Spend more on crafting your copy than promoting it – more bang for your buck

According to the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO), with respect to search engine marketing, nearly $13.5 billion was spent to promote sites and campaigns in 2008. Out of that $13.5 billion, 88% was spent on paid search ads alone and 11% was left to search engine optimization.

Now does this seem like a logical thing to do? I think the percentage is a little off-balanced. Why could that be? Is it because people think they understand paid search ads better than with SEO? I think that it would be easier to do some search optimization work compared to simply doing paid ads. eMarketer says that this will eventually change in the future, but my thought is why did it become this disproportional in the first place? In an article on eMarketer, they seem to agree with my understanding:

“Internet users prefer organic listings to paid search. They generally find them more relevant—or simply more acceptable—than advertising,� said eMarketer senior analyst David Hallerman. “Therefore, they tend to click on organic results more often than on paid search ads.�

So why are you pouring all your money into paid search? It’s basically a “spray and pray” approach. Yes, paid search ads do have a manner of being contextual, but at the same time, you’re banking that someone will see your ad. How often do you do searches and totally ignore the “paid sponsored” links on the top of the page or on the right hand side? I often do – in fact, I only pay attention to my search results, as just alluded to by David Hallerman (see above quote). But what can you do instead of focusing on paid search? Focus on your copy. That’s what you need to do.

Instead of having on your website a bunch of marketing “fluff” copy, why don’t you change it so that you have it in a manner that your target audience will understand if they accidentally come across your site or access it directly via manually typing the URL or through some other referral. Rather than putting a term that only your profession understands, why not put in terminology that they get? For example, instead of writing “web 2.0” in every piece of copy, perhaps you want to focus on “social media” or write out the particular applications like “Facebook“, “Myspace“, “Twitter“, “YouTube“, etc.?

Address your internal content to make sure that it is as perfect as you can expect before going out and promoting your site. Especially in an economy such as what we’re in, you might want to look at curbing unnecessary spending and you can dutifully do that through constantly optimizing your content. Just look at the keywords that you’d buy for paid search and at least optimize what you want through SEO. Granted, SEO may take a little longer to get noticed on search engines versus paid ads which are rather instantaneous, but let’s think about the long-term and what can bring you better ROI during that time? If done correctly, SEO is the way to go.

While working on a search engine audit for a previous employer, I was speaking with one of our consultants who put the difference between search advertising (paid search ads) and SEO: think about if you’re buying a home, then you’d go with SEO, but if you want to rent, then it’s SEA (search engine advertising). So in other words, if you’re trying to build traffic for your main website and want to have lasting impressions and are all set to make something happen, then trust in SEO. Search advertising is only good when you want a short-term fix and don’t want to build up any relationship between the user and the brand.

“Marketers are realizing that even if optimization’s effects are not as obvious as paid search advertising,� added Mr. Hallerman, “SEO delivers longer-term results that support any search marketing campaign.�

I’m not saying to totally ignore paid search ads…because quite the contrary. You’re going to find that some of the keywords you want to be noticed on are quite competitive because of other sites bidding on top placement. So if you find the keyword bid to be low and the competition scarce, then perhaps you want to do some paid ads, but with more competitive words, rather than paying top dollar, focus on fixing up the content and making the site relevant to that keyword.

The key to getting the best bang for your buck is not to put all your eggs in one basket. Look at a combination of search initiatives and you’ll soon be noticed.

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently Flipboard's Assistant Managing Editor, overseeing news curation in technology, science, gaming and health. In addition to his day job, Ken's the co-host of "The Created Economy" podcast, examining the Creator Economy. In a past life, he was a former reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding.