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Organic Search – As popular as ever, but why?

The message is still loud and clear for search marketers; free search is still one of the most important variables in getting the most from the search environment: but why? In the current climate of paid for search, why is the free search variable still mentioned? This article investigates whether or not the old ways are still the best.

Just for the record let’s clear up what is meant by organic search. Commonly referred to as organic, free and natural search, this is the process of optimising the content of a website to gain better listings in engines like Google. Elements such as meta tags, meta descriptions and link popularity are all involved in the process used to ensure that content is carefully manipulated to ensure rankings. The better these items (plus a myriad of other additional elements) are structured and the better the content held within, the higher the index of the site when a relevant topic is searched upon.

The most obvious answer to why organic search is still as popular as ever is that in most people’s eyes it doesn’t have a cost per click associated with it. For any decision maker recognising, for the first time in many cases, the value of search, this appears to be the perfect option, making the site as visible as possible for little or no costs.

The realism is, however, more complicated than it may seem. For every benefit of having a zero cost per click, the process that needs to be taken to achieve results is comprehensive, and in many cases expensive. HTML is still the chosen language of search engines spiders, however, the least likely language for designers to develop websites, and thus generates a natural conflict, one that is an expensive one to overcome. Site Side Optimization (SSO) is a process that is a skill that many don’t have. Trusting the department of web designers to do the job can’t achieve the desired objectives - the skills required are held in the hands of individuals that warrant consultancy costs.

Search engines have always been susceptible to manipulation and fraud by those with less than moral objectives. Known as search engine spamming the procedures of maximising a website’s potential can be done by using techniques that search engines don’t like. For this reason the engines took two particular routes for ensuring that content was of a high quality and relevant for their users. The first is making sites pay for clicks. As ROI becomes more prominent it is a good assumption to make that a site won’t pay for traffic that won’t convert on the destination site. This model has become one of the most dominant within the space in the past two years. The second method used by engines is to change the variables they use to rank a website, to move the goal posts every now and again, to ensure those utilising unsuitable procedures are constantly having to change. Unfortunately this also means that those optimising a site legitimately, also have to continue to maintain and update the code.

The last variable to consider for optimising a site is that unless Google is the only engine you want your site to be listed in you’ll have to pay for the clicks. When Yahoo dropped Google listings for their own, the distribution for organic search was reduced by up to 40% and the replacement option: a submission fee and an ongoing cost per click model.

Adding all of these variables together and the prospect of organic search seems less attractive as it may have originally seemed. Outsourcing the process of optimising content, having it maintained constantly and the likelihood of having to pay a cost per click anyway and the question must be… “Is organic search optmisation the right way to go?”

The answer to this is definitely up to the individual company, and the responsibility of the consultancy firm that they are dealing with, to illustrate if and how organic search forms the basis of an overall search engine portfolio. The fact that in many instances paid for placement offers complete control of creative, flexibility of campaign length, guaranteed position, depending upon how much you’ll bid, and the best placements in all of the major portals, questions must be raised as to what should be done to make the most of search.

In most cases the lure of zero costs per click can seem like hitting search for six, however, the costs associated with it divided by the cost per click for paid placement, could result in a lengthy period of time in top positions.

Organic search is still valid, but should not be used as a fall back or desperate measure to satisfy internal pressure to win with search, or to offset the cost associated with a click model.

About the Author

James Colborn is an Account Director for Inceptor Inc. and operates from their US based headquarters in Boston. James is the former eMarketing lecturer at South Bank University and also writes for Payperclickanalyst.com - an online magazine for search engine marketing and pay per click search engines. You can contact James by emailing him at anytime at: james.colborn@inceptor.com

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