Google Organic & Paid Search Changes Call for Rethinking Search Marketing Strategy

Paid search advertising just got even more important for you. Recent major changes in the space will affect the way many marketers run campaigns.

Goodbye HTTP Referrer

One upset is the encryption of organic keyword and referrer data by Google. You’ll still have access to some keyword data within Google Webmaster tools, but the analytics programs that gave you full keyword data based on the HTTP referrer will become essentially useless. The usefulness of these tools had been waning for the last couple of years, but Google put the final nail in the coffin recently by encrypting all organic search data passed on in the referrer.

Goodbye Paid Links

The second big change that will make many marketers more reliant on paid search was Google’s continued crackdown on those purchasing paid links to improve organic ranking. One would think that this problem would only impact marketers using black hat techniques by buying links, particularly if they buy them through black hat link networks. Those engaged in that highly risky behavior of “buying votes” for their content will certainly be hardest hit.

SEO Gets Negative

However, there has been an increase in a tactic called Negative SEO. Negative SEO is the practice of buying links to a competitor’s website from a set of sources that are likely to be found by Google or Bing. When those links are identified by Google, it is far too common that–rather than simply invalidating the links (as was previously the case)–Google applies a bad link penalty.

Whether this penalty is done punitively or is the byproduct of Google’s algorithm putting a higher validity threshold on all links pointing to your site (therefore invalidating many natural and warranted links) is irrelevant. Either way, that site often finds itself moved off the top positions in the SERPs for many (if not all) keywords.

Sure, Google has provided a disavow tool within Webmaster Tools that allows any domain manager to go in and choose not to have links from certain sites included in the analysis of relevance by Google. But messing with the disavow tool can cause as much damage as leaving it alone. So, those unsure as to whether or not they have been targeted by negative SEO have a difficult decision to make, a decision that should not be made lightly.

Marketing in the Post-Organic Search Ecosystem

All of this activity within the organic side of the search marketing fence makes paid search more valuable than ever. Paid search is highly controllable and targetable. Plus, it has become a source of keyword data that supplements the data available in Webmaster Tools. Since you control the keywords you are bidding on, as well as the likelihood that the keywords will get clicked (though both increasing bids and making the ads more relevant to achieve higher Quality Score), you decide what data you have available for analysis.

Put another way, in paid search, you’ll only have keyword data for keywords you actually bid on, just as in organic SEO you only have data on keywords you actually rank for.

Some changes to your search marketing strategy that might be warranted in light of the recent Google changes are:

  1. Increase budgets to assure visibility and provide deeper keyword data on the keywords that drive conversions and micro-conversions. Without the conversion data from paid keywords, you won’t know how to invest in content marketing and SEO.
  2. Revisit account structure to make sure you have the highest possible Quality Score, by assuring that the ad creative resonates with the keywords in an ad group.
  3. Consider the value of buying clicks on keywords that might be earlier buy-funnel (assuming your consumer goes through a multi-stage research through the buying decision process).
  4. Significantly increase your SEO efforts around Bing. The best practices in SEO between Bing and Google are similar, but a good SEO agency or in-house SEO expert will know how to shift your focus a bit to slightly favor Bing’s algorithm. Bing, Yahoo and the other Bing syndication partners are material enough that they will provide both a source of great traffic and quality data.

The search engines have a vested interest in keeping both the organic and paid results as relevant as possible, to ensure that consumers continue to prefer their search engine. Yet, as soon as a paid advertising option can be developed and proven within the search engine labs (so long as it delivers relevance that rivals or improves upon the organic option), you can be sure to see additional screen real estate allocated by the search engine to the paid advertising.

This is a trend that’s been obvious for years and I see no reason to believe that it won’t continue. Relevance is key for marketers across both the organic and paid environments.

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Screenshot shows a Google search for outdoor grills, the shopping ads shows images with “in store” showing the product is available nearby.