SEO and PPC Cannibalization

My column, “Organic Versus Paid Search,” sparked some debate. Some argued that you should never have to choose between these two activities — that both should always be employed. Yet others sided with my view — the most appropriate and cost efficient investment really depends on your circumstances.

To be clear: I never said don’t do both. If budget restrictions require a strategic focus of dollars, I contend that you then might have to weigh your options between the two.

This got me thinking about a very related and highly debated topic: Should you be doing both? Do organic search (SEO) and paid search (PPC) activities complement or cannibalize each other?

Coincidentally, my team attended a Webinar the other day called, “Tactical Methods to Coordinate your SEO and PPC Campaigns“. It basically talked about how employing SEO and PPC in tandem could potentially cannibalize or bring synergies to your online campaign.

Now, this isn’t the first time this topic has been tackled. I touched on it in the column, “Coordinating Organic, Paid Search Efforts.” However, the Webinar made me see this issue in a slightly different light — that SEO and PPC together can often be harmonious, but there can also be some negatives that come out of employing both at the same time. Now as a search enthusiast, this idea leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but I would have to agree — there are some dangers. Cannibalization is number one.

Cannibalize: It’s a Don’t

Cannibalization can occur when your SEO and PPC activities compete against each other and/or one (usually paid search) is unnecessary or even wasteful due to the success of the other.

It can take place in any of the following scenarios:

  • You Already Have a High Organic Ranking

    If you have a high organic ranking for your key search terms, you may not want to bid on those terms in paid search, as you may end up diverting potentially “free” (organic) traffic to get users to click on your sponsored search ads (that you pay for).

    Keep in mind, it’s highly unlikely for a site to obtain a strong organic ranking on every keyword phrase relevant to its audience. So paid search would likely still be important to support your organic efforts and gain presence on the more elusive keywords.

  • Your Company and Web Site Has Strong Brand Awareness

    If your brand is well known, your audience will probably easily find your Web site without the help of paid search. Your Web site is likely already coming up at the top in the organic listings due to high link value, and many people will go directly to your Web site. In these cases, it may not make sense to “pay” for your brand name or variations of it through paid search.

    That said, just because your brand awareness is high, doesn’t mean everyone will automatically search for your brand. They might think first of the type of product or service they need and search for that instead (e.g. “iPod”) versus your brand or company name (e.g. Apple).

  • Your Organic Listing and PPC Ads Are Similar

    If your organic listings are identical or similar to your paid search listings, there may not be any added value in undertaking paid search. A key advantage to paid search is that you can control the content of your listing and the landing page you are pointing to. In the case that your organic listings are serving up the right message and page to your users, this advantage is no longer required.

    When these three situations occur, you may want to think twice about employing paid search, or evaluate exactly how you will use it.

    However, before giving up on paid search too quickly, keep in mind that there are significant opportunities to create synergy with your paid search and organic search activities.

Synergize: It’s a Do!

A brand could gain positive synergy from having both organic and paid search in the following scenarios:

  • Brand defense. If your brand does not have a high organic position, you will want to be sure that you own the sponsored search SOV whenever your brand name is searched for, and potentially when your key competitor names are entered.
  • Enhance your presence. Because you don’t have much control over the description on your organic listing, having PPC can ensure that the message you want your audience to see is being delivered.
  • Ensure landing page control. When your organic listings are driving to obscure or less than desirable pages, paid search enables you to exert control over which page on your site you drive your audience into based on the keyword.
  • Combat negative PR. If your company or industry is subject to negative press, you want to make sure your message is seen first. If you don’t have a high organic ranking, paid search can be used to make sure your site is listed above the negative ones, ensuring your audience hears about the benefits of your products and services first.

There are many considerations when deciding whether to employ one or both paid search activities. Ultimately, if SEO and paid search activities are planned strategically, it will exponentially benefit your campaign.

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