John Battelle, The Search. Organic SEO explained

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 09/19/2005

John Battelle’s book, The Search is out today. A large story about Google, organic search, and “big feet” ran in the Fanatical Times on Friday. Chris Sherman of ClickZ has a review Search as the New Great Game. The significance for me is that telling the story of the genuine search vs. paid search is so subtle, and the term that is evolving to describe the emerging industry, SEO, is already tainted by scammers. The article makes the point of describing just how much of the world’s business Google controls by routing who goes where as a result of search terms, hitting it home with statistics of how small/mid-size businesses collectively drive $500billion+ of the American economy, much larger than the online megaliths like Amazon or Expedia. The article actually uses the term “organic” to describe the genuine results, and goes on to describe AdSense, and how Google makes its money. This is important in how it starts to mainstream the concept that the search results that are the main draw of search sites are not the same thing as AdWords. One is advertising. The other is public relations.

I’m now part of the PR industry (public relations). It is hard enough to describe to the layman how public relations is the part of the marketing mix concerned with publicity and getting better deal for your marketing dollar than traditional advertising. If you have a compelling story to tell, you might get mentioned in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or other large circulation publication. It is a challenge to describing exactly what organic search engine optimization is, and why it follows almost the exact same principles as public relations. Landing that one big 2-word search combination on the first page of Google on your company’s keywords can drive a lot of business. I think that the full ramifications of this fact, although obvious when you think about it, are tremendous and under-recognized. It’s bigger than a WSJ mention, because it reaches a larger audience of uniquely pre-qualified prospective customers. Google, for better or for worse, has a choke-hold on businesses who rely on Web referrals. AdSense is surely a way to buy into the results, but it only lasts as long as the ad campaign. Organic search, along with a genuine, compelling story to tell, and a site that naturally gets cited and referred to is a much better route.

But just as traditional advertising is the biggest component of the marketing mix with public relations being just a slice, paid search will always get the lion’s share of the online marketing dollar. It’s a clearer deal. I pay X-amount (and outbid my rivals), and I will secure a listing on the results page when people search on my terms. The value proposition of organic search is less clear, but more value. If you adjust your site, put out the right content, and do some word-of-mouth promotion, you can secure a listing on the first page of results without paying Google a dime. But there are no guarantees. But if you have success, then stop an organic search campaign, the results carry on, just like a genuine reputation in the real world. These top results will still last, because it has essentially become an asset of your company. So, although natural search optimization is a smaller slice than AdSense, it’s a more interesting slice in that it requires unusual writing ability and technical savvy to achieve, a combination that’s uncommon even in the emerging field of SEO. That’s why PR and SEO are a match made in heaven – combine formidable technical savvy with the years of brand identity and corporate messaging skills of PR.