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Paid and Organic are Indistinguishable



When that reality was, though, was a matter of extreme debate ~ Iliad & Odyssey

The idea of Paid Search and SEO being one, has been debated for years. Paid search is pay per click (PPC) traffic that is not free. You have to pay a cost dictated by Amazon, Microsoft Ads, Google, Oath. SEO is free search engine optimized organic traffic, think Yahoo, Google and Bing here in the states. Referencing Wikipedia, “Webmasters and content providers began optimizing websites for search engines in the mid-1990’s, as the first search engines were cataloging the early web”. Following close behind, Wikipedia states, “there are several sites that claim to be the first ppc model on the web, with many appearing in the mid-1990s”. 

Debates surrounding organic search and paid have been going on since the 90s, this is clear. What is not clear is just how indistinguishable the two are. Google, launched in 1998, AdWords (now google ads) in 2000, how did this impact how advertisers’ market worldwide? Native advertising has been defined into 6 formats by the IAB, as a form of paid advertising, placed there to be indistinguishable from the content on the page, why? Content is king, disrupted more recently with fake news. Seamless cross channel amplification here in 2018, now includes voice, AI, search bots and in-market cross channel segments.

My Question To You

What is the difference between referral, ppc, display, organic, direct, and social? Is it personalization? A quick Google search states, and I quote, “Personalization is a means of meeting the customer’s needs more effectively and efficiently, making interactions faster and easier and, consequently, increasing customer satisfaction”.

Organic and Paid Search As One

Mitch Larson industry expert and friend at a top global agency told me more recently that, “I am having a hard time not thinking about organic and paid search as one. Not having an integrated strategy here has been a pain point for me”. A year and some change ago, I felt the same, reinforced after coming back from PPC Hero’s Austin conference and seeing Frederick Valley’s presentation.  (He asked Alexa to optimize all of his advertising accounts, Alexa with a smile, reported back with what she had already done). Since this conversation occurred between Mitch and I, Google went ahead and did some crazy things.

Some of the Crazy Things:

  • Smart bidding with conversion action sets at the campaign-level
  • Local shopping campaigns & gallery ads
  • Google patented search behavior
  • Google patented user intent
  • Search has adjusted from answering questions to answering Intent
  • Cross account optimization and a new U.I.
  • Expanded on variations across match types
life insurance paid search

Consider The Crazy

Things you want to consider that I agree with, per Mitch, “is companies large and small have departments working in a silos”, these departments do not have skill sets that cross disciplines. From my experience across matrix organizations you would be hard pressed to get them all in a room together on a regular basis. Furthermore, to add salt to a wound, large brands have been and continue defend brand with paid search. Knowing that you have to defend your brand, or a brand is a good target for customers. You have to make adjustments to your bids because a: as a brand your competition is out bidding your bad ads or b: you as a non-brand business are not as relevant even with a good ad. Either way driving up cost incrementally. The good news is that brands recognize a user experience is channel agnostic, when intent is in play, I need to defend my brand. The bad news is that a generic search for say life insurance sampled above, this time thanks to and Getethos.Com, is the reason why bids continue to increase. Add on universal Attribution Woes, were brands like Farmers are close to solving for the walled garden, yet so far away from a comprehensive marketing strategy that aids in the bidding decision.

Advertisers Have No Answer

Still we open the door per Mitch’s questions, “Why are paid search marketers bidding on keywords that we are ranking very well for? and Can you quantify the results that having an ad in place where organic dominates decreases or increases your ability to convert?”. 

Back to my debate with Mitch, I said, “if strategy is no longer about building an ad, or paying for a keyword in a key wordless world”, Amazon is trying to bring back to life by the way, “that we should start to think of paid and organic as one.”   This is my opinion; and surely all methods of organic do apply to paid search across all channels. Data points from suggest, “in 2017 46.8% of the global population accessed the internet and by 2021 this figure is projected to grow to 53.7%.” This is important for one reason alone, the data does not distinguish between paid activity and or organic, just an individual generic search itself, from accessing the web (It does not distinguish how the search occurred). Further supporting the idea that we should move away from distinguishing paid advertising and organic, SEMrush, “found that the number of direct websites visits to your site positively impact our organic SERPs position.” The math suggests from Martech.Zone that 39% of all global traffic, 35% from organic and 4% is from paid search. Leaving 61% of users going directly to a site, when one interacts online. Keep in mind there is very little public data about voice search. All this stated here means that the focus clearly has to be on quality.

The engines reward our sites at the end of the day based on quality. Quality theoretically is driven by user’s engagement with your site, direct traffic likely being a significant factor, less all other things like content, bounce rate, pages per session or interactions in general. Interestingly enough why is it that paid search focuses so much on content curation and how that is delivered. Isn’t this the idea of organic? BethKanter.Org defines content curation as, “the process of sorting through the vast amounts of content on the web and presenting it in a meaningful and organized way around a specific theme. The work involves, sifting sorting, arranging, and publishing information.”

seo and paid search query

Finally, thanks to the Farmers digital team for the sample. If you are not paying attention, or an advertiser having never seen Google Ads. You will click through the first thing you see which is an ad. The engines in parity partnership have been moving at an inconspicuous speed to make both Microsoft ads and Google Ads as indistinguishable to organic listings. 

In conclusion we can talk about a key-wordless future, voice, mobile, AI, bots, dynamic, native, responsive, css, html, flat, responsive ways for a user to interact with your advertising. Each goes a mile deep and requires a unique skill set, how about we stay a mile wide as an industry and start to focus our strategy on what is advertising generally. This starts with the consumer, turns into a query “paid or organic”, and ends with the consumer.


What Will It Take To Drive Content Marketing Forward?



What Will It Take To Drive Content Marketing Forward?

You’re doing everything in your power to craft amazing content.

You sweat over quality, optimize everything to the last keyword, and feed those greedy channel beasts more and more and more.

But the results you get don’t match the effort you put in. What are you doing wrong?

The game has changed. Simply doing the once-right things – and more of them – won’t guarantee wins.

Doing more of the once-right things no longer guarantees #ContentMarketing wins, says @Robert_Rose via @joderama @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Playing to win now means doubling down on strategy

“The content you create provides no sustainable competitive advantage for your business.”

Robert Rose kicked off Content Marketing World 2022 with that bold statement. Even the most exceptional work will be copied, remixed, reimagined, and reissued by other brands and consumers.


But don’t take that statement as a eulogy for our beloved practice. Instead, celebrate new and different ways of looking at your work, Robert said, starting with your strategy and structure.

Having the right resources (including the strategic roles, teams, and repeatable procedures) lets you fluidly change and evolve all the time.

And that’s where you’ll find your new competitive advantage.

Invest in a remarkable (and human) voice

Take Netflix, for example. The streaming giant made the strategic choice to invest in real, live humans to write the closed caption subtitles for its smash-hit Stranger Things. That choice paid off with the kind of online buzz no brand can buy.

Woman with brown hair and glasses in a floral suit on stage.Marketing Profs Ann Handley brought the backstory to the keynote stage:

Most streamers use automated transcriptions to help people with hearing difficulties follow what’s happening on screen. But Netflix assigned marketing writers to craft vivid descriptions of the sounds accompanying the Stranger Things action.

The evocative and unsettling words they used (wetly squelching, tentacles roiling) caught the attention of younger viewers – a segment that watches shows with captions on regardless of their hearing ability. Earned media mentions skittered across the web, entangling viewers in a whole new viewing (and reading) experience.

The lesson, Ann said, is that voice can carry your brand’s unique personality, even when your brand isn’t mentioned. Investing in it is a strategic choice that sets your brand apart.

“A warm, relatable brand voice is increasingly crucial. It’s how we need to start developing relationships with our audiences, especially in this world of content abundance,” Ann said.


A warm, relatable brand voice helps develop relationships with your audiences in a world of #content abundance, says @annhandley via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet


Do what others don’t dare

Black man with a mustache and beard wearing a black shirt, sport coat, and black pants on stage.Before Netflix broke the closed-caption mold, marketing visionary Bonin Bough broke publishing conventions.

While writing a book about how mobile phones transformed communication, he hit on a unique idea. Why not put his phone number on the cover, so readers could reach out and continue the dialog?

His publishers balked. So, Bonin purchased the rights from them and published the book his way. Since 2016, more than 50,000 readers of Txt Me: Your Phone Has Changed Your Life. Let’s Talk About It have called to create a personal connection with him.

A co-founder of Group Black – a media collective and accelerator focused on advancing Black-owned media properties ­– Bonin built his groundbreaking marketing career by thinking differently about what others consider impossible.

Bonin offers advice on how to challenge convention into meaningful marketing actions:

  • Aspire, but have a plan to see ideas through: While aspiration is a significant first step, you must develop the muscle memory to see your ideas to completion. Allocate the time, resources, and effort to execute the ideas.
  • Operate in real-time: The set-it-and-forget-it mentality doesn’t work anymore. Think about how you can change your business to deliver products in real time.
  • Be resourceful: Experimenting with content is not about how much money is available. It’s about how well you use the assets, talent, and resources you have.
  • Operationalize innovation: Look for models you can reverse-engineer to guide the development of your ideas and create guardrails and structures that make innovation more manageable.
  • Be curious: If you build the skill of curiosity, you can foster environments that create change.
  • Don’t give up: A no from stakeholders doesn’t mean your idea is bad. It just means it’s not the right fit under the current situation. Keep workshopping it. If all else fails, consider developing it elsewhere or on your own.

How you use the assets, talent, and resources you have matters more than the size of your budget, says @boughb via @joderama @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Advocate for a clear content career path

People remain the most valuable (and expensive) content marketing assets. So cultivating content marketing careers is one of the most strategic choices an organization can make.

Upcoming CMI research shared at the conference shows most content marketers are at least somewhat satisfied with their current roles. Yet few feel sure about how they’ll grow in those roles. And of those who do have a clear career path, 20% say they’ll have to leave their employer to get there.


“We have to build a career path into what it is we do. There’s no way content becomes a strategic function in the business if we don’t look at this. It will always be just a content factory,” Robert said.

White woman with blonde hair wearing a navy blue shirt and green and navy pleated skirt on stage.Jessica Bergmann shared how Salesforce did this. Working with the employee success team, Jessica and colleagues documented a career path for content team members to follow to progress from individual contributors to executive management.

Each company should build a path that suits its structure and culture. But Jessica shared some ideas any brand can use to start seeding opportunities and laying a professional path for content team members:

  • Advocate for integrated content teams: “It’s important that you show up as one company with one voice. We can’t have all different teams creating content everywhere and showing up with different voices and perspectives,” she said.
  • Define content roles and responsibilities clearly: Understand how content-centric teams across the organization collaborate and align their efforts to help content strategy get a seat at the decision-makers’ table.
  • Create democratized performance dashboards: Empower company leadership to see each content asset’s performance without asking for it.
  • Automate the ordinary: Using your automation tools to reduce time spent performing mundane tasks will allow content teams to focus on creating extraordinary and impactful content experiences.


Set your vision on meaningful change

Perhaps the most urgent strategic question today is this: How will you create content that leads to a meaningful change in the world?

With trust declining in government and other institutions, audiences now expect brands to work toward something beyond their balance sheet. Robert Rose pointed out in his talk that the subhead for Edelman’s 2022 Trust Barometer is this: “Societal leadership is now a core function of business.”

Light skinned black man wearing a black shirt and black pants on stage. Content Marketing World 2022 on screen in the background.

Mark Harrison brought home the role of content (and individual content practitioners) in this function. A volunteer and entrepreneur who founded sponsorship agency T1 to work exclusively with impactful brands, Mark is committed to making a difference.

“I have a simple personal vision, and that is to create a world of belonging,” he said. “No matter what you look like, what you sound like, or where you come from, you will feel that you belong.”

Mark executes his mission by building what he calls the above-ground railroad, giving the nod to the underground railroad that helped thousands of enslaved people escape to freedom in the United States. The above-ground railroad activates networks of people to bring greater equity and opportunity to those who have been marginalized by society.

Part of that work involves amplifying their struggles and their strengths to those who have the power to increase inclusivity.


“Amplifying voices is not giving your social pages over to somebody that doesn’t look like you. It’s about showing real courage,” Mark said.

Amplifying voices is about showing real courage, says @MarkHarrison3 via @joderama @CMIContent #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Mark shared a brand example that shows how powerful courageous content can be. When Harry Met Santa, a video from Posten Norge, tells the story of a developing relationship between a man (Harry) and Santa Claus. The video ends with a romantic kiss between the two, followed by this closing line: “In 2022, Norway marks 50 years of being able to love whoever we want.”


How will you make content better for everyone?

These and other Content Marketing World conversations make one thing clear: You have your work cut out for you.

But you also have an opportunity to rethink your content strategy to create something remarkable. That strategy might include investments in:

  • Talented creators who help develop your brand’s distinctive voice
  • A clear career path that helps you keep your talent
  • New and different approaches to content possibilities
  • Making a societal impact

What takeaways resonate with you? Where do you plan to focus your strategy for the rest of the year and into 2023? Let us know in the comments.

Want more insight from these and other Content Marketing World speakers? Register for an on-demand pass to get access to session recordings through Dec. 31, 2022. Use code BLOG100 to save $100.

 Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute


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