Can Organic Search Be Highly Targeted and Highly Qualified?



Targeted Traffic

Last week’s post about why SEO is harder for small businesses got a lot of interesting comments. One commenter, Alan, posted the following (the below is edited slightly for spelling/typos):

Quite a depressing list for a small business owner, really. 

The conclusion is also slightly flawed. "Is SEO Still Worth the Trouble?" The answer is not as simple as 'yes', it is about  return on investment.

For some small businesses, it definitely isn't worth the effort, and they are better off spending their cash on PPC and other marketing activities.

A real example, is one of my small businesses achieved number 1 position for a quality competitive keyword, and despite this not a single extra bit of business was won through this (although enquiries increased).

Organic search is never going to be highly targeted or highly qualified, so it should form at least a thought in a small businesses marketing strategy, but whether a small business should give it anything more than a passing glance depends so much on what that business does / how it sells / what the competition is ........

I think Alan’s comment makes a lot of sense – any business decision, marketing-related or otherwise, should ultimately come down to ROI. I also think that 9 times out of 10, basic, bare-minimum SEO is going to be worth the investment for a business. But fair enough – there may be businesses out there that don’t need SEO to succeed. There are certainly businesses that should devote more of their marketing budget to other activities (PPC, email marketing, etc.).

But let’s focus on the portion of Alan’s comment that I highlighted above: “Organic search is never going to be highly targeted or highly qualified.” Is this true?

I’d argue that this claim is false, and here’s why: We’re believers in using PPC data to improve SEO. If you can find targeted keywords that convert at a high rate through PPC, there’s no reason you can’t make those same keywords work for you in organic search. The keywords that drive business for you won’t always be the same in organic search and paid search, but there is overlap, and making sure you have organic pages optimized for those valuable keywords, in addition to PPC ads and landing pages, can only help your business.

Let’s look at some examples of targeted, qualified organic keywords.

Three Types of Targeted, Qualified Organic Keywords

Here are a few types of keywords that work for us in both organic and paid search. We consider them targeted and qualified because they show clear intent and drive both traffic and conversions.

Branded Keywords

Often people are going to have multiple interactions with your business before they convert. They might first hear of you through a blog post they find via organic search or a referred link – maybe at that time they don’t convert. Maybe for a few weeks they get more exposure to your brand through your remarketing campaign. Perhaps they sign up for your newsletter and then attend a webinar or download a white paper. Then weeks later they decide they want to buy your product or enlist your services, so they Google the name of your company or a product that you sell (for example “buy wordstream” or “wordstream ppc software”), then click on an organic result and convert. Branded searches aren’t always transactional in nature – sometimes they’re just informational. But in general branded terms convert at a high rate. Because they reveal a searcher who already knows your name (Cheers-style), they qualify as qualified.

“Help” Keywords

Some keywords reveal that the searcher is looking for a solution to a problem. For example:

  • “improve quality score”
  • “how to start a blog”
  • “closet organizer”
  • “denver math tutor”

All of these keywords indicate a need for help, and as such they are targeted and qualified. Your job is to provide the solution to their problem through your content, whether it’s a soft sell (like a guide that explains the basics of starting a blog) or a hard sell (like consulting services or software that directly addresses the problem at hand).

Long-Tail Keywords

Some of the “help” keywords above are good examples of long-tail keywords. Other kinds of long-tail keywords can drive targeted, qualified traffic as well. In general, with every additional word a searcher includes in their query, we can infer more intent. For example, take this string of queries:

bags -> shopping bags -> portable shopping bags -> portable eco-friendly shopping bags

The head term “bags” is extremely vague and also extremely competitive. As you move down the line toward the long tail, the keyword becomes more specific, more revealing, and also less competitive – that means it’s easier to rank for in organic search, and the cost per click (CPC) will be lower in paid search.

Terms with high commercial intent are pre-qualified and easier to target with very specific offers. Well-designed e-commerce landing pages will drive conversions whether searchers find them through organic or paid search.

How to Better Qualify Your Organic Traffic

Qualifying traffic from organic search isn’t as important as qualifying your clicks in PPC because you don’t have to pay for them directly. But it’s still a good idea to do what you can to tell the searcher what they can expect from your site once they click through from the SERP. Here are a few ways to accomplish that:

  • Write clear, descriptive headlines – Yes, your title tags should be optimized for your target keyword. But beyond that, they should clearly indicate what the page in question is and does. Readers love titles that clearly tell them exactly what they’re going to get – like “10 Ways to Increase Your Email Open Rate” or “Pandora vs. Spotify: Which Streaming Music Service Is Better?” Strong, transparent titles can increase your CTR from the SERP and reduce your bounce rate. Don’t use bait-and-switch techniques to get clicks if you can’t actually deliver on the promise of your headline.
  • Write a strong meta description – There’s no guarantee that your meta description will show up on the SERP; often Google chooses an excerpt of its own from the page to display. But in case your meta description is displayed, it should clearly describe the value of the page (it can be longer than your headline) and include the keyword you’re targeting (the search term will appear on the SERP in bold).

There’s no reason that organic traffic for targeted keywords would be less valuable to your site than traffic that you pay for by bidding on the same keywords. As always, a balance of both organic and paid traffic sources is going to work best for most businesses – don’t assume that your budget or business model means you should only focus on one or the other.

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Larry Kim
Oct 23, 2012

these are indeed great ways to better target organic search, but when it comes to targeting, PPC has 101+ ways to target people that SEO doesnt. Take for example, day parting - i can target people during specific times. Or geographic targeting - targeting people in cambridge, but not brookline. Or device targeting, targeting or excluding people on mobile devices.  Or audience targeting - targeting only people who visited certain pages on my site, or targeting people who have a specific interest or demographic, or keyword targeting options like match types and negative keywords. There are many many other ways that you can segment your PPC audience that are just not possible in SEO. so while i agree with the notion that there are ways to better target your SEO traffic, it won't ever be as targeted as PPC because you don't have as much control on who to target or exclude.

May 12, 2016

Everything is very open with a precise description of the challenges.
It was really informative. Your site is extremely helpful.

Many thanks for sharing!

Nick Stamoulis
Nov 01, 2012

I'm glad that you pointed out that the meta description is important.  Once it was determined not to be a ranking factor, people began putting less thought into it and sometimes just copied and pasted the first paragraph on the page.  The description serves as a "sales pitch" for the page.  Include keywords so that they stick out and qualify that your site fits the search. 

Nov 12, 2012

I'd usually just go for long tail keywords as they have the monthly search value that we're looking for. But good job in explaining the other keyword types. This'll help. Good post!

Alexis Marlons
Nov 14, 2012

For newbies, the use of the help keywords is more helpful, it gives the general idea to a problem in the research that we cannot easily identify how to label. Thanks for the lesson.

Apr 02, 2013

As the webmaster, i have being reading up and researching organic keywords. We have tons of keywords on web pages, categories and sub categories , product meta descriptions and titles. The fact of the matter is only 235 are considered organic keywords by the ranking of our company. Is really annoying  to see that I put my heart and soul developing my keywords and they are not even consided as "organic keyword".  From my research, there is no one clear definition of what organic keywords are. To me this is a major problem.  

Elisa Gabbert
Apr 02, 2013

All "organic keyword" means is that it's driving traffic through organic (non-paid) search. The same keyword could easily be both organic and paid. Organic keywords aren't inherently better than paid keywords, they're just sending traffic through a different medium.

Gehe hier
Apr 15, 2013

Very important to know about this subject, at least the basic concepts. Thanks for sharing these ideas with us. 

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