As a digital agency, it is common to have a client discussion that starts with the classic “Where do we start” question. Of course, this question is posed in several ways but ultimately it is a discussion of the priority of scarce marketing resources or, as I call it, money. Many clients come to us believing that search engine optimization (SEO) and Social Media are the starting moves. When you drill into this, the basis of their logic is that SEO and Social Media are fast, free, and easy. The problem is that they are none of these.
We always start with AdWords Search and there are many reasons for this. First, customers normally come to us after their website design is finished and their pain is due to a lack of traffic coming to their site. Second, AdWords has real data and data is the foundation of all digital marketing strategies. In any marketing strategy, there is a balance between advertising and PR. Just so we are clear here; SEO is the PR of the internet. There is no doubt that PR excels in cost and effectiveness but it suffers in dependability. Advertising is dependable but it costs more and is less effective.
Since data is the primary argument for starting with AdWords, let’s see what we get for this call. When we run AdWords we get the impressions (Number of time an ad showed), impression share (Percentage of times the ad showed to total traffic), clicks, cost for a specific position, and the competitors (Insights) that target a specific keyword. We can extend this with the information in Google Analytics to see the organic opportunity. With a little math, you can use this data to help you build out a digital strategy that includes the market value and true volume of your targeted keywords.
The SEO’s in the room right now are jumping up on their soapboxes to tell us that you can get this data from other tools but the reality is that you cannot. The problem with these other sources is not only that they have very little control over the data being presented but they also lack negative keywords and good geographic targeting. These other tools can provide important data but all marketing sources have their problems and AdWords is simply more accurate than the rest.
Follow the Data
AdWords, when fully implemented, gives us more data than just keywords. For example, AdWords can tell you where your customers hang out on the internet. This allows you to target other individuals that frequent the same web locations that your customers do. Here is one of the worst kept marketing secrets – Great Prospects look, act, and respond just like your best customers do. Adwords Remarketing code can help isolate traffic that acts the way you want (like buying products) and then use the sites in your display campaign to create placements based on these actions. A placement campaign based on the sites from your remarketing can be a very powerful display campaign with a much lower cost than search traffic.
Test Messages – watch your CTR
AdWords lets us test marketing messages that can help us in the SEO plan and performance. In an organic listing, once you get on the SERP you need to get clicks and many, including myself, believe that the CTR on your organic listing is more important than anything you can do on your web page itself. The reason we believe this is because Google has told us that this is how it is. Our estimate is that as much as 65% of the SEO rank comes from the CTR of the page listing. This listing, in most cases, consists of the page title and the meta tag description (shown as the headline and the snippet in the listing).
Time is on your side
AdWords starts to work almost immediately while SEO and Social Media can take months or even years before they begin to produce dependable traffic. A typical SEO expert (if honest) will tell you that, in most cases, it takes 6-18 months to get dependable traffic and I use the word dependable here very loosely. Google makes constant changes to the system and I cannot tell you how many conversations I’ve had that started with “We used to be first on Google” followed by a sad story about how that went away.
In our industry, SEO and Social Media are commonly referred to as earned traffic. There is no doubt that each of these aspects are very effective however, as I said earlier, SEO is the PR of the web. Just like any PR story, SEO PR’s have life spans much shorter than you want them to be. If your SEO gets you to the front page it is highly attributable to content freshness. Consider appearing on the front page of the regional newspaper. While this is clearly great for your business (if the story is positive), another story will be there tomorrow. It may take a year or more before the network (in this case Google) feels you are newsworthy again.
If Adwords is first, what’s second?
This is a great question and that varies depending on the traffic patterns of the website. In most cases, this will be either SEO or Social Media. The performance in AdWords should be used to create performance standards for each of these channels. It is common for clients to think that SEO and Social Media generated traffic is free but unless you have a source of free professional labor to do the work related to each of them, these channels are not free; They are simply paid for differently.
For the record we do all the other digital marketing as well but we start with AdWords