At times, it has seemed like a rivalry that’s up there with the greatest of them all. City vs United, Oasis vs Blur, Batman vs Superman, SEO vs PPC.
It seems bizarre that in an age where consumers use more devices, more channels and more ways to find what they want, many brands, agencies and marketers persist with having this dividing wall between organic search marketing (SEO) and paid search marketing (PPC).
It’s a “rivalry” that is even more perplexing given that, in an age where there is growing demand for greater transparency from digital marketing, two disciplines that should be working towards the same goals very rarely share data, report different results and very often knock on the CFO’s door as separate entities.
It’s an approach that doesn’t reflect the brands that we are there to market, it’s an approach that doesn’t reflect how our audiences behave and its an approach that doesn’t reflect the C-suite’s demand for greater levels of transparency, efficiency and effectiveness.
We know that this approach leads to inefficiencies. We know it leads to wasted budgets and misguided priorities. We know it leads to poorly optimised campaigns. We know it leads to brands paying for or attracting the wrong traffic and audiences. But the board doesn’t know, because that rarely makes it into the final report (or should that be reports?).
The view from the boardroom
It’s the lack of transparency that has the annoying tendency to breed the cynicism, suspicion and lack of understanding from the boardroom that many digital marketers complain about consistently within our own bubble. “How to win over the C-suite” and “how to get the CEO to ‘get it’” are session topics that still appear frequently at various marketing conferences.
But we have to look at this from the perspective of those around the boardroom table; rarely digital natives, always with one eye on the next shareholders meeting and blissfully unaware of the latest Google algorithm updates.
To them, SEO can still come across as something of a dark art; a technical game of cat and mouse where success is based on undisclosed variables and where returns are far from guaranteed. Paid search on the other hand, whilst satisfying their desire to see numbers going in and bigger numbers going out, is a channel that is being squeezed from both ends –increasing competition leading to increased ad costs at one end, whilst slow consumer spending resulting in heavier discounting and reduced margins at the other.
There is a better way.
A unified approach to search marketing
We’re helping a number of brands to break down the walls between SEO and PPC with our “One Search” strategy and one of the foundations of that model is the combination of SEO and PPC reporting into a single, unified report that accurately and tangibly demonstrates the performance and the return of search marketing as a whole.
When we report on organic search and paid search separately, it hides the full picture. It doesn’t for example, demonstrate whether or not ad budgets are being used as effectively as possible – it simply shows whether or not metrics such as total ad spend, CPC, CPA and revenue have gone up or down from the previous month or year.
Separate reporting doesn’t accurately demonstrate to the extent to which a brand is having to invest in paid search to make up for poor organic performance - and what the cost of that poor performance is.
Perhaps most importantly, separate reporting regimes cannot accurately show the extent to which there may be cannibalisation between the two channels. It doesn’t show those occasions where our separate approaches results in paid search effectively paying for traffic that we would have achieved through strong organic search positions. If a brand is ranking prominently for keywords where there is no competition and, at the same time, generating paid traffic on that keyword, separate SEO and PPC reports would both count that as a success. In that scenario, in most cases, the opposite is true.
What combined reporting does do is allow marketers to answer those difficult questions from the C-suite, making it easier to tackle questions like “is it SEO or PPC that isn’t performing?” or “where is the best place to invest budget?”.
Without this ‘whole strategy’ view, it becomes very difficult to see how overall search activity is performing and, as a result, prove our success and optimise our strategy further.
Break down the walls
Marketers do not need these walls and barriers. They do nothing for us individually, and they do nothing for the organisations we’re there to deliver for.
The audiences we’re trying to attract and engage are unlikely to care or even notice whether they are interacting with a paid search ad, a shopping result or an organic listing, so we shouldn’t either. We need to become channel agnostic marketers and work together as a single team to delivery truly innovative and impactful search campaigns.