Search is Search: Paid and Organic Search Synergies

Ever since I started at Razorfish, I’ve had this bug about the integration of paid and organic search. It’s rare if a week goes by without a client asking how paid and organic can work better together.

When I started working in the search space, it boggled my mind that companies and agencies had such a hard time understanding and leveraging the synergies of paid and organic. The whole point of my witty, simple “search is search” cliché is that you don’t have paid goals and organic goals — you have search goals. There are opportunities for synergies and savings once you understand how the two can work together.

So how can agencies help their clients with account planning synergies? Account planning is really the key, and the client needs to own it. Blunt honesty warning here: sometimes paid and organic agencies don’t work well together. The client needs to own it, because they’re paying the bills.

If these agencies aren’t working together, you need to step in and make sure they start, and continue working together well. Much of this is remedied if one agency manages both paid and organic, but the client needs to stay on top of any issues.

With a working model in place, it’s time to focus on the real areas of synergies: planning, strategy, and reporting.

Pre-Launch Planning

The planning process is the ideal time to share keyword research and forecasting. Though it seems like a no-brainer, many agencies don’t share their lists with each other.

Starting with keyword lists and segmentation, your paid and organic specialists should work together to develop personas and review the keyword buckets. Initially it makes sense to have the paid team lead this because they can cast a wider net. They also typically have access to more data about keyword performance.

Once this has been developed, the organic team can then take the high-value words and determine if the site has appropriate content to capture that traffic. What also comes out of this is the identification of content gaps. This allows you to set expectations to your clients that they need to develop content in order to capture some of those words.

Another synergy in the planning phase is around messaging. Evaluate the pages that you’re driving traffic to and write search/description tag copy together.

Let’s say that you find that existing customers are continually clicking on your paid search ads simply to access their accounts. This is wasting money because you’re using this copy as a way to drive customer acquisition. Working in tandem would allow you to share this data and lead to the paid search team writing copy targeted to new customers while your meta description would be focused on “existing clients.”

Strategy Optimization

Leaving out factors such as budget and analytics for now, many optimization practices can be applied. For terms that you rank well for with both paid and organic, you can get an understanding as to how that traffic behaves and change strategies. You may have a site that directs paid traffic to specially created landing pages, while organic goes to more informational site pages.

Shared account optimization will let you evaluate what happens to this traffic and make changes based on that. What happens if you find that while organic traffic views more pages, they convert at a higher rate? What would you do? Would you consider getting rid of those paid landing pages, or at least change some of the messaging to be more informational vs. trying to push a sale?

In this scenario, it’s not about saving money; it’s about sharing learning that will lead to better conversions.

In terms of landing pages, we know that part of Google’s Quality Score is based on how well your landing page speaks to the target term. Having your SEO team take a quick look at these pages can help you better understand if anything needs to be changed. These pages can also uncover cross-linking opportunities.

Another area of strategy optimization is to ensure that everyone understands the goals and can advise on proposed changes. For example, if you’re making changes to your home page or a local store page, the SEO and feeds team can weigh in on these decisions to make sure that it doesn’t impact other search channels.


The last area of synergies is around reporting. Integrating your reporting allows you to evaluate the performance of your overall search program by grouping paid and organic performance. This data will help both sides to uncover new opportunities to focus on.

There is also the opportunity to alter bid positions based on performance as well. This is the heart of the “how can I save money?” question. While I don’t advocate constantly turning keywords on and off, there are clearly opportunities to make some alterations based on organic performance.

Some people are able to manage search as one tactic well. However, many strides still need to be made. The key for now is to start with the account planning process so that you can reap the benefits and really advance your search strategies.

Joshua Palau is off this week. March 30, 2009.

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