PPC Giveth, SEO Taketh Away
As 2015 kicks off, it is important to take stock of the bounty available to online marketers. Every year brings more tools to engage prospects, data to inform best practices, and hacks to improve ROI.
Unless, of course, that insidiously negative and cold-hearted Oscar the Tool Trashing Grouch darkens your door-step. For those of us following trends in online marketing and product innovation, one can’t help but notice PPC has been celebrating surplus harvest for the past few months, while SEO can’t seem to shake the Grouch of algorithm fluctuations.
It is important to point out this bounty/trashy trend only pertains to transactional SERPs and commercial keywords (informational searches still represent a strong use-case for focusing on SEO), and I thought nothing would kick-off the new year better than a review of the presents we in PPC have received, while SEO enviously looks on.
Focus on Remarketing
While remarketing isn’t “new,” the tools available for marketers have become substantially more robust and easy to implement. The GDN (Google Display Network) traditionally has lower conversion rates, but at the same time allows advertisers to entertain and convey brand-centric messaging that can be hard to achieve in text ads.
Remarketing bridges the conversion-centric text ad with the brand-happy GDN by allowing text ads to find users who have already shown interest in the brand/product because of a click on a display ad or visit to a brand’s domain. The best part about remarketing is you can target IP’s in the campaign at proven points when conversion is most likely to happen. While there is still lots of uncharted territory in the remarketing space, a major victory for marketers comes in being able to craft campaigns that can retain users after they’ve become customers. By editing the product offering, discount, or even creating a lull in how often a user is exposed to a brand, marketers are able to create dynamic engagement with tangible data to support performance
Both Bing and Google offer meaningful remarketing solutions, but there’s no question Google has more historical data to help make informed decisions on how to structure campaigns. Additionally, Google now allows text ads to be part of a remarketing campaign, while Bing’s remarketing is strictly on its display network.
Actionable take away: Don’t take no for an answer in online marketing, especially since ad networks offer polite and brand-relevant ways to engage users through remarketing.
E-commerce marketers, rejoice! Google Shopping is an improved version of PLA’s (product listing ads) and offers advertisers the chance to engage users with images as well as promotions. One of the big benefits of Google shopping is Google loves sharing promotions since they’ve been proven to have a higher CTR. Any product offering at least 15% off it’s normal listing price will rank higher in the SERP, as well as have a bold call-out of the promotion. This also applies to site-wide promotions.
Another big advance in Google Shopping is a meaningful way to automatically promote thousands of products, as opposed to fleshing out campaigns for text ads. The one “time-sink” Google Shopping represents is if a brand’s product feed is not set up as an XML file. It is worth investing the time in setting up a proper feed, because Google Shopping is not only here to stay, it’s here to innovate how you sell.
Actionable take away: Google shopping is a product of note for e-commerce, and should be on everyone’s nice list for 2015.
Symbiotic Campaigns (Video, Search, Display)
The biggest gift we online marketers have received is the interconnectivity of our campaigns and the plethora of metrics associated with their performance. Where once advertising consisted of only text and display, there’s now mobile-optimized campaigns, video ads, the conversion-focus of search among third-party partners, all under the reporting roof of a single dashboard.
It is becoming easier to tier bidding strategies and make meaningful predictions about campaign success, as well as gain meaningful brand awareness and engagement. Video ads have shown cheaper conversions, although the CPV is steadily on the rise. Display ads have never converted like their search counterparts, but remarketing is making them not only cost-effective, but down-right crucial to a brand-oriented campaign. Search is king, and it supports all other ad types, while standing strong in its own right. Yet none of these observations could be quantifiable, without a general unification of the online marketing space. For folks in PPC, this is a blessing, as there are less tools to keep track of, but at the same time, can be overwhelming, as the options for meaningful campaigns are limitless.
Actionable takeaway: Make use of your full online marketing arsenal, as they all support the success of each other, and drive down overall CPA.
Increase costs to get any results on transactional pages
Back in the early 2000’s (even into the dot-com bubble of the '90s) SEO was a cost-effective way to generate traffic and revenue. Meta-tags, invisible text, and link-building schemes reigned supreme, and results were cheap to achieve. Then Google changed the game, deciding the user needed to come first on its search results and on the pages it directed them to. This led to a long string of algorithm changes including Panda and Penguin, a virtual purge of any who employed black-hat SEO, as well as thousands of sites who had no idea they had done anything wrong. While the sites who survived the SEO witch hunt were well-positioned to retain top rankings, it increased the barrier to entry for new players.
Getting in the top three on a transaction-oriented search (or any long-tail query) used to be a simple matter of optimizing content and generating unique consumer-oriented content. Now it is commonplace for those who rank organically to have an ad for their brand next to them. While it isn’t impossible to rank for transactional searches, the amount of content generation, link partnerships, high competition, and sheer luck involved make PPC a cheaper online marketing medium.
Actionable takeaway: If organic search is part of your marketing strategy, be sure you have the content, links, and brand to back it up.
The waiting game for success or failure
While any online marketing campaign takes time to ramp up (typically three to six months), SEO is a special kind of waiting game. Google almost always favors sites that have been around longer and had time to build up a big link profile and plenty of domain authority. Since new domains begin with a rank of zero, the process of getting indexed and promoted for your meaningful user-oriented content can drive online marketers crazy.
Just because a site is on Google’s radar, doesn’t mean it will generate automatic fame. A site can go months before it moves the needle on rank/traffic. Add to that initiatives aren’t guaranteed to succeed, and the SEO waiting game becomes more than most small businesses can afford.
Actionable takeaway: Set realistic timelines and benchmarks for success on campaigns, and make sure you invest enough time in campaigns to prove their viability.
Content machines eat up time and money instead of generating leads
The bread and butter of SEO is generating dynamic and unique content with the user in mind. In practice, this means generating at many blog posts per month, updating web copy, and sprinkling keywords throughout product descriptions. When done well, content marketing can result in a plethora of inbound leads, improvements in organic ranking, and increased consumer engagement.
While blogging and social media are great tools to engage users, they often require full-time attention most small business owners and entrepreneurs don’t have. This problem is compounded by the fact that there is a lot of guilt associated with not maintaining content marketing, while experiencing equal guilt when not focusing on generating leads. Balancing the two can be tough, and to have success in SEO, it is crucial to have a strong content strategy/execution. Here at WordStream, we put a lot of effort into content marketing and SEO, but we also have the luxury of a sizable marketing team.
Actionable takeaway: Content generation is a meaningful tool, but must have a dedicated owner of its success to meaningfully impact SEO and overall online marketing.