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The Most Destructive Lie In Search Marketing

The biggest lie in search marketing is that paid and organic search are separate channels. From the customer’s perspective, paid and natural search are nearly identical. In fact, according to this study done by Performics last year, around a third of all searchers don’t even know the difference between a paid and a natural search listing.

This lie wouldn’t be a big deal except that it causes advertisers to under-optimize their search marketing programs. There have been several studies done to show that having a paid and organic listing on the same SERP can either cannibalize or have a synergistic effect on traffic.

The problem is that most companies don’t know which one is happening for their listings. This ignorance means that companies are either leaving money on the table by not having both listings present, or wasting money cannibalizing their own traffic.

The solution to this dilemma is to think about, organize your team around, and set goals with the idea that paid and organic search are the same channel.

Let’s first explore team organization and setting goals to help explain why paid and organic should be considered the same channel despite the obvious differences in how they are executed.

If your natural search and paid search people are not currently reporting to the same boss, it is very likely that these teams rarely communicate. I have even seen paid and natural search teams within the same company using destructively competitive tactics so that each team can reach its own goal.  This competitiveness is just a simple fact of how organizations work.

Until these two groups are on the same team, you will be fighting an uphill battle to get them to collaborate. If your search analysts don’t all currently report to the same person, start the process now to combine these two teams.

Once all of your search marketers are on the same team, you can then set a combined goal for everyone involved with getting your listing on the SERP. With combined targets, it is in each person’s best interest to maximize the performance for the entire search experience.

It will become natural for the specialists to develop collaborative strategies to achieve that goal. Most search managers try to achieve this collaboration by just telling the analysts to collaborate, while setting goals that undermine that collaboration. Search managers need to walk the walk. If you want your team to collaborate, you need to set up the goal structure so that collaboration helps your team achieve their goals.

Here is an example of the difference between having separate goals and having a combined goal. Let’s say we have Jack and Jill on our search team. Jack is working on paid search and Jill is working on SEO for a particular program.

Scenario A (Separate goals)

Jack has a budget of $10,000 dollars and a revenue target of $30,000 while Jill has a budget of $2,000 and a revenue target of $40,000. The problem with this scenario is that there is no motivation for Jack and Jill to work together. They both go their separate ways to achieve their goals and leave money on the table.

Scenario B (Combined Goals)

Jack and Jill are given a combined budget of $12,000 dollars and a revenue target of $90,000 to use in whatever way they find is most effective in driving revenue. This scenario may seem like a minor change, but it reflects a major shift in how we approach optimizing our SERP listings.

This shift motivates Jack and Jill to figure out ways to minimize cannibalization and maximize synergies between paid and organic listings on the SERP. The increased revenue target reflects the belief that having a combined strategy will succeed in directing Jack and Jill to find these opportunities.

One counter argument that I have heard against combining paid and natural search, is that it removes the accountability for those working on the separate programs. This is a valid argument and one that needs to be addressed carefully.

If Jack and Jill both have a shared goal, then it would be easy for one of the two to slack off and let the other work to achieve the goal. One solution for this challenge is to have them develop a plan for how each is going to contribute to achieve their performance targets.

Once this plan is approved by each person and by the manager, it can be used to hold each person accountable. This challenge can actually have an added benefit because it will make planning a more essential part of the search marketing process. It will take extra time up front, but it will pay off in the long run.

I am consistently surprised by how little paid and organic search marketers communicate. This lack of combined strategy adversely affects the experiences of those searching for information and causes a large majority of companies to have immature search strategies.

I believe that the reason we in the search industry leave so much money on the table is due to an improper perspective of paid and natural search.

In other words, we are lying to ourselves. It is easy to see why we have split them up. They are very different when it comes to execution and how they are funded, but the reasons for combining them are much stronger than the reasons to split them up.

Developing unified search teams, search goals, and search strategies will allow you to fully optimize your company’s marketing initiatives, and create the best experience for your customers.

Photo from Klearchos Guide to the Galaxy. Used under Creative Commons license.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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