Don’t be one of those marketers who optimizes for Google alone. Or one who uses paid search and forgets organic SEO. Yes, Google is important; and paid search is popular. However, if you want to plan your SEM campaign for optimum success, you must go deep and wide to generate the greatest number of leads and conversions.

Google Rules, Or Not

The Big G is king, and it continues to beat the competition in almost every area of search. Not only that, all users love Google. An eMarketer 2005 opinion poll of U.S. adult users reported an 89 percent “strongly positive experience” for Google users. In the 2005 MarketingSherpa and Enquiro study on the role of search in B2B purchase decisions, Google was favored over other search engines by 83 percent of users. Even children will tell you that Google is the best.

But despite Google’s great popularity, it just doesn’t make sense to focus your SEO campaign solely on one search engine. That’s because other major search engines have a following too, with different demographic groups favoring one engine over another.

The June 2005 comScore data show that users at Yahoo!, MSN, AOL and Ask Jeeves are skewed slightly toward women, whereas Google is used by a higher percentage of men. BTW, women purchase or influence the sale of over 50 percent of consumer electronics goods and 75 percent of the over-the-counter meds, in addition to 80 percent of overall consumer goods, which includes vehicle sales.

More telling is the data on searcher buying power and intent. The June comScore study found that Google users were 42 percent more likely to buy online than your average Internet user. Yahoo! users were 31 percent more likely to buy; MSN users, 48 percent; and Ask Jeeves users, 17 percent.

It Pays to Spread the Love

Statistics show that Google is not the only major source of qualified website traffic.

  • Hitwise reports for the week ending July 23, that Google, Yahoo! and MSN account for approximately 73 percent of all search activity with the following breakdown: Google, 40 percent, Yahoo!, 18 percent and MSN, 15 percent.
  • Nielsen/NetRatings reports for July, that Google ranked first with 47 percent of searches, Yahoo was second with 21 percent, and MSN was third with 14 percent (numbers rounded to nearest tenth).

Note that if you optimize only for Google, you are missing access to 60 percent of your potential audience if the Hitwise data is accurate. If Nielsen/NetRatings is more precise, you miss 53 percent. When you don’t balance your SEM campaign, you’re creating a situation where you leave money on the table.

Another problem with narrow targeting is the fact that users admit to using several search engines in their quest for information. Nielsen/NetRatings reported this when it found that 58 percent of those using Google also went to either Yahoo! or MSN. Multiple search engine use was also noted in the B2B MarketingSherpa and Enquiro study.

You don’t want to risk not being found across multiple search engines for your strategic keyword phrases because this undermines your brand’s credibility. And it certainly limits exposure and awareness, as well as conversions. Fact is, your competitors will likely take a good organic position if you fall asleep at the wheel.

Organic Listings Attract Users

Multiple research studies observing search engine user behavior conclude that users prefer organic listings to sponsored (PPC) listings by 70 to 80 percent.

Do users know the difference between organic and sponsored listings? Yes and no; it probably depends on their level of search sophistication. Research by Enquiro reported “significant confusion” over sponsored links, but that users favored organic links overwhelmingly: 77 percent chose organic over paid listings when searching. When making a purchase, 67 percent chose organic over paid listings.

To further buttress the case for organic links, Jupiter research found that six out of seven sales resulting from search engines originated in the organic search listings. And a Marketing Sherpa study found that conversions from organic links average about 25 percent higher than those from sponsored link conversions. It should be noted that the landing page call-to-action is definitely a factor when it comes to conversions, whether using paid placement or organic SEO.

Sponsored Listings Attract Advertisers

While organic listings show their power in research studies, most marketers planning SEM campaigns prefer to bid for the top sponsored listings with Google AdWords or Yahoo! Search Marketing. This is the quick way to achieve immediate visibility in the major search engine results pages (SERPs). Marketers want that visibility to jump start conversions.

SEMPO’s research, The State of Search Engine Marketing 2004, shows that paid placement received 82 percent of SEM spending, while organic SEO received 12 percent. This coincides with reports that Google receives 97 percent of its revenues from paid search. Yahoo! also gets a major portion of its revenues from advertising, as paid placement continues to be a major revenue stream for search engines.

So what does all this mean? Your PPC campaign will get immediate results, but it requires time and expertise for proper management. Cost-per-click rates are escalating, and there’s the risk of click fraud. On the other hand, your organic SEO campaign takes time to generate results, but those results are long lasting when properly maintained. It’s counter-productive to pit one against the other; leaving the obvious conclusion that one needs to leverage both for success. Serious marketers need organic SEO and PPC ads to cover all the bases for meeting their website objectives.

A Balanced SEM Campaign Spells Success

On the SEO side, you need to focus on gaining high rankings in the Google, Yahoo! and MSN SERPs. It wouldn’t hurt to include Ask Jeeves as well. We’ve already pointed out that if you optimize for Google alone, you’re missing access to at least 50 percent of your potential audience.

When it comes to paid search campaigns, the obvious choice is Google and Yahoo!. But there are other PPC programs that can be viable, depending on your industry, site objectives and the nature of the products and/or services you offer.

The top search engines feed paid listings to a number of other search engines, giving you exposure on multiple search sites. For instance, Google feeds paid results to AOL, AskJeeves, HotBot, iWon, Lycos, Netscape and Teoma. Yahoo! feeds paid results to AlltheWeb, Bruce Clay, Inc., Search Engine Relationship Chart).

As a savvy marketer, it’s wise to focus on both organic and paid listings for repeated exposure and credibility. With both natural and sponsored listings, brand reinforcement builds trust with users who skip around to multiple engines while searching for your strategic keyword phrases. Organically optimizing beyond the top three engines can further extend your exposure, elevate your brand and gain more effectual conversions. Balance is the key to your successful SEM campaign.

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October 18, 2005

Paul J. Bruemmer has provided search engine marketing expertise and consulting services to prominent American businesses since 1995. As Director of Search Marketing at Red Door Interactive, he is responsible for strategizing and implementing search engine marketing activities within Red Door's Internet Presence Management (IPM) services.

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