What is Organic Search? How SEO Drives Better Results
Apr 3, 2020|Read time: 11 min.
- According to Google’s Economic Impact Report, organic search is 5X more valuable than Google Ads.
- Paid search is a good short-term marketing solution, but organic search creates long-term, compounding ROI.
- Social media helps you build your brand, but organic search is what helps you target high-intent consumers.
- Organic search doesn’t just drive qualified traffic and conversions, it also improves brand perception.
Terakeet helped a home goods startup in a $29 billion market go from zero to a 3% market share within 5 years. That company went public at a major valuation during that time, and organic search was a major factor.
Clearly, SEO can deliver massive ROI. But, although digital marketing spend has steadily increased over the years, so have your options. As a result, online marketing dollars are split among various activities.
Paid search isn’t just PPC and display ads anymore. It also includes search remarketing, Google Shopping Feeds and sponsored listings on vertical search engines. Additionally, there’s DSP-based display advertising, native ads, video ads, podcast advertising and site retargeting to name a few.
Social media has become pay-to-play, and PR and email are as valuable as ever. And on top of all that, influencer marketing has entered the game.
With all these mediums screaming for attention, it’s easy to put SEO on the back burner due to it’s longer turnaround time. But, that would be a huge mistake because SEO produces a significant, sustainable ROI. Furthermore, organic search remains one of the most powerful revenue streams across virtually every industry. You just have to know how to leverage it.
What is organic search?
Organic search refers exclusively to the unpaid results. Organic results are ranked algorithmically as opposed to ads which marketers purchase.
Originally, the term “organic search” was coined for Google Analytics, indicating the channel of unpaid traffic created by searchers who found the website on Google’s organic listings. It still means that today, but it’s also commonly used interchangeably with SEO as an umbrella term for the entire organic search strategy. This strategy is fundamentally concerned with making sure the right people find your site through relevant, valuable search queries.
And it’s a strategy that has a profound ROI. According to Google’s Economic Impact Report, organic search is 5X more valuable than Google Ads. That’s right, the company that makes roughly 85% of its revenue from paid media has openly stated that more than paid search, organic search is where the action is!
You’ll read some case studies later about companies that have drastically increased their ROI by prioritizing organic search. How is this possible? Well, when 93% of all web traffic comes from search engines and 70-80% of search engine users only focus on the organic results, the numbers simply add up.
Organic search and ROI
According to a recent commissioned study by Forrester Consulting, SEO drives key business performance metrics. “An SEO strategy applied across marketing functions can improve your brand’s reputation, reduce negative mentions, and improve lifetime customer value.” — 2020 Commissioned Forrester Consulting Study
The study found that customers sourced through organic search were ultimately more loyal and engaged which lead to greater lifetime value. Read the full study here.
How organic search produces better marketing ROI
When you’re playing Candy Crush on your phone and see an ad featuring men’s running shoes, what are you doing at that moment? It’s not a trick question — you’re playing Candy Crush.
When you’re reading a blog or browsing your social feed and see an ad for a beard grooming kit, what are you doing at that moment? Reading the blog or browsing your social feed.
When you’re looking for work attire and you Google “men’s professional button-up shirts,” what are you doing at that moment? You’re shopping for men’s button-up shirts.
That’s the root of why SEO has an incredible ROI. Of course advertising has benefits. But, most ads annoyingly disrupt user experience. They’re an inconvenience rather than a solution. However, SEO meets the user’s immediate need at the exact moment they’re ready to take action.
Organic search is so valuable, that PetSmart was willing to fork over $3.35 billion to acquire Chewy.com because of their organic presence.
And in 2019, Alex Vetter, CEO and president of Cars.com, attributes their year-over-year growth of 51% to organic search. And those aren’t the only companies investing in SEO. Lands’ End, Etsy, LendingTree, TripAdvisor, and other major brands have all made similar claims during their quarterly earnings calls with investors.
Big-name brands are leveraging SEO to amplify marketing ROI, and so should you.
Organic search vs paid search (SEO vs SEM)
The obvious back door into the same high-intent search audience is paid search. Rather than invest in the more valuable long-game, why not just buy your place at the top of the search engine results page (SERP)? So what if paid raises your customer acquisition costs (CAC) and pinches your margins. If you have a limitless budget, the opportunity is the same, right?
In fact, when you compare SEO vs SEM, you find that paid search has severely limited opportunity for several reasons.
- Search volume is a constant that you can’t change
- Paid CTR is painfully low (usually between 3% – 8%)
- CTR for organic position number one averages between 20% – 30%
So, even if you max out your budget, you’ll never achieve the traffic numbers that organic search delivers. That’s one reason Google claims organic search is as much as 5X more valuable than paid. But the benefits of SEO extend far beyond better click-through rates.
When assessing the value of SEO vs. PPC, it’s important to recognize that paid search is a short-term solution. For example, when you stop putting money into PPC, the ROI stops immediately, too. Conversely, investments in SEO produce a compounding, long-term ROI far into the future.
Think of it like this: with PPC you rent your position; with SEO you own it.Plus, PPC cannot cost-effectively target the top of the funnel due to banner blindness. This is the phenomenon that causes people to skip right over the paid listings because they trust the organic search results more. We live in an ad-saturated world, and many people simply tune out ads, even in the SERPs.
Organic search traffic vs social media
Now let’s compare the ROI of organic search to another traffic source: social media. Social media has fantastic brand-building benefits. But, its relationship to direct revenue has always been tenuous. This is largely due to the first example we brought up: when someone is browsing their social media feed and they see an ad or a post from a brand, what they’re doing at the time is browsing their social feed. They aren’t in a high-intent mindset, and they may not even be interested in the brand.
Also, keep in mind that social media simply drives far less website traffic than organic search. According to one study, organic search delivers 10X the traffic on average, and up to 20X the traffic in specific sectors of the market.
With such a large delta in traffic volume, of course it’s much easier for a brand to achieve high ROI with organic search. In fact, there are more than 30 ways to increase website traffic.
Moreover, social media is built for people, not businesses. Or rather, it’s built to be free for people, not businesses. Businesses provide the revenue stream that keeps the platforms free for its users. So they have a major incentive to make sure businesses pay for direct access to their target audience. For all intents and purposes, social media strategies are paid strategies — and their ROI reflects that.
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Organic search case studies
We can take a look at a few Terakeet SEO case studies to illustrate the full ROI potential of organic search.
For a year prior to working with Terakeet, an online luxury retailer had been leaking head rankings and top 20 keywords, creating a decline in traffic and revenue for the business. We focused our efforts on improving Google Share of Voice (SoV) by targeting not just the keywords that were slipping for the client, but a broad net of additional keywords.
Using a blend of technical SEO, content strategy and strategic outreach, Terakeet was able to improve Google SoV by 200% within eight months. We also grew top-3 rankings by 1,623 keywords within nine months, which increased organic search traffic by 54%.
A new disrupter sought to carve out market share in the highly competitive online and mobile banking space. The new online bank’s formidable and well-established competition made this quite a challenge. We designed an organic search strategy that established trust and authority through high-quality content on the site and targeted publisher/influencer outreach.
Get the inside scoop on link building strategies for banks and financial services.
Within 10 months, the bank was appearing on Google page one for 143% more high-value organic keywords than before. Additionally, the placements secured from our outreach put the brand in front of an incremental 9.8 million people in the target audience.
This translated to an increase of 448,000 organic visitors per month. Those are the type of numbers that turn an unknown brand into one that’s on everybody’s radar.
Certain keywords within the student loan and refining space are searched up to 160,000 times a month in the U.S. The average value of a loan refinancing deal is $40,000. Add in a weak organic search performance and you have a major opportunity cost — what a student loan refinancing company faced before they worked with Terakeet.
We focused our organic search strategy on technical and content improvements, tackling site speed first to prevent the company’s relatively slow site from handicapping their search performance. Then we reorganized priority content on the site to better qualify key web pages for priority keywords, optimized existing blog posts and produced new content.
As a result, we increased the number of top 3-ranking keywords by 1,081%, leading to 9.6X organic traffic growth within 18 months!
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How to improve organic search engine rankings
If you’re new to search engine optimization, read our executive’s guide to SEO to get a basic understanding of the fundamentals. The next few sections dive a little deeper into the “how” than the “what” and “why”.
Organic search engine optimization
First, perform market and keyword research to choose a unique, high-opportunity keywords to target, then create your site taxonomy accordingly. Avoid assigning keywords that overlap significantly to separate pages. If you’re having trouble finding unique keywords for a page because its focus is very similar to an existing page, it could be a sign that the additional page isn’t needed.
Next, assess your site architecture to make sure your site flows from broad to more specific. Did you position priority pages near the top of the hierarchy and link them from the menu? Your keyword optimization strategy relies on an organized page flow and information that doesn’t overlap.
Once keywords are assigned, optimize each page for their target keywords through your content and metadata. Make sure each page is as attention grabbing and user friendly as possible, and use internal links to establish the page’s contextual relevance.
Technical search engine optimization
On-page optimization might be a cornerstone of your SEO strategy. But, those updates won’t make a difference for your ROI if search engines can’t crawl your site in the first place. Your technical SEO updates remove potential crawling barriers, eliminate duplicate content issues, and set up structured data. This informs how your site is displayed in the SERPs.
Technical SEO is highly site specific. After crawling and auditing your site, you may uncover issues like:
- Redirect chains or loops
- Page errors
- Canonicalized page issues
- Sitemap issues
- Blocked pages
- Improper pagination
- Duplicate content
- Rendering issues
- Indexing issues
- SSL or HTTPS problems
- Subdomains vs subfolders
- AMP page issues
- Slow site speed
If you’re lucky, technical issues are quick and simple to fix. Unfortunately, problems are usually complex, requiring help from busy site developers. Navigating bandwidth blockers is tricky. So, check out this post for ideas to check the box on important projects!
Content strategy for organic search
High-quality, relevant information drives traffic. Your content strategy should include blog posts, guides and other resources that connect with your audience in a meaningful way. Furthermore, each piece of content also provides an opportunity to rank for valuable search terms. And I’m not just talking about competitive keywords with massive search volume. You can often rank a single page for hundreds of highly-targeted long-tail keywords that drive loads of traffic collectively!
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Link building for organic search
What’s one of the most efficient ways for Google to understand how popular and trustworthy your site is? Look at who’s linking to it. Earned links tell Google your web pages are valuable! If you only have low-authority, spammy links, you’re probably signalling to Google that you’ve been working the system.
High-quality backlinks are still one of the most important Google ranking factors, even today.
Link-building strategies involve blogger outreach and PR. You’ll want to determine each website’s audience, domain authority, and relevance to find the targets that will bring you the greatest ROI.
To perform link building at scale, you’ll need outreach and process tools that automate and organize information about your target publishers. It also helps to have an up-to-date, high-quality database.
At Terakeet, we use an internal software called Chorus, which houses a database of more than 9 million+ publishers and influencers. Additionally Chorus provides a suite of management, tracking and reporting tools. Chorus allows us to filter out the noise and target only the most relevant, qualified partners to collaborate with. This strategy ensures that we not only cast a wide net, but that the net is hyper specific to drive substantial ROI.
Organic search KPIs, tracking and reporting
Google Analytics in combination with Google Search Console is a good option for tracking organic results. Other important tracking and reporting tools include Ahrefs, Moz Pro, Semrush, STAT, Serpstat and Searchmetrics.
Set up custom dashboards that track the KPIs you want to look at and then pull reports once a month. Dashboard software options include Google Data Studio, Domo, Grow, Klipfolio and DashThis.
The main KPIs for organic performance include:
- Conversion rates
- Assisted conversions
- Goal completions
- Search impressions from GSC
- Click-through rates (CTR) from the SERP
Compare your organic performance month over month to stay on top of traffic fluctuations, and year over year for a true read on your performance. Over the long term, a healthy business can expect to see major ROI from SEO.