Natural Search: The Overlooked Strategy

I like big numbers. Big numbers excite me. Here are some big numbers that ought to excite every marketer on the planet:

  • Company 1: 2,734,632 visitors per year from unpaid search.

  • Company 2: 9,478,416 visitors per year from unpaid search.
  • Company 3: 20 million visitors per year from unpaid search.

Big numbers like these command attention. They make you sit up and listen. These numbers represent total “natural” search traffic enjoyed by several companies right now engaged in natural search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns. They are:

  1. A healthcare information site: 227,866 incremental* unpaid monthly search referrals.

  2. An automotive retail site: 632,469 incremental unpaid monthly search referrals.
  3. A motion picture industry site: 821,390 incremental unpaid monthly search referrals.

Each company is also heavily invested in paid search advertising. They know for an SEM campaign to really generate strong return on investment (ROI), they must do both.

Why Do PPC Search First?

Pay-per-click (PPC) search advertising with Overture and Google AdWords has eclipsed natural SEM in the minds of many online marketers. It’s predictable, controllable, and easy to understand.

Natural SEM, on the other hand, is much less predictable and requires work on the part of the marketer:

  • It cannot be forecast with a high degree of accuracy as there are so many uncontrollable variables.

  • You’ll only be able to calculate the total benefit at the end of the campaign. This requires the purchaser to assume some risk.
  • The client will have to make changes to its site. There’s some (dare I say it?) work involved.

But when the potential benefits are considered, marketers must take a second look at natural SEM.

Why Both?

Marketers must target the “behavior of search,” not just the clicks. People who search don’t always click on the ad, nor do they always click on the actual search result. But when they do click, you must be there. Often, your listing must appear in both places for the best ROI.

PPC search has a few liabilities natural SEM elegantly addresses. Ads on Overture and Google display based on your ability to pay. This isn’t a criticism, merely the economics of the PPC model.

Consider: A limited monthly budget may cause your listing to disappear for part of every month. Overture listings are based on a monthly budget. When it dries up, the listing is removed. If the budget is depleted in 10 days, that listing remains invisible for the remaining 20 days of the month.

A limited daily budget may cause a listing to be invisible several times a day. Google AdWords are based on a daily budget. Your ad can be turned on and off all day to meet it. Depending on budget, a number of people searching for you will not find you every day.

Appearing high in natural search results assures constant visibility across a range of keywords, day after day (and month after month). To a lesser extent, listings will also fluctuate, but not based on the competition’s bidding behavior or your budget.

The breakthrough idea marketers must wake up to is natural SEM drives significant value. It’s the necessary partner of PPC search advertising. With PPC search advertising, you get what you pay for. Not one penny more. Natural SEM produces results that last beyond the campaign. It can achieve unanticipated search listings and search referrals.

Each time a query is launched in a major search engine, there are two possible outcomes: The searcher finds you, or the searcher finds your competitor.

My last column introduced the concept of inquiry marketing. At the heart of this new strategy is the belief that buying behavior has changed. Adoption of the Internet, specifically search engines that enable people to research purchases, has caused a fundamental shift in buying behavior. Never before have so many people had the ability to search for so many things. SEM, both paid and natural, are inquiry marketing tactics. They must be executed in tandem. Every time.

Inquiry Marketing Principles

Natural SEM is elemental. It’s the flip side of paid-search advertising. If natural SEM isn’t currently the yin to your paid search yang, shame on you for letting all those other inquiries go to the competition.

Allocate sufficient marketing budget to capture all the inquiry interest your other marketing generates. Alternately, provide a significant advertising benefit to the competition.

Inquiry marketing is predicated on the belief the inquiry, the search itself, is the most powerful customer behavior a marketer can hope to intercept. Don’t dismiss qualified searchers who are looking for what you offer. That would be the online equivalent of ignoring a ringing telephone.

* Increases are over baseline search referral traffic produced through SEM campaigns. (Return)

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