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You get what you pay for with paid search marketing

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Question: Which is better-search engine optimization or paid search?

Answer: Advertisers often question the paid click phenomena of Yahoo! (Overture) and Google because so many clicks come to a Web site free, if the site is "optimized" and turns up in natural search engine rankings. However, organic clicks are not "free," and not all clicks are created equal. Sometimes organic clicks are better, and sometimes paid clicks are better. To find out which is most advantageous, you have to track, report and analyze.

Recent Pew Internet & American Life Project findings indicate that 62% of people surveyed are not aware of what organic search is. At a glance, you think you click on organic search results 100% of the time, but in reality, you click on them on average 80%. The other 20% of the time you click on paid listings. On a typical search page, organic results are located in the middle of the screen.

Organic clicks are counted and tracked though Web logs; paid clicks are tracked through a unique tag, one tag per keyword. Comparing the conversion rates of the two (organic and paid) and adding up the costs for each allows an advertiser to calculate the cost per acquisition (CPA).

Typically, about 40% to 60% of all the clicks received on a Web site are from organic listings, so it tends to be a bargain, but it depends on the total cost of building your Web site. Turning clicks into paying customers is a function of how effectively the Web site is structured for online sales.

So what is the value of organic versus paid listing? It all depends on the outcome of the search. Through careful tracking, reporting and analysis, marketers will often determine that not all clicks are created equal. Paid listings tend to covert well; at some point, you get what you pay for.

Chris Churchill is CEO of Fathom Online, a search engine marketing provider (www.fathomonline.com).

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