Imagine my disappointment when I learned organic search was simply the next new buzzword for the concept of pure, or crawler-based search. As some of our readers may find it challenging to keep up with all of the latest lingo, I thought I’d take a moment to at least explain the concept of organic search.
Organic describes a search that returns results by indexing pages based on content and keyword relevancy. This is in contrast to listings ranked based on who paid the most money to appear at the top such as those on Overture.com. Sometimes this is called “pure” or “natural search” as it is supposed to be “untainted” by commercial payments or bids.
Historically, Google has led the way in championing the virtues of natural or organic search. Its primary focus has always been to return fast, highly relevant results based on the content of the page, the relevancy of links pointing to that page, and other “objective” criteria. Sponsored listings have always been clearly separated from the organic search results on Google. However, many other engines have experimented with mixing the two types of search without clearly labeling which is which. This has been followed by public outcries, and at least one cautionary set of statements issued by the FTC in 2002.
Pros and Cons of Organic Search vs Paid Search
Unlike organic foods at your local grocery store, you aren’t required to pay extra to reap the healthy benefits of “organic” search. So what are the benefits of organic over paid search?
Organic Search Pros:
- Greater Click-throughs: People trust “organically grown” search results more than they do sponsored results. While the engines business is supported by paid ads, many consumers prefer the organic search results. Due to the contextual nature of organic search, the listings can be more relevant and offer a greater depth of choices. Therefore, while paid ads can play an important part in your marketing strategy, ultimately it is the organic search results that will more likely yield the greater click-through rates when all other things are equal. Therefore, it’s this type of listing that will maximize the traffic to your site whenever you climb to the top.
- Power of Branding: More and more large corporations are investing resources into organic search to gain the marketing benefits of promoting their brand. For example, most consumers would expect to find Dell.com in a search for computers. If your company does not show up for the keyword results in which you’d expect to appear it can be embarrassing. Consumers may wonder if Company X is as important as they once were if they don’t even show up in MSN, Yahoo or Google. Conversely, inserting your brand in the top search results can give the impression that your company is important. Therefore, smaller companies can give the impression of big business importance by securing aa better position in organic search than their larger rivals.
- Greater Trust Equals Greater Conversions: Most adults learn to apply a healthy dose of skepticism when they see a commercial on TV, a banner ad on the Web, or a sponsored ad on a search engine. After all, we know those ads are commercially motivated and may not always be the most relevant product or solution for our needs. It may simply represent the company that was able to spend the most money to get their message in front of me. Sometimes bigger companies do offer the best products, but there’s no guarantee. There’s certainly not the same level of trust that we see from visitors arriving from organic search. Organic search can, of course, be commercially influenced. However, a recent survey shows that people tend to trust organic results compared to sponsored listings. On the whole, you should see more visitors from organic search converting to sales, assuming your rankings were for targeted, relevant keywords. In the business world, ROI, or Return On Investment, is king. Fortunately, organic search can give you the high ROI you’re looking for or your boss is demanding.
- Organic is Free: After all these years, it’s still free to submit to Google, arguably the most popular of the organic search engines right now. Google has always been adamant about not charging for inclusion in its index of 4.2 billion pages. Most other organic engines will also index you for free, although some like Yahoo do have paid inclusion options. Paid inclusion simply guarantees your page will get indexed quickly and stay indexed for as long as you maintain your subscription, but does not promise a particular ranking. However, if you have a Web site with good quality content and links from third party sites, paid inclusion is “nice-to-have”. It can be very useful in getting pages indexed or re-indexed quickly. This allows you to quickly test various page designs and to feed news and other time-sensitive content to the search engine as quickly as possible.
Organic Search Cons:
- Organic Rankings are Not Automatic: With organic listings, you cannot simply hand over a certain amount of money and be guaranteed to quickly and automatically achieve any ranking you desire. Instead, achieving positions in organic search requires the proper technology, skill, and know-how. There has always been a cloud of mystery around the process of achieving top rankings. How’s it done? Where do I start? That’s why resources like this newsletter and products like WebPosition Gold are essential to a business’s success in search engine marketing.
- Organic Rankings Require an Investment in Time: The age-old adage of “nothing worthwhile in life ever comes easy” rings true with organic rankings. While they are monetarily free, simply submitting your pages to the search engines is not enough to bring in a flood of new visitors to your Web site. Far too many businesses have been fooled into spending $49 or $99 to submit their site to “thousands” of sites, 99% of which are obscure names you’ve probably never heard of. The key is that someone doing a search on a major search engine must be able to easily find your Web site.
If your site is buried at the bottom of the list, or simply fails to appear in the first few pages of search results, you can kiss your chances of being found good-bye. The key is to use responsible best practices to create pages that are highly relevant to the keywords that apply to your Web site and the products or solutions you have to offer. . In other words, optimize your pages for search engine visibility and see how fast your position improves. To do this, you simply need to know what each search engine needs for maximum visibility. Then tweak your Web page’s content while paying attention to off-page factors like the number and type of links coming to your page. Tune the pages of your site to the preferences of the major search engines and then watch your rankings and traffic climb.
While optimizing your Web site to rank well for organic searches takes more effort than simply buying an ad, it can provide your business with one of the highest ROI results that you’re likely to find. Numerous studies have placed search engine optimization at the top of the list of the most effective forms of online marketing. Its low cost, high relevancy, and high conversion rates make it an ideal marketing vehicle for almost any business.
The catch? As with any area of marketing, SEO is a competitive field. Arming yourself with the best technology and knowledge is key to gaining a competitive advantage. Long-time readers of MarketPosition know that WebPosition was the first product on the market to track a Web site’s rankings on the search engines and to help improve those rankings. That early lead has given WebPosition more time for its technology to grow and mature than any of its competition. WebPosition’s Page Critic module contains a wealth of advice and statistics designed to move your site to the top of the organic search results. Not only that, it also tracks your rankings and gives you advice on how to achieve the best results in both organic and pay-per-click search engines as well. Therefore, you can capitalize on the best of both worlds.
This article is copyrighted and has been reprinted with permission from WebTrends, the makers of WebPosition. WebPosition helped define the SEO industry by being the first product to track your rankings on the major search engines and to help you improve those rankings.