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6 Steps To Prioritize Natural & Paid Search In A Holistic Search Strategy

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6 Steps To Prioritize Natural & Paid Search In A Holistic Search Strategy

The synergy between paid search (SEM) and natural or organic search (SEO) remains a popular topic due to the many benefits a business can experience from their synergies.

From leaning on organic results to offset paid search costs to using paid search targeting settings to tailoring results to distinct audiences, opportunities abound for organic and paid search synergy.

Google’s move this year to prioritize broad matches within paid search creates even more urgency for natural and paid search synergy.

With less control over paid search results, there is a greater chance of paid search campaigns cannibalizing natural search efforts.

Marketers who do not regularly review organic and paid traffic share side-by-side will be surprised to find that paid search has expanded to capture more traffic from new query results, which may not convert well and need to be exluded.

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With this shift in the paid search landscape, develop a holistic search strategy. Follow these six steps to ensure you address all new paid search implications for organic search.

Before developing strategies for prioritizing natural and paid search efforts, it will be important to take several foundational steps and analyze how your site analytics trends.

1. Restructure Your Paid Search Campaigns

First, ensure that your paid search campaigns have adopted the latest keyword best practices.

Specifically, restructure your efforts to leverage broad match paying close attention to negative keywords.

On the one hand, your campaign will likely shrink in the number of groups and positive keywords.

At the same time, the number of negatives should grow. Negative keywords are more crucial than ever to prevent budget drain and ensure paid search ads show only in the desired circumstances.

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2. Establish New Performance Baselines

Before designing strategies for natural and paid synergy, it is essential to establish new performance baselines across paid and organic search.

Gain Statistically Significant Data

With your paid search account restructured, ensure that you acquire statistically significant data across your campaigns to understand new performance dynamics. The longer your site’s conversion cycle is, the longer this will take.

However, it is well worth it. First, you will gain clean and reliable paid search data.

Secondly, this calibration period will double as a reset time for organic search and for your organic presence to adjust.

Keep Adjusting Your Paid Search Negatives

During the above calibration period, closely watch your paid search query reports for additional negative keywords to mine.

Leveraging scripts is highly recommended to automate at least some of the steps. Using negative keyword lists in shared libraries will help reduce heavy manual lifting.

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Monitor Change vs. Prior Baselines

Aside from the “before and after comparison” (i.e., comparison vs. the period preceding changes), look at the change vs. the same period a year ago, so you account for any seasonality.

3. Use Multiple Success Metrics

Consider what metrics are important to monitor for comparison and will be most actionable for your team.

If a KPI is hard for your team to influence, it becomes secondary importance.

Use a weighted, multiple metrics approach rather than pinning the analysis on any single success criteria.

  • Conversion rate, cost/conversion event: The most intuitive metrics consider how successful and costly it is to leverage each site visit. Other metrics will explain why a given performance is observed and how to improve it.
  • Clicks or visits: This is a helpful guide for prioritizing opportunities. Any identified opportunity or insight should pass the test of being scalable enough to impact your business. Opportunities with limited traffic impact are ultimately not worth a resource investment given the small effect on the bottom line.
  • Bounce rate: Frequently used in SEO and overlooked for paid search, bounce rate is a good indicator if your user’s intent is aligned with the search result’s message (more on that later) and the landing page content.
  • Time on site, page views, pages/visit: Together with bounce rate, knowing how long users spend on the site and how much content they have consumed provides much-needed context for conversion metrics. Are people converting poorly after seeing much content? Maybe they are not bouncing but still not finding what they need, or conversions are strong with high page views. This is an opportunity to look into the landing page content and shorten the site journey.
  • Click-through rate (CTR): If traffic opportunity is much greater than your visits, CTR is a good metric for keeping those seemingly little opportunities on the radar. Here, even a small  SERP  language optimization would notably boost site traffic.
  • Rank/position: Any organic versus paid search analysis would be incomplete without considering SERP rank or position. It can explain a lot about performance, but prioritizing a natural or a paid result, shouldn’t be focused solely on rank. Maximizing conversions and site traffic can be achieved even without ranking in top organic or paid search positions. Being in the striking distance of a couple of listings is still worth getting excited about.

4. Analyze Organic And Paid Search Contribution To Driving Site Engagement

As natural and paid search trends stabilize, analyze how users interact with various portions of your site and to what extent natural vs. paid search drives these activities.

With this information, you can then determine if paid search efforts complement natural search.

Consider how each channel drives engagement with each website area and to what extent the cost of paid search traffic and organic search resources are worthwhile based on how engagement from each channel supports business objectives.

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With natural search costs being indirect, there is often a tendency to view organic traffic as “free.” However, it is not accidental, resulting from deliberate content creation and site optimization efforts.

It can also effectively create paid search savings by offsetting costly paid search activity. Thus, it is only fair to factor in the cost of natural search resources and programs alongside.

This will set the stage for how to align organic and paid search strategies to support business needs holistically.

Consider ramping up the natural search if paid search costs are escalating (to start saving) or if paid search activity is plateauing for an extra boost.

Alternatively, paid search is worth prioritizing when natural search traffic has been challenging to garner or grow.

While either paid or the natural search may end up in a leading role, it is worthwhile not to choose one channel at the expense of the other.

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As the search space evolves and audience behavior shifts for the channel being deprioritized, it is best to maintain a base presence. It can then be ramped up if needed without doing so from scratch.

5. Understand The Full SERP Landscape

A truly holistic search strategy would be incomplete without considering the competitive landscape.

Comparing your own natural and paid search performance is helpful, but doing it without the context of who appears alongside misses valuable perspectives on why results are what they may be.

Incorporating competitive and universal search insights is essential for a thorough organic versus natural search analysis.

  • Ranking gets tricky when the first organic results appear much lower in the SERP than their high rank may suggest. The first organic result often appears below metasearch, shopping, and paid search listings, thereby not being in the implied first position a user may see.
  • Messaging in ads and organic description is key for understanding what happens onsite. Poor performance could be due to competitors having more compelling organic result descriptions or multiple assets appearing in the SERP, not missteps in one’s own organic or paid search tactics.
  • Misalignment of landing page experience with what users see in the SERP is another dynamic to look out for, particularly with the mobile device experience in mind. With natural search results heavily determined by the organic algorithm, achieving the desired visibility may take a few rounds.

6. Establish A Regular Review Cadence With A Scalable Reporting Process And Joint Ownership

Finally, establish a scalable process that allows consistent data gathering, measurement, and insight sharing.

Close monitoring is key to spotting emerging trends and ensuring that any shifts are quickly addressed.

In doing so, ensure that natural and paid search findings are jointly reviewed with single ownership.

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Too often, paid and organic search performance is reported separately without an easy way to align them for joint analysis.

Ideally, ownership of success across organic and paid search performance would reside within the same team and the same lead.

Aside from facilitating a joint search vision, having a singular stakeholder for natural and paid search strategy will ensure that neither channel is favored over the other, with paid and organic tactics truly complementing one another.

Summary

With paid search execution updated to account for the latest broad match dynamics and a complementary approach between natural and paid search, you are ready to harness natural and paid search most synergistically.

Setting up scalable joint reporting and singular ownership for natural and paid search success will ensure that your organization has the proper process, tools, and people to prioritize natural and paid search efforts most effectively.

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Featured Image: Constantin Stanciu/Shutterstock



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Google On Hyphens In Domain Names

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What Google says about using hyphens in domain names

Google’s John Mueller answered a question on Reddit about why people don’t use hyphens with domains and if there was something to be concerned about that they were missing.

Domain Names With Hyphens For SEO

I’ve been working online for 25 years and I remember when using hyphens in domains was something that affiliates did for SEO when Google was still influenced by keywords in the domain, URL, and basically keywords anywhere on the webpage. It wasn’t something that everyone did, it was mainly something that was popular with some affiliate marketers.

Another reason for choosing domain names with keywords in them was that site visitors tended to convert at a higher rate because the keywords essentially prequalified the site visitor. I know from experience how useful two-keyword domains (and one word domain names) are for conversions, as long as they didn’t have hyphens in them.

A consideration that caused hyphenated domain names to fall out of favor is that they have an untrustworthy appearance and that can work against conversion rates because trustworthiness is an important factor for conversions.

Lastly, hyphenated domain names look tacky. Why go with tacky when a brandable domain is easier for building trust and conversions?

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Domain Name Question Asked On Reddit

This is the question asked on Reddit:

“Why don’t people use a lot of domains with hyphens? Is there something concerning about it? I understand when you tell it out loud people make miss hyphen in search.”

And this is Mueller’s response:

“It used to be that domain names with a lot of hyphens were considered (by users? or by SEOs assuming users would? it’s been a while) to be less serious – since they could imply that you weren’t able to get the domain name with fewer hyphens. Nowadays there are a lot of top-level-domains so it’s less of a thing.

My main recommendation is to pick something for the long run (assuming that’s what you’re aiming for), and not to be overly keyword focused (because life is too short to box yourself into a corner – make good things, course-correct over time, don’t let a domain-name limit what you do online). The web is full of awkward, keyword-focused short-lived low-effort takes made for SEO — make something truly awesome that people will ask for by name. If that takes a hyphen in the name – go for it.”

Pick A Domain Name That Can Grow

Mueller is right about picking a domain name that won’t lock your site into one topic. When a site grows in popularity the natural growth path is to expand the range of topics the site coves. But that’s hard to do when the domain is locked into one rigid keyword phrase. That’s one of the downsides of picking a “Best + keyword + reviews” domain, too. Those domains can’t grow bigger and look tacky, too.

That’s why I’ve always recommended brandable domains that are memorable and encourage trust in some way.

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Read the post on Reddit:

Are domains with hyphens bad?

Read Mueller’s response here.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Benny Marty

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Reddit Post Ranks On Google In 5 Minutes

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Google apparently ranks Reddit posts within minutes

Google’s Danny Sullivan disputed the assertions made in a Reddit discussion that Google is showing a preference for Reddit in the search results. But a Redditor’s example proves that it’s possible for a Reddit post to rank in the top ten of the search results within minutes and to actually improve rankings to position #2 a week later.

Discussion About Google Showing Preference To Reddit

A Redditor (gronetwork) complained that Google is sending so many visitors to Reddit that the server is struggling with the load and shared an example that proved that it can only take minutes for a Reddit post to rank in the top ten.

That post was part of a 79 post Reddit thread where many in the r/SEO subreddit were complaining about Google allegedly giving too much preference to Reddit over legit sites.

The person who did the test (gronetwork) wrote:

“…The website is already cracking (server down, double posts, comments not showing) because there are too many visitors.

…It only takes few minutes (you can test it) for a post on Reddit to appear in the top ten results of Google with keywords related to the post’s title… (while I have to wait months for an article on my site to be referenced). Do the math, the whole world is going to spam here. The loop is completed.”

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Reddit Post Ranked Within Minutes

Another Redditor asked if they had tested if it takes “a few minutes” to rank in the top ten and gronetwork answered that they had tested it with a post titled, Google SGE Review.

gronetwork posted:

“Yes, I have created for example a post named “Google SGE Review” previously. After less than 5 minutes it was ranked 8th for Google SGE Review (no quotes). Just after Washingtonpost.com, 6 authoritative SEO websites and Google.com’s overview page for SGE (Search Generative Experience). It is ranked third for SGE Review.”

It’s true, not only does that specific post (Google SGE Review) rank in the top 10, the post started out in position 8 and it actually improved ranking, currently listed beneath the number one result for the search query “SGE Review”.

Screenshot Of Reddit Post That Ranked Within Minutes

Anecdotes Versus Anecdotes

Okay, the above is just one anecdote. But it’s a heck of an anecdote because it proves that it’s possible for a Reddit post to rank within minutes and get stuck in the top of the search results over other possibly more authoritative websites.

hankschrader79 shared that Reddit posts outrank Toyota Tacoma forums for a phrase related to mods for that truck.

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Google’s Danny Sullivan responded to that post and the entire discussion to dispute that Reddit is not always prioritized over other forums.

Danny wrote:

“Reddit is not always prioritized over other forums. [super vhs to mac adapter] I did this week, it goes Apple Support Community, MacRumors Forum and further down, there’s Reddit. I also did [kumo cloud not working setup 5ghz] recently (it’s a nightmare) and it was the Netgear community, the SmartThings Community, GreenBuildingAdvisor before Reddit. Related to that was [disable 5g airport] which has Apple Support Community above Reddit. [how to open an 8 track tape] — really, it was the YouTube videos that helped me most, but it’s the Tapeheads community that comes before Reddit.

In your example for [toyota tacoma], I don’t even get Reddit in the top results. I get Toyota, Car & Driver, Wikipedia, Toyota again, three YouTube videos from different creators (not Toyota), Edmunds, a Top Stories unit. No Reddit, which doesn’t really support the notion of always wanting to drive traffic just to Reddit.

If I guess at the more specific query you might have done, maybe [overland mods for toyota tacoma], I get a YouTube video first, then Reddit, then Tacoma World at third — not near the bottom. So yes, Reddit is higher for that query — but it’s not first. It’s also not always first. And sometimes, it’s not even showing at all.”

hankschrader79 conceded that they were generalizing when they wrote that Google always prioritized Reddit. But they also insisted that that didn’t diminish what they said is a fact that Google’s “prioritization” forum content has benefitted Reddit more than actual forums.

Why Is The Reddit Post Ranked So High?

It’s possible that Google “tested” that Reddit post in position 8 within minutes and that user interaction signals indicated to Google’s algorithms that users prefer to see that Reddit post. If that’s the case then it’s not a matter of Google showing preference to Reddit post but rather it’s users that are showing the preference and the algorithm is responding to those preferences.

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Nevertheless, an argument can be made that user preferences for Reddit can be a manifestation of Familiarity Bias. Familiarity Bias is when people show a preference for things that are familiar to them. If a person is familiar with a brand because of all the advertising they were exposed to then they may show a bias for the brand products over unfamiliar brands.

Users who are familiar with Reddit may choose Reddit because they don’t know the other sites in the search results or because they have a bias that Google ranks spammy and optimized websites and feel safer reading Reddit.

Google may be picking up on those user interaction signals that indicate a preference and satisfaction with the Reddit results but those results may simply be biases and not an indication that Reddit is trustworthy and authoritative.

Is Reddit Benefiting From A Self-Reinforcing Feedback Loop?

It may very well be that Google’s decision to prioritize user generated content may have started a self-reinforcing pattern that draws users in to Reddit through the search results and because the answers seem plausible those users start to prefer Reddit results. When they’re exposed to more Reddit posts their familiarity bias kicks in and they start to show a preference for Reddit. So what could be happening is that the users and Google’s algorithm are creating a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

Is it possible that Google’s decision to show more user generated content has kicked off a cycle where more users are exposed to Reddit which then feeds back into Google’s algorithm which in turn increases Reddit visibility, regardless of lack of expertise and authoritativeness?

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Kues

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WordPress Releases A Performance Plugin For “Near-Instant Load Times”

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WordPress speculative loading plugin

WordPress released an official plugin that adds support for a cutting edge technology called speculative loading that can help boost site performance and improve the user experience for site visitors.

Speculative Loading

Rendering means constructing the entire webpage so that it instantly displays (rendering). When your browser downloads the HTML, images, and other resources and puts it together into a webpage, that’s rendering. Prerendering is putting that webpage together (rendering it) in the background.

What this plugin does is to enable the browser to prerender the entire webpage that a user might navigate to next. The plugin does that by anticipating which webpage the user might navigate to based on where they are hovering.

Chrome lists a preference for only prerendering when there is an at least 80% probability of a user navigating to another webpage. The official Chrome support page for prerendering explains:

“Pages should only be prerendered when there is a high probability the page will be loaded by the user. This is why the Chrome address bar prerendering options only happen when there is such a high probability (greater than 80% of the time).

There is also a caveat in that same developer page that prerendering may not happen based on user settings, memory usage and other scenarios (more details below about how analytics handles prerendering).

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The Speculative Loading API solves a problem that previous solutions could not because in the past they were simply prefetching resources like JavaScript and CSS but not actually prerendering the entire webpage.

The official WordPress announcement explains it like this:

Introducing the Speculation Rules API
The Speculation Rules API is a new web API that solves the above problems. It allows defining rules to dynamically prefetch and/or prerender URLs of certain structure based on user interaction, in JSON syntax—or in other words, speculatively preload those URLs before the navigation. This API can be used, for example, to prerender any links on a page whenever the user hovers over them.”

The official WordPress page about this new functionality describes it:

“The Speculation Rules API is a new web API… It allows defining rules to dynamically prefetch and/or prerender URLs of certain structure based on user interaction, in JSON syntax—or in other words, speculatively preload those URLs before the navigation.

This API can be used, for example, to prerender any links on a page whenever the user hovers over them. Also, with the Speculation Rules API, “prerender” actually means to prerender the entire page, including running JavaScript. This can lead to near-instant load times once the user clicks on the link as the page would have most likely already been loaded in its entirety. However that is only one of the possible configurations.”

The new WordPress plugin adds support for the Speculation Rules API. The Mozilla developer pages, a great resource for HTML technical understanding describes it like this:

“The Speculation Rules API is designed to improve performance for future navigations. It targets document URLs rather than specific resource files, and so makes sense for multi-page applications (MPAs) rather than single-page applications (SPAs).

The Speculation Rules API provides an alternative to the widely-available <link rel=”prefetch”> feature and is designed to supersede the Chrome-only deprecated <link rel=”prerender”> feature. It provides many improvements over these technologies, along with a more expressive, configurable syntax for specifying which documents should be prefetched or prerendered.”

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See also: Are Websites Getting Faster? New Data Reveals Mixed Results

Performance Lab Plugin

The new plugin was developed by the official WordPress performance team which occasionally rolls out new plugins for users to test ahead of possible inclusion into the actual WordPress core. So it’s a good opportunity to be first to try out new performance technologies.

The new WordPress plugin is by default set to prerender “WordPress frontend URLs” which are pages, posts, and archive pages. How it works can be fine-tuned under the settings:

Settings > Reading > Speculative Loading

Browser Compatibility

The Speculative API is supported by Chrome 108 however the specific rules used by the new plugin require Chrome 121 or higher. Chrome 121 was released in early 2024.

Browsers that do not support will simply ignore the plugin and will have no effect on the user experience.

Check out the new Speculative Loading WordPress plugin developed by the official core WordPress performance team.

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How Analytics Handles Prerendering

A WordPress developer commented with a question asking how Analytics would handle prerendering and someone else answered that it’s up to the Analytics provider to detect a prerender and not count it as a page load or site visit.

Fortunately both Google Analytics and Google Publisher Tags (GPT) both are able to handle prerenders. The Chrome developers support page has a note about how analytics handles prerendering:

“Google Analytics handles prerender by delaying until activation by default as of September 2023, and Google Publisher Tag (GPT) made a similar change to delay triggering advertisements until activation as of November 2023.”

Possible Conflict With Ad Blocker Extensions

There are a couple things to be aware of about this plugin, aside from the fact that it’s an experimental feature that requires Chrome 121 or higher.

A comment by a WordPress plugin developer that this feature may not work with browsers that are using the uBlock Origin ad blocking browser extension.

Download the plugin:
Speculative Loading Plugin by the WordPress Performance Team

Read the announcement at WordPress
Speculative Loading in WordPress

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See also: WordPress, Wix & Squarespace Show Best CWV Rate Of Improvement

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