Stepping Beyond Paid Search in Search Marketing

The old saying “you get what you pay for” doesn’t always apply when you’re trying to drive search traffic to your website. Sure, paid search pushes you to the top of a page of search results for relevant searches, and that’s a great thing. It can be especially valuable when someone’s ready to buy a particular item, and they’ve already done the research and just want to find a nearby store or online channel where they can make their purchase. But you’ll eventually reach a point where you’ve exhausted your exposure through paid search for those high-performing keywords. Or you’ll find that you’re in a market where the cost of bidding for highly competitive keywords becomes prohibitive.

That’s why you need to get creative and find effective ways of expanding your organic search results, and do as much as possible to make sure your content matches the search terms people actually use. Organic search can be more effective than paid search when people are in the early stages of search, while they’re still open to being influenced by what their searches turn up – and when they may be mistrustful of paid results. Assuming you’ve already optimized your website to rank high in organic search results for your highest converting keywords and key phrases, what else can you do to help ensure good end-results – especially if you’re in a highly competitive market?

By using a search marketing strategy that includes content such as Q&A, customer reviews and blogging, you can drive better organic search results for your business. Here’s how.

Use Q&A to share specific useful information

Q&A is a great way to drive organic search traffic for several reasons. As we’ve explained in a previous post on the topic, Q&A has helped businesses double or even triple their organic traffic year over year; we’ve even seen some businesses have notable increases in the early weeks or months of rolling out Q&A software on their website.

Q&A works well largely because it tends to focus on information that people need and to talk about it in the same terms and language they use when they search. For example, let’s say you run a business that sells cookware to consumers. If people are typing in the question “Do I need to replace a rubber spatula if it started to melt in a hot pan?” and you have Q&A content on your website that addresses that very question, in very much the same language that people are using when they ask, that content’s going to drive traffic to you. It also works because it’s so specific. “Do I need to replace a rubber spatula if it started to melt in a hot pan?” is going to get you a higher ranking than, say, a broader, more competitive search phrase like “rubber spatula” or even “melted spatula.” Check out our earlier post to learn more about how that works. Then you can accompany your Q&A content with an appropriate call to action to steer visitors to relevant products.

Draw more search visitors through customer reviews

Another way you can draw more search traffic to your site is by inviting people to review your business or product. This is an indirect but powerful way of drawing more organic traffic to your website. Let’s dive into how this works for you.

Let’s say you sell CRM Software. Do a search for “CRM Software Reviews” and you’ll see results with lists of reviewed companies on industry-specific review sites like Capterra and SoftwareAdvice.  If you’re a local store or company and do a similar search, you’ll likely to see results that include review-driven sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor, or Google Places. As potential customers are doing their pre-sales due diligence, a notable number will go this route. When they do, make sure you have a chance to capture their attention with a presence on these review sites that are ranking well for your industry. Try it for yourself: Search “[YOUR INDUSTRY OR COMPANY TYPE] Reviews” and see what pops up. Make sure you ask your customers to put honest reviews on those review sites, and you will in turn be able to indirectly draw more relevant customers to your site via search engines.

That leads to another important point to keep in mind, especially is the area of customer reviews is new territory for you. It’s good practice to ask for honest reviews rather than asking for positive reviews. (In fact, Yelp discourages asking for reviews, partly because they assume businesses will only ask for positive reviews.) Of course, if you ask for honest reviews, there’s always the risk that not all the reviews will be good. Some may even be downright negative. But don’t let that stop you. Instead, focus on motivating positive word of mouth by encouraging people who’ve had good experiences with you, and who are happy to be advocates for your business, to review you.

When you do get a negative review – which you’re probably going to at some point – turn it into an opportunity. Thank the reviewer for letting you know about the problem, promise to fix it and then follow through with action. This can lead to a couple of different positive outcomes. First, you may turn a dissatisfied customer into a fan, which is something you would have never had the opportunity to do if you didn’t include customer reviews in your search marketing strategy. Second, you’re likely to make a good impression on people who see that you’re eager to do right by customers.

These practices can lead to more satisfied existing customers, and more potential customers finding out about your service through search engines, which will allow you to highlight your strengths in service and support and lead to new business.

Blog, blog, blog!

Blogging is an excellent way to drive up search engine results. When you blog about topics that people are interested in, you create content that has the potential to come up in searches for those topics. There are a number of things you can do to improve how your content performs in those searches, such as including relevant keywords, coming up with a catchy yet concise title and linking to other content you’ve posted on your website. Some say posting frequently is also a good idea because it can increase your chances of being found by a search engine.

Perhaps the most important thing to do when you blog, though, is to provide fresh, high-quality content that will interest and excite people. Good content encourages others to link to and share your content, which will further improve your search engine performance. It can also establish you as an expert or authority on topics in your field, making your business a natural destination for people to go when they’re looking for information on those topics – not to mention just generally helping with positive awareness of you and your brand.

Keep in mind that when people are looking for useful content, they don’t particularly want to find advertising or promotional material instead. So while it may be tempting to use your blog mainly as a vehicle for promoting your products and services, it’s better to avoid that temptation. Let it instead be a channel for people to learn about the concepts and needs that underlie your offerings, rather than the offerings themselves. Save the pure-promotion angle for paid advertising and paid searches – that’s what paid promotion is good at. When people are looking for something that will help or enlighten them, they’ll appreciate finding exactly that on your blog. If it seems natural to mention what you do as part of making your point, that’s fine; just don’t make it the main point.

As you look for ways to increase traffic to your ecommerce store or website, keep in mind that Q&A, reviews and blogging are all good routes that you can use to avoid the toll-road approach of paid search. Of course, as in your real-world travels, there are times when a road that charges a toll is the best one to take. But just as you would never drive only on toll roads, so too should you look for alternatives to paid search that can drive people to your website.