This post was based on a presentation I delivered recently outlining the differences between paid and organic search in marketing, and areas where they can work together.

Search v. Search

Search v. Search

There are very few marketing channels where the user communicates their intent as clearly as in search. These signals include both what the user is explicitly telling us from what they type into the search box to other signals such as when and where they search and their choice of device. Google uses other signals such as past behaviour for delivering better results through both targeting a user’s context and through personalisation. Some aspects of this can be used in a limited fashion when advertising through Adwords.

Many search queries fall into three broad groups: navigational, transactional and informational (Broder, Andrei. “A taxonomy of web search.” ACM Sigir forum. Vol. 36. No. 2. ACM, 2002.).

  • Informational
    • Informational queries indicate research activity with no clear indication of action. These kinds of queries are associated with general search phrases around finding information.
  • Transactional
    • Transactional queries indicate a desired action explicitly like ‘buy’ or ‘book’ or implied by detailed information for the product or related commercial terms such as ‘special’ and ‘last minute’.
  • Navigational
    • Navigational queries are made with a specific destination in mind. Most of these are likely to be branded search like ‘google’ or ‘facebook’ but would also include references to article titles or phrases referencing to something the user is already aware of.

This model is a very useful tool for analysing user behaviour and for targeting Search Engine Marketing (SEM) efforts. Combined with a keyword and landing page theme approach for optimisation of paid and organic search activity, this model is far more effective than a simple keyword list (landing page keyword themes are also a sound strategy to address SSL search). Even Google says that 20% of search terms entered into the search engine have not been seen before.

Paid and Organic

Managing and optimising for visibility and traffic with both paid and organic listings are just two different aspects of search marketing. Both are displayed to the same audiences and both have their own set of strengths and weaknesses.

A few of the benefits in using paid search as a part of your search engine marketing mix include:

  • Easy to gain visibility for new keyword themes quickly
  • Greater flexibility in what landing page to serve the user
  • More control over the content presented in the search results plus access to different tools such as image ad extensions
  • Campaign cost can be controlled and optimised to reflect the value of the traffic
  • Greater ability to target users by context (location, time and device)
  • Tools to target users based on assumed attributes and remarketing

Paid search also has a number of limitations, though these can be managed:

  • Costs money to scale. Each additional click has an incremental cost
  • Paid search is an auction, and costs are influenced by the actions of competitors

Organic search has a number of benefits that are not shared with paid search advertising. These include:

  • Both supports and derives value from most other digital activity such as social media, other marketing channels and content development
  • After initial development and promotional investment, organic traffic can scale independently of incremental investment
  • Web development required for effective Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is also required for other reasons (e.g, responsive design, site speed and crawlability/ease of navigation)

Organic search as a marketing channel also has some of its own unique challenges:

  • Optimisation projects take time to implement and take effect
  • Changes to how search engines work can have a significant impact
  • Increasing lack of transparency on traffic

This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are other differences these two mediums have, such as ease of testing, the tools required to effectively manage campaigns and the kinds of data generated by activity. Despite this, both are focused on the same users who are performing the same kinds of tasks.

Integrating Search with Search

One of the most obvious differences between direct response driven paid search activity and organic search optimisation can be seen in how the keywords they target fall within the Informational/Transactional/Navigational model. Paid is often very biased towards Transactional and Navigational (brand) keywords. These are the most effective for conversions, and the metrics tracked most often support this activity. As a result organic search frequently provides most of the informational traffic, both before and after Panda.

Paid and organic search marketing are often treated as two completely unrelated mediums, but there are real opportunities for integration. Both forms of search marketing have complementary strengths and weaknesses. While it is a significant investment in time to put an organic search campaign together for a new keyword theme, with paid search you can start to gather information and test fast. Certain products can be inefficient to advertise on with paid search, but are worth targeting with organic.

Organic and paid search activity do not exist in a vacuum. Both of these mediums are targeting the same people performing the same actions. It is the differences between these two that create the opportunities for integration. As tempting as it is to see this model and actual user behaviour as linear, it isn’t. A typical user’s search session can include multiple refinements and iterations as they either try to find what they are looking for, explore the subject further or simply drift off topic.

Other channels have an impact on what a user looks for and often what language they use. Branded search queries might be inspired by a very specific offer in a TV ad. A user who came in on an informational query might only transaction through an eDM they subscribed to on that first visit. Paid search should not be be treated as a single media channel, and neither should organic search. Both can be used to deliver better results together as much as search in general should be use as a part of an integrated online and offline marketing communications strategy.

So you want to start this email thing

So you want to start this email thing

Email marketing is boring. This is actually a good thing. It is boring because it is a known quantity, because it works and it has been a part of online marketing for so long it is hard to make up new buzzwords for it. There is still a lot that can be done with it however. There are triggered campaigns, systems to tailor content to your list by segments, various tactics to build your list from other ‘rented’ audiences like Facebook. If you are just starting though, there are a number of other things you need to be across first.

There is a good reason why email is one of the most popular direct response advertising tools for most digital marketers. It is easy to set up, scales fast, delivers return on investment and can be very very effective. Like many other digital channels, one of email marketing’s strengths is in how easy it is to track, and how effective it can become with a little applied analytics and analysis. Like so much other data driven activity, the trick is to know what to look at.

Read the full post here.

Search Marketing Inbound

Search Marketing Inbound

Inbound marketing is a popular topic. As an idea it has been evolving online for a few years now, and currently is closely associated with content marketing, being present and engaged on social media platforms and community building efforts. At it’s core, inbound marketing is not about paying for advertising, and mostly comes down to just two ideas. Have something your potential market cares about and be visible where they are, be it a social media platform or a group of search terms.

Inbound marketing works when those doing it provide the users with something they want that also helps the business to accomplish its aims. Like a band posting footage from a concert to help sell a new album or an author who runs a blog that keeps her in touch with her fans. This activity builds the community around the brand, creates interest in the bands music or the author’s work. It gives the biggest fans something to share with their friends online and off. It also creates interest and content.

Read more at You Need Inbound in your Search Marketing

So it finally happened...

So it finally happened…

Bing Ads have finally launched in Australia, only four years after the deal between the two search engines started the process that would stop one of them from being an actual search engine. It only took another two years after this deal before Yahoo! stopped being an actual search engine in the US, and since then this process continue around the world.

Except for in Australia. Despite repeated rumors and the occasional email from Yahoo!7 Yahoo! Search Marketing managed to hang on in Australia. One issue that may have delayed this in Australia was that Microsoft Ad Center (later Bing Ad Center) never opperated locally. Locally Yahoo! Search Marketing provided Live’s, and later Bing’s paid search advertising. Another possible problem was the cosy relationship between NineMSN and Yahoo!7.

Bing Ads in Australia

The first real announcement about Bing Ads coming to Australia appeared on the Bing Ads blog on the 2nd of April. Not the 1st, fortunately. In the post they named Mi9 as their local partner for providing search advertising. Unsurprisingly there was no news from Yahoo!. What was unexpected, given the deal that was struck in 2009 and what was seen elsewhere is that both Yahoo! Search Marketing and Bing Ad Center will remain seperate for now.

Unfortunately this means that Australian search marketers will still need to interact with Yahoo! Search Marketing’s venerable interface and optimisation tools for a little longer. It also seems that this will split what little share of search both search engines have between two platforms.

At Least it’s Different

Bing Ad Center provides a far better interface than Yahoo! Search Marketing. When comparing a platform that has remained untouched for at least four years to one with active development, this should be no surprise. However not much will change. Google will remain the dominant search engine, both in volume of searchers and share of paid search budgets.

Last Chance to See

Last Chance to See

Google Reader is about to be shut down, and most people who would care have already found a replacement. Personally I have not logged into my Google Reader account for a while, not since I moved on. There are a lot of alternatives available and apparently Feedly is a fairly popular alternative, though there are a number of other ones out there. Personally I have already switched to Tiny Tiny RSS, a self-hosted solution like Fever. Google Reader’s sunsetting also saw a number of other unexpected alternatives competing for attention. Digg apparently has a reader and Flipboard now lets you migrate your RSS subscriptions from Google Reader to your account via their app.

There is one thing these alternatives will struggle to replace and that is Google Reader’s popularity. While Feedly seems to be the most popular alternative, it still does not have the same level of support for its API that Google Reader had. As the proverbial 300lb gorilla for years, Google Reader was the default choice, and as such, it was used to power a lot of other cool apps, including Feedly and Flipboard. No one else seems to have this. You could argue that none of the alternatives are likely to either.

The Death* of RSS

Some have asked; are RSS readers necessary anymore? These days shared links on platforms like Twitter, Linkedin and Google Plus are a far better and more popular way to keep up with the news. Other tools like Flipboard seek to make it easier to browse content from your social media profiles, and their magazine feature creates another way to curate and share information.

Ideally, following people who find and share great information is a far more effective model for generating your own curated flow of information from people you trust to provide you with what matters. Though depending on how often they post or you check, you might miss a few things.

There are more ways to approach this problem though. Other tools like Trapit and Prismatic try to source the best content based on your own tastes and what you actually interact with. These tools seek to find information based on what you are interested in, and not on who you happen to follow at the time.

An RSS reader can easily do a number of things the tools above can’t. It is easier t0 avoid missing something interesting if you were not looking at Twitter for an hour. Most RSS tools provide search tools, more or less turning them into a simple Custom Search Engine. Finally a good web-based RSS reader with app support and a device agnostic web interface simplifies managing information.

Niche Tools and Niche Audiences

Subscribing to RSS feeds never seemed to be mainstream. For most people, RSS readers never seemed to be an option for managing the information firehose that is the Internet. Ever. Tools like RSS readers were used by niche audiences, some journalists, bloggers, professionals and a small, slightly more technically-minded minority of the online population.

Over time some have moved away from relying on RSS readers, replacing them with some of the tools mentioned above. However a loud, vocal and engaged minority still seem to care, as we saw when Google announced the end of Google Reader. Ultimately though it is still just a minority.

* Death may or may not involve actual death, and in fact it is incredibly silly to argue that a technology is ‘dead’ or ‘dying’ simply because one way of using one niche implementation of it is declining. It makes as much sense as arguing that printing is dying because newspaper subscriptions are down.