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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Relative Complexities of Paid and Organic Search, and Implications for Marketing Effectiveness

Because there have always been more professional SEO advocates and amateur SEO junkies than paid search practitioners and advocates, many have come to assume that organic search somehow "performs better" than paid search.

In one ugly distortion of reality, an analytics vendor we like continues to give truncated examples showing that bounce rates (or very short visits) on paid search are higher in many cases than they are for organic search. This "might mean you should stop wasting money on paid search and begin focusing more on organic optimization." It might, but it probably doesn't. The premise doesn't lead to the conclusion. Obviously this man isn't a marketer.

I just had a conversation with a client - one with a big site and lots of both kinds of traffic - that noted their revenue per paid visit is more than double what it is per organic visit. Why the disparity? Doesn't everyone know that organic is better and we should be doing better with those visitors?

Table 1

Organic search referral revenue per click: 8.5 cents
Paid search referral revenue per click: 19 cents

(Varies wildly by page and keyword - but these are the averages.)

Not at all. Let's look at some numbers.

How many landing pages do Google and marketers collectively need to keep track of on the paid side? Back of the envelope, assume 600,000 AdWords accounts of any size or active significance.
Assume, generously, an average of 100 landing pages being used for each. No - let's assume very active ad testing that includes somebody varying destination URL's as part of the test. 150 landing pages per advertiser, on average. That's 90,000,000 landing pages in the whole Google paid search universe. That's probably a bit high, but let it go for now.

On top of that, Google knows that the majority of those pages are of a certain caliber and can check them more carefully. They aren't indexing them per se, but most of these things "make it into the index." There isn't a whole other job of kicking spam pages out of the index (though there is something analogous going on... it's just a lot harder to create AdWords accounts than to spam the organic index).

Google's whole organic index (not counting the pages they don't index) has, perhaps, above 20 billion. That's more than 200X larger than the paid search index, with less ability to "know" about the intent behind the pages. In terms of where to rank pages on which queries, hey, the organic algo is trying, but it's bound to be less accurate.

On the other hand, paid search advertisers are telling the sorting system which keywords they think they'll profit from. They're shaping messages to ensure that only high-intent buyers come to their chosen landing pages. If they send them to the "wrong" page, they don't make as much money, so they learn to send users to right pages. The organic search engine might be fond of sending people to "wrong" pages, from a business model standpoint for the site owner, anyway.

The subject probably needs deeper treatment than I'm able to give it here, and my math might be out a bit, but the principle is clear: it's a no-brainer that revenue from organic searches will be lower than that from paid searches, in part because high-ranking pages may be "wrong" pages from the site owner's business standpoint.

If that's such a no-brainer, how come all those SEO's keep telling you different?

Labels: ,

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Structured Search and Chicken-Egg

Barry Schwartz reports that Yahoo plans to roll out a "structured search" functionality in the near future.

The example Barry gives of existing forms of structured search currently available - a Google search for "apartments for rent in Manchester" that brings up dropdowns and drilldowns facilitated by Google Base - illustrates both the challenge and the promise of search as it moves into an era of greater richness and user control. The main challenge is in terms of adoption by information providers. (Back to the metadata issue. Who puts it together? Who bothers to participate? Is Google Base weird for allowing any old protocol to rule? Who decides which protocols get featured in raw Google queries?) Google Base hasn't been widely adopted as a repository of data, so until it is, experiments in presenting info to users will be halting.

I'm looking forward to discussions of these and similar issues on the Orion Panel on Universal, Blended, and Vertical Search, next Monday Dec. 3 at SES Chicago.

Another can't-miss panel on that day explores privacy and community in this emerging phase of social media.

Labels:

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, November 15, 2007

Superstitions: Does AdWords Hurt Organic Rankings?

Perhaps more so than ever since there was a leaked screen shot of a search result screen showing internal "GG Scores" that assess the value of an organic result, observers/punters have speculated (for reasons I can't fully fathom) about the negative impact on your organic rankings that might come from advertising on paid search.

So does a heavy paid search campaign increase, decrease, or have no impact on organic standing, everything else being equal?

It increases it, indirectly.

Clearly, you don't get an *equal* number of new customers or readers from "organic only" presence vs. "organic plus paid." The paid media spend, quite simply, increases activity. It increases the number of people who buy from you, talk about you, bookmark your site, and so on.

Google can measure a surprising number of these signals... for organic ranking purposes.

Your paid media search spend is not wasted. And it doesn't subject you to some ridiculous process by which Google downgrades your organic rankings.

All my 2c.

Labels: ,

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"Google Favored Nation Status" Usually Fleeting: Technorati Edition

Valleywag, with backing from comments by Marissa Mayer, makes the sensible comment that Technorati's days in the organic rankings sun are unlikely to last, if their high-ranking pages on popular tech terms are too similar to search results themselves.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, March 22, 2007

Google Didn't Pay for Their Traffic

Sometimes the random type exchanges about our industry can really spin your head.

I was in a meeting today and it came time to extol the virtues of TripAdvisor. They took off in part because of the high level of long-tail, organic traffic. "They didn't have to pay for a lot of their traffic," was my point.

Observed an observer: "No. And of course Google didn't pay for their traffic, either."

Literally taken, as the story of Google (great word of mouth, strong organic growth), that account is 100% true.

But hearing it now sounds weird.

Google didn't pay for their traffic? They are traffic, baby.

And if you're very lucky, they're the place you're getting your traffic that you don't pay for from. Preposition-fest adjourned.

Labels:

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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