Indebted consumers searching Google for "financial freedom" and a chance to reduce their bills were 101 percent more likely to convert to 800-number callers of San Diego-based debt settlement firm Fidelity Debt Solutions after the company optimized its paid search landing page.
The triple-digit conversion lift came about because various elements of the fidelitydebt.net landing page could be tested and changed in the search engine marketing space much faster than it could in the organic arena. Then those SEM findings could be added to search engine optimization tactics, says Brian Lewis, vice president of San Diego-based search marketing firm Engine Ready, which designed the FDS paid search landing page.
Below, five instances where SEM results lord over SEO abilities are enumerated by Lewis; Rich Kahn, chief executive officer of Middletown, Del.-based search marketing firm eZanga; and Matt Kain, chief revenue officer of Santa Monica, Calif.-based search marketing firm The Search Agency.
1. SEM is faster than SEO. Testing and ranking can happen in real time. Lewis says his firm optimized the FDS landing page items such as the call to action, 800-number location and legibility, contact form, and a 32-second, explanatory video.
"If you put up a campaign with search engine marketing, you can put up a bunch of tests, a bunch of different campaigns, test them all—and you can do that all in the first day," Kahn says. As for the most obvious ranking aspects, he adds, SEM always ends up with the top rankings, no matter how high the SEO results are. And beyond that, paid search has access to more than Google.com. Google teams with other sites, so paid search customers also have access to those sites, Kahn says.
In addition, Kahn relates an example where a client ranked for keywords simply by pursuing an SEM strategy before redesigning its company Web site. The client provided eZanga with 35 terms "that they should've ranked pretty well for," Kahn points out, but only one of them provided a 400-level ranking. None were on the first page of organic results, he says. Six months into the SEM contract with eZanga, without the company having changed a single word on its site, about 26 of those terms were on the first page of organic results. "It just makes sense," Kahn says. "I mean, if you're a paid customer of Google, Google wants to take care of its customers. So whether it's one of their algorithms that they use or it's some other issue that's happening, every time I see a company just add in search engine marketing, their SEO ranks, over time, increase."
2. Marketers have more control. The Search Agency's Kain says control extends from ad copy to linking that copy to a landing page optimized for sales conversions instead of SEO. Then marketers have the advantage of employing paid search editorial guidelines that encompass trademark protection while also having the ability to change their SEM scales and volumes at will.
Lewis agrees, pointing out that SEO favors content-heavy pages. But "let's say, for instance, we found out that our target market doesn't like to read more than a line of text, and we want a real strong headline and one line of a benefit-selling bullet and then the form. And that's what's going to convert the best. Well in [pay per click], we can do that. With SEO, we know that that page is not going to rank."
3. Clickthrough traffic is more likely to convert. Engine Ready's study updated in July, SEO vs. PPC—The Final Round, found that "paid traffic converted at a 54 percent higher rate and experienced an average order value 10 percent above that of traffic from organic listings." Lewis hypothesizes that the 2 percent SEM conversion rate, vs. the 1.3 percent SEO conversion rate among the 26 companies studied, is accounted for by landing pages optimized for SEM and by one other reason. SEM visitors tend to have a greater intention to buy, probably because they've already done their research in SEO in order to not encounter marketing, he believes.
4. SEM guarantees placement "no matter how competitive the sector is and no matter how difficult it may be for you to otherwise rank on the phrase," Kain says. "And so, for a very competitive area like credit cards, if you're not CreditCards.com ... or one of a handful of sites that happen to rank very well, organically, for search, you pretty much have no choice other than to participate in paid search for those sorts of keywords. So American Express, Chase bank and Wells Fargo who don't come up above the fold on the front page for the word 'credit card,' if they want access to all of those leads, then they have no choice other than to buy those sorts of searches." (Chase was both the final SEO and SEM result on the first page of results on Google during a search for "credit cards" last week, while American Express held the second-highest SEM result on the right side of the page and the second from the last SEO rank on the first results page. Wells Fargo didn't rank, and CreditCards.com held the top SEM and SEO rankings.)
5. It's simpler than SEO. "SEM is easy," Kain says. "You don't need any particular technical skills. You don't need to do any coding on your site. You pretty much just need 15 minutes of time and a credit card, and you can go to Google and sign up for AdWords and be advertising your campaign in no time, which is a significant advantage over SEO, which is a long-term process."