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Natural search specialists must monitor paid search too

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011
wordbank infographic

Hydra's Wordbank infographic

Digital marketing channel specialists who continue to work in silos are taking a risky approach, warns a white paper by Software-as-a-Service marketing technology provider, Hydra.

Titled “Natural Search Specialist, should Paid Search matter to you?”, the white paper highlights why it is in the natural search specialist’s best interest – be they in-house or agency-based, to plan and execute campaigns with other disciplines in mind, as opposed to working in isolation.

“Today, it is simply unacceptable for Natural Search specialists to plan budget optimisation without considering Paid Search”, says Ruth Zohrer, solutions consultant at Hydra. “If Natural Search specialists want to be successful in improving returns, it is imperative they move away from looking at Natural Search metrics alone and start looking at the big picture.”

The white paper focuses on five key points from keyword research, competitor benchmarking to budget optimisation, two of which include:

Failing to consider the Paid Search competitor landscape in natural search competitor analysis is a mistake

Few channels are driven by competitor activity as much as Natural Search*.  A competitor’s overhaul of their pages or back-link profile can lead to dramatic changes in the composition of search engine results pages (SERPs) and cause movements up or down the web rankings for other sites.  Hence competitor research is an integral part to successful Natural Search campaign management.  By regularly monitoring competitors, Natural Search specialists assess the success of their strategies, identify new methods and benchmark performance fluctuations.

Few Natural Search specialists, however, consider the Paid Search** competitor landscape in their Natural Search competitor analysis and therefore only get a fraction of the overall picture that they must consider. Zohrer points out strong brands are increasingly running campaigns on both channels, and historically, most brands have used Paid Search to substitute for Natural Search performance when not in the Top 10 SERPs.

“Natural Search specialists should supplement their competitor list with cross-channel key performance indicators (KPIs) to identify true leaders in their industry, as well as uncover weaknesses of vulnerable competitors,” says Zohrer. “This information is particularly useful in choosing which battles to fight: if a site is considerably difficult to outperform in Natural Search, resources could be allocated to another keyword instead of wasting them in pursuing a rank that is not realistic.”

In Natural Search, sudden drops in performance can often be puzzling.  Are competitors boosting their pages to outperform rival sites?  Or might this drop in performance have resulted from recent changes implemented?  Has the search engine released another update to the algorithm?  Is this caused by other issues like industry-wide trends?

Without the appropriate frame of reference, Natural Search specialists can spend a lot of time trying to answer the unknown.  In worst case scenarios, misleading evidence can result in corrective measures that worsen performance further, another aspect the white paper raises for adding Paid Search into the equation.

Natural Search specialists should make the evaluation of both Natural and Paid Search data a permanent habit when evaluating performance

Natural Search specialists should take a step back and analyse Natural Search performance in conjunction with Paid Search performance.  According to Hydra’s Zohrer, this will help pinpoint if any sudden drops might be a channel-specific issue or a wider phenomenon affecting performance such as seasonal variations or industry-wide trends.  Additionally, since search is experienced as one channel by users (Natural Search + Paid Search), a sharp performance improvement in Paid Search paired to a sharp decrease in Natural Search performance may also hint at potential strategy cannibalisation between channels.

“None of the above alternatives can be properly considered without incorporating Paid Search into the analysis, which is why Natural Search specialists should make the evaluation of both Natural and Paid Search data a permanent habit when evaluating performance.”

Hydra undertook a survey of over 300 UK-based digital marketers focussing on how digital marketing teams currently operate, based on collaboration, use of technologies and competitor analysis. A resounding 90% said they would see an advantage in using a common reporting and campaign implementation platform, indicative of an innate need for greater collaboration between these disciplines within digital marketing teams.  The survey also highlighted that those firms with multiple digital marketing disciplines whose teams interacted regularly, displayed greater confidence in their success.