Are You Paying for Traffic You Might Get for Free?


As a consumer, free is the best price. As a marketer, free traffic is the best kind of traffic.

We spend millions of dollars to get people to come to our website with the hopes that some of them will turn into paying customers. But often, the people that get to our website via other channels (free channels, for the most part) are “higher quality” leads.

They come in through organic search results, or links from social media, or directly based on the recommendation of a friend or colleague. And because they took the impetus, they are often highly motivated.

Sometimes, if we take the time to look, we end up spending our money to get some of these folks to come to our website, even though they would have come on their own otherwise. And while that might not necessarily make them less likely to convert, it does cost us money that we’d be better off saving, or investing elsewhere.

Where Are You Spending Money Unnecessarily?

The most common place we encounter this problem is on search engines, where companies spend money to target certain keyword phrases, with the goal of getting searchers to click on an ad at the top of the SERP.

What most marketers fail to do is take their organic search rankings into account when deciding how to spend their money. For example, if you are already showing up in the first organic position on Google, do you really need to spend the money it takes to display your ad there?

We know the value of the top position on Google. And if you’re already successful at winning traffic on that keyword, why spend any money at all?

But Google is not the only place this happens. Companies spend countless ad dollars on banners, social media, billboards, television and radio that gets wasted on people who have already made their decision to purchase from you or not. In some of the more traditional channels, this is hard to avoid. But online, it’s not.

Gain a Deeper Understanding of Your Traffic

The key to spending your money intelligently is to treat your marketing efforts more strategically. Each channel, each source, each campaign or effort or idea is just one part of the larger plan. Instead of putting them in siloes and assigning them to different teams, we must bring our teams together and approach the roles and responsibilities more holistically.

SEM and SEO must be on the same page, so they don’t duplicate efforts and cancel each other out. Sales and marketing need to come together to make sure they’re not stepping on each other’s toes and sending the consumer mixed messages. The email team, or the social media team, should not be targeting introductory offers to existing customers.

Stop spending money advertising to people you don’t need to. If you can figure out how to do that, you will suddenly free up a ton of cash you can put toward more effective means. And you will make your boss very happy.

Applying the 80/20 Rule to Search Keywords


Whether we are talking about paid search or organic SEO efforts, not all keywords should be treated equally.

If we apply the 80/20 Rule, which states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes, to your search keywords, we assume that 80% of all traffic to your website will come from just 20% of your keywords.

In truth, if your company is like the majority of others, the ratio is a bit more dramatic – closer to 90/10.

Prove It

At this point, some of you will not believe me. Others will have already heard this before.

Regardless of how you feel about the numbers provided above, it is important that you find out the truth for your business. And there are a number of tools available to help you do just that.

First, you can go to the person responsible for your SEO and PPC. Those may be two different people. They may be people outside of your company. Regardless, the tools that they use to track and optimize their efforts will have all the information necessary to judge what percentage of all the keywords they’re targeting bring in the majority of search traffic.

For those of you who are doing this for yourself, you can use Google Ads or Google Analytics reports to find the true ratio for your company. Look at the last 30 or 90 days and export a full list of the keywords that brought in traffic. Sort it from highest to lowest and then simply do the math.

How many keywords, out of all the ones searched, does it take to get to 80% of all traffic?

Why Does it Matter?

Now that you have proved to yourself, and your boss, that the majority of search traffic is coming in to your website on a limited number of total keywords, it’s time to let that inform your decision making.

A lot of efforts are focused on keyword expansion. And while this strategy is not misguided unto itself, the numbers above should suggest to us that this is not always the wisest initial option. The much bigger impact can be made by focusing your efforts on the keywords with the highest traffic.

You can capture even more traffic from those keywords – or acquire the traffic more efficiently – in a number of different ways.

  1. Why pay for the traffic if you can get it for free? If you know which keywords you’re spending the most money on in paid search, you should start targeting those keywords in your SEO efforts. If you can turn paid traffic into organic traffic, you save money that you can put toward other uses.
  2. Find out who is outbidding you. It’s likely your competitors are driving traffic from those very same keywords. But if you know who they are and what they are doing, you can compete and win a higher percentage of total search traffic.
  3. Rise up the first page. You may already be getting organic clicks to your site from high volume keywords if you are on page one. But that doesn’t mean your work is done. With each position you rise toward the coveted top spot, the percentage of total search traffic goes up almost exponentially. So don’t settle for page one, aim for position one.

What if Traffic isn’t the Point?

Traffic isn’t always the point. In fact, unless you are a publisher that derives their income from ad impressions, traffic is rarely ever the point.

Your aim is something else. Conversions.

Whether conversions mean leads, sales, donations, contacts, or anything else, you want traffic that takes action. And so instead of measuring which keywords lead to the most traffic, simply measure which keywords lead to the most conversions, using the same tools discussed earlier.

By gaining a deeper understanding of where your best traffic is coming from, you can refine your search efforts and spend your time on those activities that truly move the needle.

How SEO and SEM Work Together

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Search engines are a primary source of traffic for most online businesses. But there are two distinct types of search engine traffic:

  1. Organic search traffic
  2. Paid search traffic

Organic search traffic is the stuff dreams are made of. This occurs when someone searches a phrase related to your business on Google and a link to your site shows up in the natural search results and gets clicked. This costs you nothing (to say nothing of the time and energy many companies put into search engine optimization).

The more organic search traffic your website is getting, the more success you are likely having.

Paid search traffic is different, mostly because it costs you money. This is the traffic that comes from paid listings on the search results page – ads that show up at the top of the page because you are bidding on searches containing a certain keyword.

If you are like most companies, you are likely aiming for both types of traffic. You would love to get us much organic traffic as possible, but you will supplement that with paid traffic in order to hit your marketing goals. But there’s a right way to do this, and a wrong way.

Too often we put SEO and SEM into siloes, and ignore their obvious overlap.

Here are three ways to fix that:

1. Pay for the words you can’t rank for.

The value in paid search is that it gives the advertiser more control. You control everything from the search terms you show up for, the headline and ad copy that gets displayed, and the user experience after they click. But if you are already showing up near the top of page one organically, there is less incentive to pay.

So you should make sure that your paid search team and your SEO team are in constant communication about target keywords. Spend your money on the terms that you don’t rank well for organically.

2. Use paid search data to instruct your SEO targets.

Just like the recommendation that you pay for those terms that you struggle to rank for organically, your paid search performance should inform your SEO strategy. Reports that show the true outcomes of certain keywords will help you determine which words and phrases to target with SEO efforts.

Your SEO team should be getting regular updates from your paid search team on keyword performance, costs, and competitiveness. Over time, one goal should be to lessen the dependency on paid search.

3. Report on both together.

More than simply reporting on both together, companies that do this well will incentivize these two activities as one. Search should be a domain in and of itself, with two branches thereunder. Instead of reporting on, and rewarding, each separately, bringing them under one roof ensures alignment between efforts and outcomes.

Paid search is essential, but should never supersede organic. If your company can attract quality traffic without paying for it, why would you?

Don’t Forget About Bing

Google is great. Google currently accounts for about 65% of total US searches. For marketers, it can be tough to look beyond that. The people are using Google, so I must be on Google, you tell yourself.

But 65%, while dominant, is nowhere near 100%. There are a lot of other consumers out there using other search engines.

Currently occupying the number 2 position in the standings, it’s Bing. Bing gets approximately 20% of all searches in the US.

That alone should be enough to convince advertisers to add Bing to their search marketing strategy. But there are two other bits of anecdotal insight that should make Bing that much more appealing.

  1. Competition among advertisers on Bing is lower than Google, and therefor cost per clicks are often lower for the keywords you’re bidding on.
  2. If you ask experienced search engine marketers, they’ll tell you that often a Bing customer is better than a Google customer. Either they’re more likely to shop and make a purchase after clicking on an ad, or they spend more, or they become a return customer at a higher rate than people clicking through on a Google ad.

Now, knowing that 20% of your customers (potentially more depending on your industry) are using Bing, not Google, and knowing that you might be able to find them for less, and generate a better return, can you really afford to ignore the second biggest search engine in the country? I think not.

3 Tips for Better Search Ads

On Monday, we discussed using paid search marketing to advertise to consumers who may be searching for the products or services that your company offers. And so, it seemed fitting to spend today addressing the question, “How do I create high-quality search ads”.

First, let’s address what makes a high-quality search ads in the first place. We define success in paid search marketing using a number of different metrics. You measure the number of clicks, the cost per click, the click through rate (percent of people who click on a given ad they are shown), and the conversion rate (percent of people who perform a desired action after clicking on the ad).

But when attempting to improve the quality of the search ad itself, it’s really all about the CTR, the click through rate. For all the people that were exposed to your ad, how many of them clicked on it. A good ad gets more people to click on it.

With that in mind, here are three tips for writing better search ads:

  1. Use the search terms in the ad. You can add them in dynamically or create a lot of different ads for each set of keywords, but it’s important that you use the search terms in your ads. Searchers are looking for something specific, that’s why they used the words they did when they searched. So showing those terms back to them in your ad will help capture their attention and ensure you have what they’re looking for.
  2. Explain the “why”. Give the searcher a reason to click on your ad. What will they get when they do? Why should they click on your ad and not someone else’s? Use the limited space you’re given to tell searchers exactly what they will get when they click on your ad. It gives them the reason they’re looking for to take the next step.
  3. Use numbers. You should include your phone number in all search ads, especially for mobile searches, where a phone call is the easiest action for any searcher to take. But outside of phone numbers, including dollar amounts or percentages, prices or number of products, is a good idea. Numbers in ads get people to click more than an ad without any numbers. This has been proven in study after study.

Better ads will get more clicks. More clicks should lead to more conversions. So if you want to improve the ROI on your paid search advertising, start by writing better ads.