Why you should invest in a search strategy

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Whilst you may not have come across the term ‘search strategy’ before, it’s likely that you’ve probably had some form of exposure to one.

What is a search strategy?

It essentially refers to the process of using both organic and paid search together to market your website. 

These days, most businesses will have some form of SEO strategy and campaigns set up in Google Ads. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re running a search strategy.

The key word (excuse the pun) here is ‘strategy’. Running SEO and PPC campaigns is relatively standard these days, but making those two campaigns work together – that’s where the magic happens. 

Why you should invest in a search strategy

I’m going to be completely honest – you could probably get some ok results by just running SEO and PPC separately, or even just running one and not the other. The reality is that both channels have the ability to deliver some form of revenue for your business. 

I’ve worked on multiple purely organic search strategies for clients over the years, and I’d be lying if I said we hadn’t achieved some great results just from the one channel. 

In fact, we started working with a business around 3 years ago and focused purely on SEO. We spent a long time optimising the site and landing some relevant, high quality links to the right areas of the site. The result? We increased YoY revenue for the core area of the business by 262%. That translated into a 71% increase in overall YoY organic search revenue. 

It’s safe to say that we were all pretty pleased with those results, but we’d just scratched the surface, and knew that we could do more. 

After a few discussions and strategy meetings, we started work on integrating paid search (and all it encompasses) into our approach. The brand we’d been working with was already running paid search campaigns (which performed well), but ultimately they had a lot of plates to spin and it made sense for us to support them with paid search. 

So away we went – our paid and organic search teams spent a number of hours sharing research and data, building a strategy and seeing it through to implementation. During this time we worked very closely with our client to ensure that not only were we aligned across all areas of search, but that everything we were doing was geared towards achieving their commercial goals. 

Fast forward 12 months and we’d seen substantial growth for a second year in a row. This time it wasn’t just organic search growth – overall business revenue grew by 102%. Another year on, and we’d increased it by 40%. To put that into context, we’d increased overall business revenue from search by 200% if we compare revenue over the two years. 

Since rolling out this approach for the aforementioned brand two years ago, we’ve rolled it out on other brands, seeing similar results regardless of the vertical or type of website. There’s obviously more to this than just running paid and organic search together – if you want to learn more about the process that we take then I’ll be speaking about that at this year’s Digital City Festival. 

At this point, you’re probably thinking that I’m trying to sell you the dream. I’m not – I’m just speaking from my own personal experience of running search strategies for clients.

So instead of asking you to take my word for it, here are some other reasons that you should probably consider running a search strategy that combines your organic and paid search efforts:

You can gain incremental clicks

Whilst ranking highly organically for certain queries can drive clicks to your site, targeting those queries with paid search as well can also add incremental clicks. In this study from the research team at Google, “Search Ads Pause Studies” were undertaken to determine whether pausing search ads for certain queries would result in organic search picking up the traffic. The study found the following: “89% of the traffic generated by search ads is not replaced by organic clicks when ads are paused”. 

So, if you’re only running an organic search for queries, you might be leaving a lot of clicks on the table. 

The above information does come with a fairly significant caveat though. Let’s examine the below extract from the study in question: 

A low value for IAC may occur when the paid and organic results are both similar and in close proximity to each other on the search results page. This increases the likelihood of a user clicking on an organic result as opposed to a paid result. Close proximity occurs when the ranking of the organic result is high, placing it near the paid results. Organic results triggered by branded search terms tend to have a higher ranking on average and this may lead to a low IAC value. However, a low IAC value is not necessarily a deterrent to investing in search advertising.

Basically, you’re less likely to lose those incremental clicks when restricting branded campaigns. I’ll encourage you to bear that in mind as we move on to the next point. 

You can create efficiencies in the budget

If you’re ranking top highly for a query organically, you can remove paid search ads and save some money, right? 

Unfortunately, it’s not that black and white.

We know from the above that if you remove paid advertising for non-brand queries, then you could miss out on incremental clicks, so the idea of saving money by having a mass cull of your account might be a bad idea. 

However, we also know from the above that this is less likely to happen with brand queries. Therefore we might be able to taper off-budget for branded queries as you should be ranking in 1st position for most (if not all) of these. 

Notice how I referred to this as creating ‘efficiencies’ too. I’m not saying you should reduce brand spend and pocket the savings. Chances are, you’ve already budgeted for this to be spent, so spend it. Reinvest it in a non-brand campaign that you know you’ll get a return on. 

As with the first point, there is a caveat to this. You should always use common sense when reducing branded spend. If you’re the only one bidding on your brand name then you’re probably just buying traffic that you could have acquired for free. 

On the other hand, if there are competitors bidding on your brand name then you can’t just switch everything off. To find out if people are bidding on your brand, you can use manual searches and check impression share percentages for your brand campaigns in Google Ads. If you’re getting lower than 90% impression share for brand campaigns and/or you can see people bidding on searches for your brand name, you might want to be cautious when restricting spend. 

You can apply the same methodology to non-brand queries, but with the results of the aforementioned study in mind, I’d be very cautious with this and take this a few terms at a time.

You can capitalise on more traffic & real estate

I talked about the concept of paid providing incremental clicks above, so I wanted to dive into that a little more with some real-time examples, courtesy of our friends over at Ahrefs. In the platform, we’re able to see just how much traffic for a specific term goes to paid and organic listings. Take the below traffic information for the term ‘electric bikes’ for example: 

Out of 41,000 clicks per month, 19% are paid only clicks, and organic accounts for 35%. It stands to reason then, that if you’re not visible through both paid and organic search for this query, you could be missing out on a large chunk of traffic. 

Let’s take this a step further and look at a typical SERP for ‘electric bikes’:

There’s a lot of real estates there, and it’s not taken by just one type of listing. We have:

  • Paid search ads at the very top

  • Shopping listings in the right-hand panel

  • Local listings

  • Organic listings

In this example, there are multiple ways to get your site in front of your target audience. You could set up search and shopping ads to compete for the very top and right-hand side of the page. If you have stores then you could set up a Google My Business listing to rank in the local pack, and finally, if you rank highly organically then that’s even more real estate. In addition to this, there are PAA boxes and news articles present on the SERP. 

This presents a huge opportunity and one that can easily be missed if your paid and organic teams aren’t working together. It’s likely that there are a number of SERPs in your industry that contain multiple types of listing. It might even be the case that your paid and organic teams aren’t collaborating on the terms they target, which could lead to missed opportunities.

You can test hypotheses & share data

If you’re familiar with SEO, you’ll know that it can take months to rank highly for your target keywords, ultimately meaning that it might take a few months for you to gauge whether that keyword is going to drive traffic and revenue for your business. 

If your paid and organic search teams are working together, then you can get a good idea of whether a term will drive traffic and sales by setting up a paid search campaign to test it. Run the test for a few weeks, and if it drives converting traffic then it might be a worthwhile one to optimise for. 

The key thing to take away from this is that it can save you months of potentially wasted work, which can be better spent on activity that will generate a return. 

In addition to this, your teams can use Google Search Console and Google Ads to analyse messaging, keywords, and targeting elements that tend to drive the most traffic and revenue. This allows you to do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t. You might also run DSA campaigns – these can sometimes uncover long-tail queries that might not be profitable from a paid ads perspective, but that could feed content ideas.

You can leverage the strengths of each channel & optimise for the consumer journey

This is one of my favourite parts of a search strategy, and it links quite nicely into the point above. Before I continue with this point, there is one thing I want you to keep in mind – your search strategy should feed into your wider marketing goals. Sounds like I’m stating the obvious, but it’s so easy to forget that you’re all working towards the same goal and get caught up in the nitty-gritty. 

The reality is, you’re running paid and organic search to target a specific type of user and sell a specific product or service, so you should leverage the strengths of each channel to get the best out of them for that journey. 

For example, Paid Search and Shopping are great for targeting high intent traffic from users that are ready to convert (e.g. users searching for ‘buy electric bikes’). You pay for every click on your ads, so you don’t want to waste time with traffic that won’t convert (e.g. ‘what are electric bikes?’). 

However, that doesn’t mean that the traffic that doesn’t convert isn’t still important in the context of your overall strategy. Informational queries (like the one referenced above) can be targeted using content pieces. These serve to improve your overall search presence, increase brand familiarity with your target audience, and create topical relevance from an organic search perspective. 

A search strategy can basically encourage not just alignment on keyword selection, but channel selection at a keyword level. For example: 

The wrap-up

I’ve talked through a lot in this post, but the bottom line is this: 

Working separately, paid and organic search can generate good results. Working together, they can generate exceptional results.

Search strategies are universal. You don’t have to be a specific business type or be in a specific sector. After all – everyone should be entitled to incredible search performance and excellent returns on investment.