Pay Per Click Versus ?Organic? Search Engine Listings - The Pros and Cons and Best Uses for Each

What's the difference?

For those who aren't quite clear what the term "natural" or "organic" search engine-listing means, they describe the "editorial" search results on any particular engine. These results are professed to be non-biased - meaning that the engine will not accept money to influence the rankings of any individual sites. This is quite different than the paid advertising (Pay Per Click) that appears in the "sponsored" or "featured" results, in which higher positions are awarded to the companies willing to pay the most per visitor or click.

Why is organic search important?

Although paying for Pay Per Click listings initially seems the obvious answer, organic search listings are still very important to both searchers and web site advertisers. Knowledgeable searchers, who understand the difference between paid and organic results are more likely to hold the natural results in a higher regard, much like a person reading a newspaper or magazine would be more positively influenced by an article about a particular product or service than by a paid advertisement from the company that sells it. In addition, organic results even the playing field. Companies or individuals with smaller marketing budgets can complete with larger organisations as the natural results are based on relevancy to the search term rather than the amount you are willing or able to pay for each click through to your web site.

What are the cons?

Unfortunately, it takes a certain amount of knowledge and programming skills to optimise for organic search listings. It can also take a ridiculous length of time to be indexed. It often takes anywhere from two days to as much as six months to be listed on a search engine. Several weeks is the norm, but you could get lucky and submit just a couple days before an engine does a complete refresh of their database.

Which One Gets More Clicks?

I am frequently asked "Which listing type do searchers click on more often: natural "organic" search engine results or paid "sponsored" adverts?" Recent studies have confirmed my standard response, that the answer is a classic case depends!

Searcher behaviour varies greatly depending on the demographics of the searcher (men v women, experienced Internet users v novices), the type of search a person is conducting (information-oriented v purchase-oriented) and the engine where the search is being conducted.

To reach the greatest number of potential customers and maximize the results of your advertising campaign, you must be visible in natural organic results AND sponsored listings.

Here are six possible scenarios to help you prioritise and decide which path(s) to follow when setting up your search engine marketing campaign:

1. Limited Advertising Budget
If budgets are tight or nonexistent and you can't afford to pay for website visitors, even after taking into account the value of their desired online action, you will want to place a great deal of emphasis on effectively implementing search engine optimisation in-house. If you don't already have the knowledge or skills to implement this, download our invaluable guide to optimising your web site for both organic search engine listings and visitor use here: "Start at the Beginning":

2. Website That Can't Be Modified
Optimisation for organic search engine listings typically involves modifying a site's design, content, and navigation. For example, heavy reliance on Flash, frames, or graphics may need to be changed in order to incorporate more optimised text. However, some businesses feel that an optimised website does not provide the multi-media experience their customers require or expect. If your business falls into this category, then Pay Per Click advertising may be the only way to achieve good results.

3. Need Immediate Results
A basic Pay Per Click campaign on Overture or Google can be up and running and driving visitors to your web site in a matter of hours. Significant improvement in organic rankings may take several months to achieve. If you require immediate results Pay Per-Click advertising will need to be your top priority.

4. Guaranteed Top Placement
No-one can guarantee consistent, top organic listings for high volume key phrases in a competitive market sector. Search engines change their algorithms (indexing criteria) regularly and no one can control how or when sites are indexed, except the individual search engine itself. If you absolutely must guarantee consistent top placement on high-volume keywords in a competitive market sector, you will need to rely heavily on Pay Per Click advertising and have sufficient budget to fund it. Investigate current bid rates, can you afford top placement on the highest-volume words? If not, expand your keyword list beyond the most obvious and popular key phrases and advertise across a larger number of less popular, more specific and cost-effective phrases. Remember that most searchers enter two or three words to form a key phrase rather than a single word.

For a complete guide to setting up and managing your Pay Per Click campaign, download our guide: "Maximising Your Pay Per Click Campaign" read an excerpt here:

Ultimately, focus on the keywords that work best and achieve the best conversion rates and the highest return on investment (ROI). For more detailed advice on how to measure your conversions and ROI, download our guide: "Measuring Success", read an excerpt here:

5. A Need To Change Advert Content or Timing
If you need to frequently change the content of your adverts, for example to promote particular products or to make seasonal offers, or if you want to be able to turn your advertising on and off, you will need to rely on the control and flexibility offered by Pay Per Click advertising.

6 Ad-Adverse Audience
More Internet savvy search engine users recognise information that is displayed as a purchased advert and this limits its credibility. In this case the integrity associated with a high natural ranking is invaluable. If your target market is likely to be Internet wise (IT professionals, students, etc), optimisation should be your main focus.

The above guidelines will help you assess the relative priority of optimisation and Pay Per Click advertising, but how should you implement each method? Simultaneously or one at a time?

Generally speaking I would recommend that you start the Pay Per Click campaign slightly before the optimisation of your web site. The immediacy of a Pay Per Click campaign will bring you visitors in the short term, and more importantly it will also allow you to measure what is (and is not) working on your web site; are the landing pages for your adverts converting your visitors, are you targeting the most effective keywords, etc.

Armed with the results of this testing you can optimise your web site effectively and avoid costly delays that occur while waiting for search engines to re-crawl newly optimised pages. Only when you are completely happy that your web site is the best it can be should you submit it to the search engines.

When these organic listings start to bring visitors to your web site, you can re-evaluate you Pay Per Click spend. It may be that your ROI on these adverts is acceptable and you continue as is, or you may wish to reduce your advertising spend. A quick calculation on your conversion rates should give you the answer. For more information see our guide: "Measuring Success", read an excerpt here:

Today, most marketers accept that web site optimisation for organic listings and Pay Per Click advertising is not an either/or proposition. For a well-rounded and effective search marketing campaign that reaches the greatest number of searchers, marketers should blend both natural and paid listings, capitalising on their complementary strengths and weaknesses.

For a complete guide to marketing on the Internet, including:

The General Principles of Internet Marketing
Start at the Beginning
Writing Text that Sells
Building Online Relationships
Maximising Your Pay Per Click Campaign
Measuring Success

Why not purchase the whole series of downloadable guides for the discounted price of 64.95. Click here for more information: Justine Curtis Enable UK Internet Marketing Information and Resources Make your web site work harder! Web: Email: Article from Internet Marketing Tips Newsletter, a monthly publication of Enable-UK Copyright 2004 Enable-UK.

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