Many ecommerce founders believe they must choose between paid search vs organic search. Yet few consider investing in PPC (paid search) and SEO (organic search). Not only is this a big mistake, but it’s an easy way to lose sales.
Google handles around 3.5 billion searches daily, and over 90% of online experiences start with a search engine. Driving more revenue means getting your ecommerce store at the top of the search results.
And while we can all agree on that, many ecommerce founders are confused about the tactical details. Do they need a strategy for organic search? Or paid search? or for both?
After working with and coaching clients for years, we believe it’s not a matter of paid search vs organic search strategies but having a marketing plan that includes both.
Organic Search (SEO) Overview for ecommerce stores
Let’s start with Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Google and Bing are still some of the best ways to drive traffic and new customer to your ecommerce store. Here an brief overview of this marketing tactic work and how it can increase revenue.
What does organic search mean?
When you type a query into Google or Bing, they display a set of results. The top few are usually adverts, which we’ll come to later. Following the adverts, you’ll see 8 to 10 results that the search engine has selected as the best answer to the search query.
We can optimize pages, blog posts, and products on an ecommerce store to display higher up these results. We call this process SEO.
Depending on the query, you might see some additional information before the organic results. Known as Knowledge panels, they show information about people, places, organizations, and things.
As knowledge panels are part of organic search, we can optimize our page for them.
How much does it cost?
SEO isn’t a dark art or expensive. But it does require a specific skill set. And like other skills, if you’re willing to learn, you can develop them.
Improving your store’s website SEO takes time, so there’s a cost involved. Search engines also require time to find new or updated pages and show them in the results.
Does it work?
Yes! If you’re reading this article, you likely found it using a search engine. However, many ecommerce founders wrongly believe SEO is like other marketing channels and instantly works after a cash injection. It doesn’t. The fact is, SEO takes time, effort, and skill for it to work.
Benefits of Organic Search
There are many reasons to invest in SEO and boost your organic search performance.
It doesn’t cost much to start SEO optimizing a website. You don’t need countless SEO tools or a degree, just some basic skills you can easily learn. However, optimizing a website isn’t simple or a task you do once.
It’s an ongoing process that requires constant tweaking, testing, and learning. Compared to other marketing channels that can cost thousands to get started, SEO is highly affordable.
Delivers an impressive ROI
SEO delivers an impressive return on investment (ROI). It can beat the ROI of PPC, adverts in a local newspaper or magazine, and more. Plus, it’s far easier to track than other marketing channels.
I can trace my love of SEO back to a few people. The main one is Neil Patel, who I still recommend people read. At the core of Neil’s SEO strategy is creating content that answers every possible question about digital marketing for small businesses.
Owning an ecommerce jewelry store sparked my interest in digital marketing. I would Google the basics (things such as “How to do SEO like Amazon?” and “Are internal links important?“) and the person who always appeared near the top? Neil!
By appearing organically for so many basic SEO questions, users view Neil as an authority on digital marketing. And if it works for Neil, you can bet it will work for your ecommerce business.
Attract new customers
A well-executed SEO strategy as a salesperson who works 24/7 with no holidays or sick days! After investing in SEO, you can drive more revenue by targeting the right potential customers.
Provides actionable data
To effectively market your ecommerce business, you must speak like your customer. Keyword research tools can help you find how your audience talks and their issues. You can then use this data to optimize your store and marketing campaigns.
As I spend more time in business, the more I want to guarantee results. Legendary marketer Dan Kennedy once illustrated this as shooting fish in a barrow. You want the largest fish in the smallest possible bucket with the biggest gun known to man!
SEO can help you with product development as you can create product pages before you create them and see if there is demand. If there’s enough demand, you’ll know you can build a profitable product or service.
Supports other marketing channels
With a comprehensive marketing plan, you should see a compounding effect. SEO will support your email, social media, and other marketing channels. They work in concert together, ensuring you capture a meaningful chunk of your target market.
Downsides of Ecommerce SEO
Like other marketing tactics, SEO does have downsides that might make it not worth the investment for your ecommerce business.
Requires routine upkeep
In some industries, organic search is fiercely competitive. It’s not a set-and-forget marketing channel. SEO is very much like gardening (sorry!). If you don’t put in regular effort, your online store will vanish from the first page of the search results, or a new competitor will capture the top spot.
Both paid and organic search marketing tactics require ongoing work and maintenance. As the old saying goes, you snooze, you lose!
Delivering results takes time
SEO doesn’t magically kick in overnight. Instead, it takes time, money, and effort to make it work. Avoid anyone who promises you quick results! Unless they can explain in very simple terms what key mistakes you’re making that are holding your ecommerce store back from ranking.
With all of my clients, I tell them upfront, it might take 6 months to start seeing good results from their SEO efforts. It could take 9 or 12 months. They might never get good results, but that’s the risk of investing in ecommerce SEO.
Requires SEO knowledge
Sadly, you can’t read a blog post or two and become an SEO pro overnight. Like other marketing disciplines, it takes years to master ecommerce SEO and requires much reading, research, and trial and error.
Even after nearly a decade doing SEO for small businesses and ecommerce websites, I still make mistakes. But I keep learning and testing new ideas to ensure my skills are sharp.
Paid Search Overview
Don’t worry if you’re new to paid search or Pay Per Click (PPC), as we’ll start with a primer. It’ll help you understand how PPC can drive loads of new customers to your ecommerce store.
What is paid search?
As the name suggests, paid search means a business or person is willing to spend money to appear at the top of the results, above the organic results. Known as Pay Per Click or PPC for short, the advertiser only pays when someone clicks on the advert.
Where do paid search results display?
After typing your query into Google or Bing, the first few results you see will be paid adverts. Typically, these adverts are text only unless you search for a product, where you’ll see an image of the item with the price, the product’s title, and the company selling the item.
How much does it cost?
As you’re paying per click, the cost could be as little as 10 cents. But you could spend $50 each time someone clicks on your advert.
The cost depends on the industry and how competitive or lucrative your product is. For example, if you sell holidays online, expect to pay around $20 per click. It could be as low as 20 cents per click if you’re retailing home automation devices.
Costs range massively depending on a range of factors.
Does it work?
When I ran an online jewelry shop, my primary method of driving traffic was paid shopping adverts. They were very profitable. But PPC is like a tap. The moment you turn it off, the water stops. So you need to keep feeding the beast for it to continue producing results.
Benefits of Paid Search For Ecommerce Brands
Here are just a few reasons to spend money on paid search marketing that you should consider.
Works with any budget
Regardless of your business’s size, you can promote it using PPC. Even with $5 or $10 per day, you can drive new customers to your online store.
Of course, you can spend thousands per day. It’s flexible, so you can ramp up your spending depending on the season and pull back when your business goes quiet.
Generates instant results
As you’re paying to appear at the top of the search results page, you can make sales within days of starting your PPC campaign. It’s the complete opposite of SEO in this regard.
Collect keyword data for SEO
If you’re struggling to know what keyword to target with your SEO efforts, you can run adverts and find the keywords that convert the best. Next, you can create a page (or pages) that target these high-converting keywords.
Delivers an impressive ROI
As you’re paying for each click, you can tweak your campaign to ensure your budget goes as far as possible. You can also ensure that every penny you spend drives new customers to your business. So the ROI is impressive, especially as you can easily scale your campaign.
Supports other marketing channels
Part of building a comprehensive marketing plan is understanding how different channels work together to create a compounding effect. PPC will support your SEO, social media, and other marketing channels. They all work together to help you effectively reach your target customer.
Downsides of Paid Search
There are some downsides to paid search. So, you’ll want to weigh up if the investment is worth it.
Costs money upfront
Many ecommerce founders wrongly see SEO as a free marketing tactic that only requires time. Of course, your time has a cost. They compare this “free” tactic to PPC, which costs cold hard cash upfront.
Paid search does have a cost from the start, and you can easily blow your budget in a day. A hidden cost of PPC is the initial testing. It takes time, effort, and money to test different tactics and advert copy before you start seeing results.
Requires constant maintenance
Unlike SEO which takes a few weeks for changes to happen, every tiny change you make to your PPC campaign can have an immediate impact. You can dramatically improve your results with a few tweaks each week or month.
As anyone can start paying for adverts, the competitive landscape can change in a millisecond. So, you must actively manage your campaigns and watch for subtle changes.
Provides short-term results
So long as you’re willing to pay, you’ll get results. But stop running paid adverts, and you’ll see your store’s traffic slow. Also, if you operate in a highly competitive market, a new advertiser could double your cost overnight.
Requires PPC knowledge
Years ago, as a PPC novice, I wasted plenty of money playing with paid search. While I have no regrets, there is a steep learning curve and always room to test and tweak.
My best advice is to start small and test like crazy. You could hire an agency that can manage your account. Learn by watching what they do and asking loads of questions.
Paid Search vs Organic Search: Which Is Better?
If you’re just starting to market your ecommerce store, I’d advise you to start with paid search to get some instant traffic. Continually test different keywords, ad copy, and strategies.
PPC should provide a few quick wins and drive some early sales. At the same time, I’ll build out a keyword map and start creating SEO-optimized content, knowing it will take a few months to see results.
Within six months, the plan would be to slowly reduce the amount spent on PPC, as SEO should pick up the slack and start performing well. It’s still worth running paid search adverts and introducing retargeting into the mix.
Retargeting works by dropping a cookie on a visitor’s browser. When they next visit a website running Google AdSense, they’ll see an advert for your website that should encourage them back to you. It’s highly effective and typically costs less than paid search.
Hopefully, you can see it’s not a matter of picking between paid search vs organic search but understanding how they work together to promote your ecommerce business.
Use Organic And Paid Search To Your Advantage
By combing paid search with SEO, you can ensure you reach your ideal customer. It’s best to avoid falling into the trap of picking either paid search vs organic search and embrace both.
Both SEO and PPC are complex marketing channels. Each requires years of study and testing to learn. You can’t read a blog post and master them overnight.
If you don’t have the time to invest in learning and managing the marketing of your website, hire an agency, but set and agree on KPIs before handing over any cash. Doing so will ensure your results align with your expectations.
Again, it’s not a choice between paid search vs organic search. Instead, it’s a matter of understanding how to utilize both to drive more revenue to your ecommerce brand.
You can have all of the marketing tactics in the world. But without the right ecommerce marketing strategy, you won't get the results you deserve.
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