Posted on Jan. 25, 2008

Over the past few years, search has become an essential aspect of the online marketing mix. Both organic search engine optimization (SEO) and Pay-Per-Click (PPC) strategies can be utilized to deliver different results. For example, PPC may contribute to long-term branding efforts, but it's also a recurring cost. SEO, on the other hand, provides more lasting results and measurable ROI. But, it's also a long-term investment that requires ongoing attention and maintenance.

So how do you decide if you should focus your online marketing budget on PPC or SEO? Ideally, you should incorporate both to create a more well-rounded web presence, but in many cases, this isn't necessary or doesn't make sense. In this article, I'll explain how to decide which strategy to utilize. Of course, this decision depends largely on your budget and goals. More importantly, however, it depends on your target market and user behavior.

Consider this: According to the November 2007 issue of BtoB Magazine, approximately 80% of all web traffic now begins with a search engine. As you can see, if you have yet to begin any SEO efforts, you'll severely restrict the amount of traffic your site receives because you'll be invisible in the results. There is no doubt that your online lead generation efforts will be unsuccessful if searchers can't find you. In an online atmosphere, visibility is the precursor to interaction, which is the precursor to conversion and then retention.

You may be wondering: Is there a correlation between where a website appears in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) and the volume of traffic it receives? According to BtoB Magazine, this correlation is direct, and its implications are more far reaching than you might expect. Studies indicate that second or even third page rankings can increase website traffic volume by up to nine times! If a site appears in the Top Ten, or has first page listings, it can mean an additional sixfold increase in traffic!

Imagine the impact this would have on the average website, especially an e-commerce site. The BtoB study also indicates that Top Ten rankings increase sales by an average of 42% for the first month of SEO, and 100% for the second month. Clearly organic SEO can make a huge difference in how successful a website is. In many cases, especially for sites that rely on sales and conversions, it can even be the determining factor.

Still, there are many companies out there who continue to ignore search engine marketing (SEM), despite the fact that their competitors started long ago and now have them buried in oblivion. The majority have yet to begin optimizing their websites for search engine visibility. Imagine a mile-long race where one runner gets just a three minute head start. While it's not an insurmountable lead, the other runners will be confronted with quite a task as they try to catch up.

So, in order to take full advantage of this continuously growing channel and the opportunities for targeted ad placement it provides, it is critical to educate clients about the benefits inherent to SEM, and the importance time plays in the competitive landscape.

Remember though that neither SEO or PPC is a "quick fix" strategy. Instead, they're both valuable assets within the online marketing mix. Working in conjunction, the two can return better results, as PPC contributes to brand building efforts while SEO can build a permanent presence (the costs of which can be amortized over time). But back to the main point: How do you decide which strategy is best for your website?

The optimal way to arrive at a conclusion is to gather user data and analyze behavior, always asking yourself "How does my target market or user group currently search for my products or services? What phrases are they using, and conversely, which phrases are the most popular?" There are a number of existing tools out there that estimate the predicted volume of a given search query. Such tools include Keyword Discovery (which isn't free but offers a free trial) or Wordtracker. A great free tool comes from SEO Book.

Still, it's best to have an experienced SEO professional analyze this data to ensure a proper diagnosis. Imagine you're at the hospital and some random guy sitting in the corner offers a quick diagnosis for half the price the doctor costs. Would you trust him before yourself? You might. But you'd prefer a doctor's diagnosis because you can be sure their experience and credentials will be more accurate and trustworthy. Along the same lines, you want whoever is diagnosing your ailment to have the proper equipment at hand to do so, not just some "free trial" stethoscope that looks like a toy.

Fusionbox, the Denver Interactive Agency I work for, begins the SEO process by gaining a detailed understanding of user motivations to ensure the keyword phrases we optimize a website around are the most effective. The perfect keywords will carve an online niche for your company or brand while eliminating most competition. A full understanding of user motivations is essential to a successful SEO campaign, as the keywords (and the copy itself) can mean the difference between a conversion and an abandonment. Interestingly, a keyword analysis study from Luna Metrics shows that longer phrases convert much better, probably due to the fact that searchers using longer phrases are further along in the research or buying cycle.

So, once your SEO agency has performed searches for your potential focus, a Keyword Analysis will provide the data to determine the historical popularity of keyword phrases that match the theme of your site or describe your product or service. Make sure you're specific and test various combinations, as the results can often be drastically different. If the data shows that there are a high volume of searches that align with your web presence, you'll know that SEO is the way to go. If your phrase is more obscure or basic, like "computers" for example, PPC can be an excellent method to ensure your site is visible without expending the thousands of hours necessary to overtake the top ranked organic sites.

So take advantage of the power of search engines to deliver your website to the waiting eyes of interested searchers, and your bottom line will thank you for years to come.

For more information, contact Fusionbox.