SEM growth hack #4: Grow ROI with cross-channel optimization

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Search Engine Watch

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This article addresses the importance of optimizing your SEM (search engine marketing), SEO (search engine optimization) and PLA (product listing ads) channels together to gain monster ROI growth in the search channel.

Optimization of search advertising often occurs in a vacuum where SEM, SEO and PLA efforts are optimized separately. By optimizing these channels together, you can save money on unneeded ad spend while boosting your page visibility in the right places to generate more sales or leads — pushing you into monster growth territory!

Why cross-channel optimization matters

Search engine results pages (SERPs) feature different sections where different types of results appear. These sections include, but are not limited to, organic listings, text ads, product listing ads, local results, image results, news results and more. In implementing a holistic, cross-channel strategy, which takes into account site visibility across these different sections, we can direct our search marketing efforts to the channel where they will have the biggest impact on a keyword-by-keyword basis.

There are measurable benefits to optimizing SEM, SEO and PLA channels together:

  1. Weak SEO. If you are weak in organic rank, you can quickly gain top-of-page visibility by boosting paid efforts in either SEM or PLA (as relevant for the keyword at hand).
  2. Save money on SEM. If you are strong in organic rank, you could save some money on SEM by lowering to position 3 or 4.
  3. Drive efforts based on SERP layout rather than channel.  Manage the media channel that commands the top spot in the SERP (search engine results page) layout for each keyword. For example, if the page layout for a particular keyword displays PLAs first, you are better off optimizing PLA and not putting as much effort on SEM ads for that keyword.

Cross-channel optimization has eluded all of us

We all want to optimize for the entire search results page. I hear our company’s clients discuss this need frequently. However, optimization across channels has remained elusive to the industry for a variety of reasons:

  • Disparate departments. SEO, SEM and PLA usually operate in separate silos.
  • Data availability. It’s a dirty job to obtain the needed data to do this optimization.
  • Competition. Even if you have data on yourself, do you also have similar data on your competitors?

The tools you need

To get your sleeves rolled up with cross-channel optimization, you will need to know the following items:

  1. Keyword list. Identify the keywords for which you want to optimize your site. You can use several metrics to define your priority keyword list:
    1. Top search volume
    2. Top impression volume
    3. Top sales drivers for your business
  2. SERP layout for each keyword. What comes first? There are several common page layouts:
    1. PLA is first.
    2. Organic is first, SEM is at the bottom.
    3. SEM is first, followed by PLA, and then organic.
  3. Organic layout. What comes first? Within organic, various sections may appear above others. Common layouts:
    1. Video appears first for video-related searches.
    2. Local/Map listings display first for localized searches.
    3. Traditional organic text listings are displayed at the top of the SERP.

Data you need

Once you have defined which section comes first for each keyword, next you will need to score your own appearance in those sections — at the keyword level. You will need to measure and obtain the following data:

  1. Avg./Top Rank: Average rank for paid search listings (Text & PLA ads), and top rank for SEO listings.
  2. Page Share: The number of times your listings appear/the total number of listings.

I like to compute a score using these two data points so that you can readily sort your keyword list to determine where to focus your efforts. You can do this however you like; one method is to invert the ranks so that you can use a high multiple for rank (e.g., rank 1 gets a multiple of 10), and then just multiply the page share times rank to score your visibility in each channel. The higher the value, the better the score in the channel.

Once you have your score, a table or chart organized like this will come in handy:

You could also fine-tune the details in the chart above by breaking out the “Your Performance” section into finer details by showing all three metrics for each channel: Avg/Top Rank, Page Share and Score.

From here, your next step is to identify keywords where your score in organic, paid or PLA visibility is weak, then review the page layout for those keywords. If the section in question is at the top of the page, then you know you need to optimize that channel better.

Competitive performance

Once you have perfected your own optimization across channels, the next step in any good optimization strategy is to study the competitive landscape. You don’t just want to improve yourself — you also want to outpace competitors.

The same data that you used above can be used to optimize against the competition. At The Search Monitor (my employer), we take the rank and page share statistic and compute a visibility score for each competitor, then rank the entire market landscape. Using a chart like the one below, you can quickly identify the keywords and channels where your competitors are weaker or stronger than you are, giving you a fast list of keywords for competitive optimization efforts:

Final thoughts

Focus on improving your visibility by keyword, against key competitors, in all parts of the search page — and the clicks will follow. Good luck, and stay tuned for my next article on how to coordinate your PPC strategy with your affiliates to improve clicks and compliance.

Also, be sure to check the rest of my 2017 search marketing growth hack series:

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here .

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