Natural Search Vs. Paid Search, Part 2

Paid Search Marketing Jul 27, 2006

The Web 2.0 Blog Network graciously covered HitTail today. Thanks. We were particularly interested in how they positioned growing natural search traffic as distinct from search engine optimization. Kudos to this observer for coming up with another excellent way to put non-paid search traffic in context. Not everything on the natural side is SEO, especially when the optimization’s already done for you. Blog software has simplified the mechanics to such an extent that all you’re really doing is focusing on developing quality content, and trusting that natural search traffic will follow.

And it does.

But we at HitTail like paid search too, and think it is a good deal. In fact, we’re getting close to promoting HitTailing via the AdSense network. Yes, it’s true! As much as we like natural search traffic, there’s nothing like the clear deal of X-amount of money for Y-amount of exposure in the early days of an endeavor when your site hasn’t reached critical mass yet.

So, while we suggest employing each marketing method appropriate to its function and your available funds, we still think natural search is best in the long term. That’s why we’re also in the public relations biz, and not advertising.

So just how good of a deal is natural search? How much is securing a free first page position on a term across all search engines worth? How much is moving onto the next, and the next and the next worth, having your site’s innate natural effectiveness snowball until you own your own destiny?

Own your own destiny?

Yes, nothing less than the contemporary version of your company’s reputation is at stake. It is very possible to build up a site that is impossible for search engines to ignore, no matter how different they are from each other, and no matter how they change over time. That’s what a powerful reputation means in the online landscape. You’ll have secured a variety of top positions for a variety of reasons. Over time, these positions tend to become more fortified. And these top positions become an innate characteristic of your company, and a corporate asset you can bank on.

At MediaPost’s Search Insider Summit last week, the keynote speaker, Chris Sherman of ClickZ and SearchWise predicted that natural search was going to be one of the hottest trends in search marketing in the coming years.

Wall Street Analyst Jordan Rohan of RBC Capital Markets called natural search the most precious commodity on the Internet, and reiterated just how important Google is in its control of this resource. Google is both the recipient of natural traffic itself (traffic that is not paid for by advertising), and as the router of the flow of natural traffic worldwide (everyone who follows non-sponsored links from Google).

Yet, we all brushed over natural search, right as we acknowledged its being the fountain of life. The fact is, if Google had not turned search into a billion-dollar business, none of us would be there. The purpose of this post is to introduce you to the elephant in the corner of the room known as natural search, and to make you comfortable in his presence.

Natural search is a nice elephant–much more pleasant and easy to get along with than you might have been led to believe.

I made a prior post about Organic Search Optimization Vs. Paid Inclusion, giving the first HitTailing example: “best pr firm in nyc”. With just one blog post, we secured a top position in all Google, Yahoo and MSN on this term. We also appeared in Ask, but not on the first page of results.

One of our counterparts in the paid search world, perhaps a little irked by our message, thought it would be clever to buy the term that we used as a public example, to so it showed up in paid search, advertising themselves as something they are not–the best PR firm in NYC. Clever, but wasteful. Those premiere local listings start at $25/mo., and they only know to zero in on the term we told them we were targeting, and are only doing it in Yahoo. In the end, they’re paying $25/mo. to provide us a great anecdotal story for a blog post.

There is some question as to stability of Blog-based HitTail search results. As I’ve documented, HitTailing is quick to appear in MSN, with the Google right on its heels. The Yahoo result took the longest to fall into place, and are in danger of falling out again (only in Yahoo), because the permalink pages are VERY slow to be included.

It takes about one month for a blog post to be included in Yahoo results, but it tends (in our experience) to use the index page (not the permalink page). Consequently, this result is going to vanish from Yahoo when it scrolls off the bottom of the blog homepage. It will be picked up again on the permalink or archive page, but don’t hold your breath. If you need to get into Yahoo quickly on long tail keywords, Yahoo! Search Marketing may be your best bet.

But if your thinking about just building search equity, then be happy with quick inclusion in MSN and Google. Think of the long Yahoo wait as payments against interest, while the portion of HitTailing that effects MSN and Google within weeks as payments against principle. You’ll get Yahoo. You just have to wait a lot longer.

And Ask takes longest of all.

So in the end, this is not so much a post about natural search vs. paid search after all. Both are appropriate. It’s more filling in the details of what you can expect as you venture into natural search. It’s the story of colleagues who are apparently watching us very closely, and taking fun jabs that probably no one will ever notice but me–and paying for the privilege.

And it’s the story of sites like the Web 2.0 Blog Network, who are recognizing what we are building, and the Web 2.0-ish techniques we are using to promote it. We practice what we preach as we HitTail and blog. Soon, we will be practicing what our counterparts in the advertising world preach as well, because it is the appropriate method at this phase in the evolution of HitTailing. And not long after that, we should have endless anecdotal stories for you about particular long tail phrases, and what they did for us.

  1. Avatar
    Arnie McKinnis

    It has always fascinated me how many companies abandon their initial focus – Take Yahoo! and Google…

    Yahoo! was first to search game and I’m assuming they had a pretty good product at the time. But with more traffic (and becoming public), they looked for additional streams of revenue and decided they were not a “search engine” company anymore, but a “portal”.

    Enter Google – when they started out, they were a search engine, plain and simple (actually, that really became the beauty of Google, it’s simplicity). What I hope, is that Google, buy their sheer size (and treasure trove of cash), never allow the simplicity of their Search business to morph into a “portal” business.

    More on topic – I like the comparison of HitTailing and Paid Search to PR and Advertising – makes a lot of sense to me.

    Keep up the good work!!

  2. Avatar
    Daryl Kulak

    I read each blog post here religiously. I love what you’ve brought to the natural search world for me, a businessperson with multiple Websites, blogs, podcasts.

    I wanted to ask a question. (I’ll post this in the forums too.)

    I can definitely see how Hittailing can give me indications of, as you say, some determined searcher found my Website after going through several pages on Google, and once I know this, I can write blog entries, articles, etc. to capitalize on that interest and improve my pagerank for that particular “long tail” search item.

    But what about the keywords that *should* be bringing people to my Website, but I don’t have them yet? Does Hittailing do anything for those keywords/phrases?

    Here’s an example. One of my Websites is about Health Savings Accounts ( Let’s say that I have something written that includes the phrase “how to invest HSA” but it’s on page 15 of Google. So, the determined person flips through to the fifteenth page and clicks to find me. Hittail notifies me – everything works.

    But then there’s a phrase “retire with HSA.” This is a great keyword phrase for me, but unfortunately it isn’t anywhere on my site, because I just didn’t think of it. So I wouldn’t show up in Google anywhere, not on page 1 nor page 15.

    Does Hittailing help me with this? I don’t think it would.

    Perhaps the only thing is that as I keep blogging about Hittail words that DO come up, I might happen to write a quick phrase about “retire with HSA” as part of another article, and then I’d get picked up and Hittailing would kick in.

    Am I asking too much from Hittailing? Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy with the whole process, I’m just wondering how far it can take me.


    Daryl Kulak

  3. Avatar
    Mike Levin

    Excellent question, Daryl, and that leads to another characteristic of blogging software vs. other content management systems. The homepage, plus the monthly archive, put many more than a single blog post on a given page. Ultimately ONLY the permalink pages have such a small set of unintended word combinations. The homepage and the archive pages on the other hand, while representing fewer overall pages of your site, have many more coincidental word combinations. A word from a post at the beginning of the month combines with a word from a post at the end of the month, and there you have the totally unexpected! This is also what “reigns in” the suggestions to be on-topic. If that isn’t enough, we have nothing against the keyword suggestion tools built into the paid keyword tools. They tend to give a broader cross-section of keywords and are very appropriate for planning your initial topics before the HitTail effect kicks in.

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