Q: Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is made up of three key disciplines: paid search management and optimization, search engine optimization (SEO), and landing page optimization. Why does each exist within a silo?
Matt Malden: When search engines first began their rise to prominence in the late 1990’s, companies became very concerned with how to get into a top position in natural (or organic) search results for the keywords that mattered most to them. From that concern arose a whole field of professionals focused on assessing company websites and how best to optimize them for search engine crawlers.
When Google came along and introduced pay-per-click (PPC) advertising along side their natural search results, a whole separate new profession was born around the management and optimization of paid search campaigns. Closely tied to the introduction of paid search was a rising concern that the landing pages to which both natural and paid search links resolved may not be converting visits into customers. Thus, the creation of A/B and multivariate testing around landing page performance.
Q: So while there are professionals and tools for each aspect of search engine marketing, they all work more or less independent of one another?
Matt Malden: Exactly. To the extent that enabling technologies have been developed to make the execution of paid search, SEO efforts or landing page experiments possible or easier, they’re disaggregated and don’t play well together.
Q: Why is that a problem?
Matt Malden: Fundamental to all three aspect of SEM is the concept of keyword strategy – that is, the deep understanding of how one’s own customers search for your products or services on the Web. By knowing how your customers use keyword search to find you, you’re able to optimize your website such that it ranks well in natural search results for those keywords; optimize and focus your paid search advertising and keyword bids; and align your landing pages such that they speak well to both the keywords or phrases your customer uses as well as the links they’ve just clicked on to arrive your site.
Q: So there’s an important interrelationship between the three silos of SEM.
Matt Malden: Right – each has an impact on the other; each can make the other a better performer. And what’s important for marketing professionals to understand is that by optimizing all three components of SEM in parallel, you can bring down the overall cost of search marketing while improving campaign results. It’s why my company is so hyper-focused on bringing the three aspects of SEM together within a single, powerful enabling technology.
Q: So how can optimizing all three components of search marketing result in lower costs and better campaign outcomes?
Matt Malden: First, clicks on a natural search result is free to the website owner, so making sure your site is highly optimized for search engines is key. When you combine traffic from free clicks with those from paid clicks, you bring down your overall cost of acquisition. Second, when you have highly focused keyword strategies, bolstered by sensible negative keyword lists and PPC ads that reflect those keywords, you increase the likelihood of paid clicks, which improves your quality score. When you’ve got an excellent quality score, the cost you pay for clicks on your keywords is actually less than those with lousy quality scores. Third, when those clicks resolve to landing pages that are highly optimized and in alignment with your ads and keywords, the chance that a visitor will convert to a customer or lead or whatever is much greater.
Q: What would be the downside of focusing solely on SEO, for instance?
Matt Malden: Ideally you’d do all three in concert for the reasons mentioned above. But if you’re only able to focus on one of the three elements of SEM, choosing SEO is a good first step because the most important thing you can do is ensure you have a well-written, well-organized site that conforms to SEO best practices. You may be leaving traffic on the table by failing to add a PPC strategy. Similarly, if your landing pages aren’t highly optimize to convert new visitors into customers, you’re very likely losing opportunity that’s right under your nose. But it’s never a bad idea to invest in a really good website that’s optimized to meet your business goals.