Human beings are pretty hardwired for instant gratification. We’d all be healthier and happier if we went to the gym regularly, ate right, brushed our teeth, went to the dentist, avoided overexposure to the sun, etc. Instead, we sit in front of the TV because it’s easy and entertaining. We eat fattening food because it tastes damn good.
To search engine marketing equivalent to sitting on your ass in front of the television with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s is PPC (pay per click) search engine marketing. Don’t get me wrong– I understand that wrangling Google Adwords can be hard work. There is a lot of skill and science there. But it isn’t necessarily the most healthy way you could work to market your company. In fact, with all of the attention and competition that you find in Adwords, it’s oftentimes a pretty lousy deal. And, for the businesses that don’t have a strong viral component, it’s a flow of visitors that will stop the instant you stop spending the ad dollars.
The smart Adwords folks will carefully craft a funnel that goes all the way to a “conversion” – whether it’s a sale, a user signup, or whatever. Say you’re selling a widget online for $50, with a 50% profit margin (walking away with a clean $25 per widget– not bad!). All you have to do is make sure you pay less that $25 per buyer and you’re making money with Adwords.
Unfortunately, here are other widget sellers out there. They might be sitting on a huge supply of widgets that they have to unload at a loss (meaning that they can bid more per click than you can). They might be backed by VCs, who are hollering at them to drive up sales (even if it’s at a loss). Maybe their profit margins are higher than yours, allowing them to comfortably bid higher. Maybe their funnel is more effective than yours. Or they might just not be bright enough to know how much profit they make on a per-widget basis (“We might lose money, but we’ll make it up on volume!”).
So what’s the best alternative to Adwords?
It’s good old fashioned organic traffic. Being “linkworthy”. Search engine optimization. Burying your customers in service to the point where they are fanatical about recommending you to their widget-buying friends. Building compelling content on your site/blog so that people will link to you (this is a subset of SEO nowadays, really).
It’s not as fun, not as easily measurable, and it’s not NEARLY as instant as pay-per-click marketing. It’s the lifestyle equivalent of eating your veggies and taking a brisk jog a couple of times a week. Sadly, most businesses don’t have the discipline to invest time and money in efforts that generate healthy organic traffic. It just doesn’t provide the short-term shot in the arm that CPC does.
Brian Halligan (of Small Business Hub) offers some pretty compelling arguments for investing in SEO:
1. If you rank high for organic results, it is (typically) long lasting. So, the time/money you spend helping yourself move up the ranks is relatively persistent while the PPC campaign is money spent over and over again.
2. Organic results are clicked on a lot more than paid results, especially for well educated crowds. I read a study that showed dramatic differences as you moved from high school eduction to associate degrees to bachelors to masters to phd’s. The more educated your prospect, the less likely they are to click on an advertisement. If you are selling to high school students, you should buy cpc ads. If you are selling to engineers or professors, you need to think more about seo because that’s where the volume is.
3. Organic clicks convert at least as well as paid clicks. Marketing Sherpa’s Search Marketing Benchmark study of 3,217 marketers showed that organic clicks converted at an average of 4.2% v. 3.6% for paid.
4. Often times searchers visit your site more than once before self-selecting into a form, whitepaper, etc. We track this data carefully at HubSpot and notice that a decent portion of the leads we get are from people who have visited the site through multiple searches over multiple months. Organic search campaigns have more latency.
5. Marketing Sherpa reports that in the b2b environment, less than one-fourth of b2b buyers to look to paid listings in their first try at accessing information.
6. Many think of Google as a search company, but I think of them as a modern media conglomerate with an ultra-efficient mechanism for selling advertisements that work particularly well in the longtail. Like other media companies, Google benefits from efficient pricing of advertising. As more and more niche companies start to advertise on Google, their prices will become more efficient and their rates will become less and less attractive relative to other media outlets.
So do yourself a favor. Head over to SEOMOZ (my personal favorite SEO resource) and spend a few hours reading their free stuff.
(and be sure to eat your veggies)