Think Organic, Act Paid

Want your PPC (define) search campaigns to kick your competitors out of the running? Your PPC ads should strive to be as relevant as, if not more so than, their ads are, and you should endeavor to make your ads more relevant than the organic/algorithmic results in every engine. This important point was made clear in a recent high-level meeting with Microsoft; MSN is taking its underdog position quite seriously.

Sometimes, brainstorming and debating search’s future with smart people can be a great catalyst for reminding us of things we know but probably haven’t thought of lately. At the Microsoft/MSN Strategic Account Summit, I had an opportunity to chat with Christopher Payne, a leader in search user experience, about the market’s current state and searchers’ behavior and relevance expectations. I postulated that over time, paid search results should and would become more relevant than organic results for search queries that have commercial intent or relate to researching a purchase. Payne countered that currently there’s often a huge gulf in relevance between paid and organic listings.

Then it hit me. There’s no reason organic search should be more relevant than paid search. Quite the contrary. SEO (define) spammers don’t care if they manage to get a high position for keywords and keywords phrases that are less than perfectly relevant, because a high SEO position delivers clicks for free, be they perfectly targeted or only marginally relevant. PPC search marketers, however, have no such luxury. They pay for every click, and any click with a poor chance of converting due to poor relevance has an ever-increasing cost.

As paid-placement search marketers, we aren’t doing our job if the algorithmic results are significantly better than our ad listings. Our companies and our competitors are part of a search ecosystem where the marketers able to float their ads to the top will be those who have:

  • Copy highly relevant to the search query
  • Highly relevant landing pages (the engines now look for this)
  • A recognizable brand or a domain name that’s highly descriptive and reassures the searcher that clicking on the ad isn’t a mistake
  • The ability to fulfill searchers’ needs (there would be no reason to bid aggressively on a keyword if you were unable to fulfill a searcher’s need and a competitor also bidding could fulfill that need better than you)
  • An efficient company infrastructure that doesn’t put them at a significant disadvantage with regard to gross margin and customer retention
  • A strong company with the financial resources to be a going concern

With improved relevance comes improved conversion and, in Google, MSN, and, soon, Yahoo, improved position (or the same position for less money). To truly maximize our search opportunities, we must deploy some resources and technology to get our paid placement listings closer than ever to organic results’ relevance.

Here are some tactics that should be revisited regularly by search engine marketers who strive to improve both relevance and efficiency:

  • Moderate your use of broad match listings. Lazy search marketers overuse broad match and neglect to break down their listings into more specific phrase and exact matches.
  • Review ad creative to make sure it has “scent,” meaning the searcher sees keywords and concepts that are a strong fit with her search query. Using the keyword in the ad is part of that process.
  • Tune landing page selection based on the exact or phrase searches that were entered. This means testing more specific landing pages than a typical category page.
  • Use negative match on any broad or phrase match listings. When you use broad match as a net to capture long tail searches that were difficult to predict or didn’t have sufficient volume, think about which negative match keywords would prevent a non-relevant result from occurring.
  • Use log files or campaign management software to determine which new keyword phrases or exact matches in a PPC campaign can be built out of existing listings (both paid and organic).

I look forward to the day when paid listings are extremely relevant for almost all commercial queries. Of course, when this happens we can expect the search engines to start allocating significantly more screen real estate to paid listings. Already, many search engines dynamically determine how many PPC listings to display at the top of the page rather than the right rail based on a relevance score that compares the paid and organic listings.

As this evolution occurs (it’s already underway), your PPC campaign will become even more critical to the success of your overall search visibility. Start laying the groundwork now for this new era now by thinking paid, and acting organic.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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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.