Do you still need Pay per Click if you’re strong naturally?

By Hannah Kimuyu | 08 Sep 2007

The correct answer is Yes however, the general consensus tends to be No. There are two myths which suggest that if you're strong naturally you just don't need paid search, creating the perception that too much of the same brand at the top will cause a negative effect to your click-thru rate. Or, as the other suggests, ranking well naturally and through paid search has a direct financial or credible effect on your performance, e.g. you can climb the rankings or earn a lower cost-per-click. Unfortunately, both perceptions are wrong, but there is room to be visible for both paid and natural search with the same terms, if you have the right strategy in place.

Let's go back to the basics, what is paid search? Paid search is described as highly targeted, relevant ad placement within the search engines and in a range of content networks. It's also considered by many to be the most effective form of instant and measurable marketing. Paid search, in the traditional sense is used to fill the void - buying space and generating more volume until you start to rank naturally. Why stop though when paid search can become a more tactical method of advertising?

A recent debate explored newspapers that were buying keywords related to tragic events. It was quoted that 'Paid Search is arguably the most effective and relevant form of news advertising, primarily because the visitor permits relevant ad delivery (or news delivery) based on the querying phrase at the crucial moment of a breaking story.' (Source: Search Insider). Although some of the keywords used were perceived as too sensitive for example 'Virginia shooting,' it got the news out instantly, making it readily available to the general public. We now live in an era when accessing the internet for news is easier than buying a newspaper; for this to continue effectively, news publishers must take full advantage of paid search.

In fact the publishing sector as a whole has seen a change to the format in which it operates. Loyalty in magazine subscriptions is now being replaced with many brands going online and offering the content for free. Most recently InStyle and Elle UK have ramped up their online presence, challenging online veterans like and iVillage. For each of these brands paid search is used tactically to promote the ever-changing content. Notorious celebrities which make up this content, such as Paris Hilton's short trip into jail or Lindsey Lohan's rehab stint, was picked up by each of these titles and used to drive the desired page impression targets.

The travel and retail industries also make full use of paid search to advertise up-to-the-minute pricing, inventory and other offer-related incentives online. Paid search therefore provides that instant flexibility to allow for new opportunities to be seized immediately. To achieve this type of rapid response strategy naturally is impossible and therefore if paid search wasn't included as part of the overall search strategy, thousands of pounds would be lost in missed opportunity.

Then there's the 'vanity' approach, using the example of HMV's 2006 Q4 search campaign. Greenlight successfully placed HMV in number one positions for the search terms cd, cds, dvd, dvds and music cds for both paid and natural search. HMV didn't want anyone else in the space over the Christmas period - the peak of their sales season. The strategy increased HMV's visibility and went on to grow market share; most importantly it had no negative effect on the overall campaign results. In fact cost-per-click remained the same and return on investment continued to grow on both sides.

Source: HMV Video Case Study

Paid search can also be used as a discovery tool for natural search. After successfully ranking for your 'golden terms' what do you do next? Paid search has the ability to create a path of future terms to target. However, rather than wasting weeks, even months on testing the waters, paid search presents instant possibilities and then allows you to make the choice whether to pursue these naturally. This approach works very well for brands that are already doing well naturally and also seeking new opportunities - thus developing the ever growing synergy in paid and natural search techniques.

In conclusion paid search is still a key requirement, even if you rank well naturally. If anything, paid search can be used both as a tactical and exploratory exercise to present a guide to your SEO strategy, after your primary paid search goals have been achieved. Finally, paid search is an instant method for determining and almost guaranteeing return on investment whether it's used as a filler or a continuously evolving strategy.

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