The Holistic Approach to Search Engine Marketing
Holistic: [adj] Emphasizing the importance of the whole and the interdependence of its parts.
Holistic Theory: [noun] The theory that the parts of any whole should be considered in relation to the whole, and that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Although the word “holistic” is often used to describe a particular approach to medicine (in which the emphasis is on treatment of the “whole” individual), it is also appropriate to apply it to other disciplines, including Search Engine Marketing (SEM). There are three major components of SEM (and many minor ones, but we won’t touch on them here). These three primary parts are often used individually to great effect- but it is only when they are effectively used in unison that the “whole” can become “greater than the sum of its parts”. These major components are as follows:
Pay-Per-Click (also referred to as Pay for Performance) is very close to a pure form of advertising. Companies bid to have their ad copy show up for specific search terms related to their business. This ad copy usually shows up in a special section of the search engine results page, typically labeled as “Sponsored”. Companies that use PPC are rewarded with targeted visitors to their websites and have to pay the bid amount for each visitor they receive.
Natural Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Natural search engine results are often considered to be more trustworthy than PPC advertising by searchers who understand the difference. These purportedly non-biased results can be likened to the articles in a trade magazine, while “Sponsored” results can be likened to the advertisements. A company that is mentioned in an article will usually garner a more favorable impression than a company that is simply advertising in the same magazine.
The most often overlooked of the three components, website conversion is equal in importance to the other two. Conversion is the art and science of determining predominant user behavior on your website and trying to improve it – in other words, attempting to influence visitors to take a specific action on your site that eventually leads to a sale.
How They Work Together
While each of the above components by themselves can return excellent results, the power of each is multiplied when they are used effectively together. The results returned by any combination of the three pieces applied simultaneously will almost always outperform the collective results of the same pieces applied separately.
PPC with SEO:
Recent studies have indicated that search engine marketing is an effective brand builder, and this branding effect is amplified through placement in both the natural search results and in the paid results. This makes perfect sense – on most search engines, you have two unique opportunities to present your company and products/services for every search query. By taking advantage of both opportunities, you greatly increase your chances of being first-in-mind from the searcher’s perspective, at the time of the search and beyond.
There is a very popular approach from some search engine marketers to only use PPC for keyphrases where the site does not achieve high natural rankings. While this approach can certainly save money, it runs counter to the branding benefit espoused above (since it ensures that a site listing will either be in the paid results or the natural results, but never both). If your company has a high average dollar sale, and you have a chance to favorably impress a visitor with dual exposure before they visit your site, it usually makes sense to take that opportunity.
SEO and/or PPC with Website Conversion:
Often, firms are willing to spend many thousands of dollars to increase traffic to their site, but not a penny on website conversion. In a medium that makes it so easy for a searcher to look elsewhere, conversion is critical – and the net effect of raising your conversion rate from one to two percent is the same as doubling your traffic (and in one sense it is actually better, since it means that far fewer people have left your site unsatisfied). Conversion naturally works independently of any SEM initiative (provided that your website gets any traffic at all). But the combined effect of increasing your conversion rate and your traffic naturally yields more impressive results. Say, for example, that your website currently provides you with only two solid sales leads per week. By doubling your conversion rate, you will get four leads, and doubling your traffic on top of that will yield eight.
However, the above example does not take into account the quality of search engine traffic from targeted keyphrases. It is often the case that current site traffic is not particularly targeted (a look into a site’s weblogs will often reveal a large number of search engine-referred visitors that found the site using non-targeted phrases). It is not uncommon to see conversion rates skyrocket as the quality of traffic improves due to targeted keyphrase advertising or organic search engine optimization. With PPC campaigns, you can further boost conversion rates by sending visitors to highly targeted landing pages- another example of how seemingly separate disciplines can complement each other so well.
The Bottom Line
The fact that these components are most effective when used in concert does not mean that each should not be tracked individually- of course they should. But do not be surprised when your returns on two or more of these components used together are greater than the combined returns from the individual components used separately. And this presents a dilemma- a highly successful holistic SEM approach can make extracting exact ROI figures for each individual component difficult, since “the whole” has become “greater than the sum of its parts”. But as many savvy companies are discovering, this is a nice problem to have.
Scott Buresh is the CEO of Medium Blue, a search engine optimization company. Scott has contributed content to many publications including Building Your Business with Google For Dummies (Wiley, 2004), MarketingProfs, ZDNet, WebProNews, Lockergnome, DarwinMag, SiteProNews, ISEDB.com, and Search Engine Guide. Medium Blue, which was recently named the number one search engine optimization company in the world by PromotionWorld, serves local and national clients, including Boston Scientific, Cirronet, and DS Waters. Visit MediumBlue.com to request a custom SEO guarantee based on your goals and your data.