organic links are more authoritative and trustworthy. People may feel the company reached the top of the search results on its own merits, rather than paying the most money to get there.
Paid – So, it looks like the jury has spoken and organic is the clear winner. Not so fast. There are times when it makes perfect sense to use paid search. Using paid search can really give your ranking a kick in the pants if you need to attract visitors quickly to your site. It makes sense if you’re launching a new product that’s currently the best-kept secret on the Internet, or you have a time sensitive event, such as an investment seminar. Paid search has been shown to consistently outperform organic searches for conversion rates, whether you measure that with additional newsletter subscribers, the number of people who download your app, or an increase in sales. In fact, a report from MarketLive found that paid search visits had a 35 percent higher conversion rate for ecommerce sites.
Another important consideration for your search engine strategy is to have a clear understanding of who your market is and how they react to organic and paid search results. For instance, people 34 and under are much less likely to click on ads. Adults 35 and over click on ads 65 percent of the time, while millennials only click on ads 35 percent of the time.
The Future of Search Rankings
It’s been shown that 81 percent of people find websites through search engines. I don’t see that changing anytime soon, but other parts of search engines are always evolving. Google updates their algorithms over 500 times a year, so you’ve got to stay on top of the changes. Case in point: Google putting a greater emphasis on mobile searches. SEO experts have voiced concerns over whether search engines will push ads more aggressively on the SERP, or will the younger generation force them to keep the focus on organic results?
Fortunately, your search ranking strategy is not an either/or proposition. You can use them both effectively if you create a clear digital marketing plan, know your market, and, of course, have the budget to execute your plan.