SEO outperforms SEM and PPC

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 09/26/2005

A study earlier this month from iProspect and Jupiter Media claims that Search marketers are not comparing their return on investment for search engine optimization versus pay-per-click advertising. I don’t know what organizations they’re polling, but as a public relations firm (PR) specializing in SEO, I know that our clients are tracking the difference in ROI between the two types of campaigns very carefully. This is the whole reason for installing tracking URLs on paid campaigns.

Organic campaigns will drop visitors anywhere into a site. This creates a bit of a challenge in sorting PPC vs. organic clicks. At Connors Communications, we actually developed our own analytics software so we could separate out clicks from paid campaigns, search and reputation. We’re serious about organic search, knowing that how you exist in the index is how you exist as a company. We can pick apart and analyze every hit to determine if it’s paid or organic, and when it converted.

Anything that comes in through a paid URL is credited to a PPC campaign. Anything that carries a search engine referrer in the HTTP header is credited towards organic search. And all the rest that have no referrer or tracking URL are put into the “other” bin. Having no referrer implies that the website visitor knew where they were visiting, and typed in the URL directly or followed an email link. This can be viewed as reputation, or word of mouth. Persistent user tracking reveals the time of final conversion, even if it is months later. One client dropped their entire PPC campaign after achieving the same traffic results with an ambitious SEO campaign as they had with a much more expensive PPC campaign. A well executed organic campaign doesn’t just get the single hit, but keeps getting the hit over and over, continuously corralling the web visitor back over time at no extra cost, until your message sticks.

I don’t think the PPC campaign management businesses are very keen on us turning organic, or natural optimization into a science with perfectly trackable ROI. Yet, this is exactly what we’re doing, aligning the field of public relations (PR) with the organic side of the online marketing equation. Whereas the advertising industry is concerned with the clear media buy, the PR industry is concerned with the lower-cost, higher profile exposure that results from genuine news coverage. Can you see the connection between PR and SEO?

As with PR, the value proposition for SEO is more compelling than a paid keyword campaign. After a PPC campaign ends, the effect is for the most part gone. You have to keep paying to keep playing. You become reliant on both the PPC campaign management company and Google.  But with organic, once your reputation is established in the industry, and you’ve built up enough momentum, you can actually stop an organic campaign and have the results continue working for you. SEO is like landing the big Wall Street Journal or New York Times story. But not only does it provide that big initial pop. It keeps working for you 24x7, and provides a double-benefit, because it displaces your competitors who would otherwise be in that coveted top genuine search position.