Tom Schmitz // Jul 14 2008
When you read that paid search and organic search require separate content strategies you might think, “Duh! That’s obvious.” Except that something happened to me last week, and this was not the first time.
A Portent’s client earned a top ten ranking for an important keyword, one right near the top of the keyword chart. Time to cheer, right? Except, Google selected a different “landing page” than the one we optimized and targeted for this particular search query. Instead of celebrating a profitable new top ten ranking I found myself asked how to move the ranking result away from the page Google selected? How, instead, can we make Google select the page Portent originally optimized?
I understand this reaction. I can even appreciate the sentiment. We did not get the desired reaction. Except, I was asked the wrong question. Trying to make Google change its mind might prove disastrous. We might crack the golden egg and loose that top ten ranking altogether.
I think that the reason I received the reaction I did was a blending of organic search optimization thought and paid search optimization thought.
Basic paid search strategies are fairly straight-forward. The search marketer gets to select specific keywords and match them to specific landing pages. Those landing pages become the top of the marketing funnel, they are heavily controlled and — on well designed sites — they usually exist separately from the site’s spider-friendly navigation. Marketers carefully design paid search, PPC or CPC landing pages to maximize advertising ROI and to elicit specific behaviors or conversions from visitors. Because this is a controlled environment marketers can refine the search queries and hone the landing page content until they come as close to perfection as possible. By controlling the content and the choices visitors are practically forced to follow the path you create.
Organic search optimization is more chaotic and attempting to re-point search engine query results from one page to another can be fought with danger. It’s like moving the Jack of Clubs from one side in a house of cards to the opposite side. You can too easily collapse everything.
From organic search engine query results visitors might arrive on any one of your web site’s pages. Sure, you optimize specific pages for specific search queries, but the ultimate decision maker about which pages get shown in the search engine results pages, and for which search queries, is the search engine algorithm.
If you make drastic changes to your pages you could loose you your coveted ranking altogether –or– your page may be too specialized to turn into a landing page. Would you turn your company info page into a landing page because it begins ranking for what your company produces?
The correct question, the one I should have been asked, is, how do we move visitors from the page Google selected into the desired marketing funnel?
Visit your web analytics and look at the organic search queries from which visitors arrive and look at the pages they arrive on.
You’ll notice that it’s a numbers game. Unless you are like Amazon.com or Wikipedia.com, only a fraction of your pages will attract visitors for competitive search queries. Add to that, you can only optimize each page for a small number of competitive queries. In other words you have to make the best use of limited opportunities.
The real solution must be your web site design and navigation. It does not matter on which page a visitor arrives. Your job is to give them immediate hope and a fast path to the information they desire.
If you your web site is well optimized for organic search the importance of good design and navigation becomes even more apparent. Half of your visitors should be arriving from less competitive long-tail queries, and probably to a wide range of different pages. This means that a healthy chunk of your conversions or sales depend on moving people from organic landing pages to the correct marketing funnels.
When search engines send people to unexpected pages use your web site design and navigation to take them to the right place.
At this point I expect that some more seasoned readers are thinking about optimizing a second page. If so, you read my mind. But let me caution that optimizing a second page neither replaces or precedes getting the most from your design and navigation.
Google will show up to two listings per domain on any single page of organic search engine results. The second or lower ranking result will get promoted to the spot directly beneath the higher ranking result. So, if you rank #3 and #8, the #8 result will be promoted to #4.
Stronger optimization of the page you originally targeted for your keyword may get you a second rankings and even more traffic. But keep in mind that while this strategy might work for one, two or a handful of more competitive keywords, you cannot use it to convert visitors who arrive from long-tail or low volume keywords. Again, the best solution is well designed content and navigation.