In Search, It's Time to Consider Paid, Site Speed and Life Beyond Google

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Despite most experts recommending it, paid search might still be underused. A recent report from Clutch and Ignite Visibility found that just 19% of SEO-focused businesses put resources into paid search.

"While you will get a better ROI on organic search long term, brand-new websites should always start with paid," Ignite Visibility CEO John Lincoln said in the report. "Even mature websites that get millions of visitors a month from organic should invest in paid. The two complement each other. Paid is a bit more precise and controllable."

Charity Huff, CEO of new SIPA member January Spring—a digital marketing and advertising agency that partners with niche media companies—also sees the benefits of paid search.

"Businesses need to have both a paid and organic plan to reach customers," she said. "[But] paid search is one of the few places on the web where businesses can own the message. You pick the keywords most important to your potential customer, and you deliver the message that you know will be the most compelling. Organic search is strongest when the content comes from other people, such as ratings and reviews. Organic search sources the message. Paid search lets the business control the message."

Here are a few other tips on search that I've come across lately:

When Google calls for a change, take notice. (From Associations Now) Last year, Google publicly discouraged site owners from running their domains on the HTTP protocol, instead preferring the secure HTTPS protocol. A recent study from SEMrush, which analyzed different "ranking factors" for websites, found that nearly two-thirds of top domains on high-volume keywords use HTTPS. This finding was corroborated by the competing firm Moz, which last year found that half of all top-ranking search results used HTTPS. Search Engine Journal notes that a similar effect was seen with Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), a technology pushed by Google.

Expect the trend of SEO moving beyond Google to keep growing. We now have video, voice assistants—more than 20% of mobile queries in 2016 were voice searches—and visual search. And social media. "Pinterest might have started out as a social network, but it's quickly moving into search engine territory," wrote Engadget back in August. "The site announced that it's moving the 'Search' and 'Lens' features to a more prominent space in its mobile apps... The company says that 85% of all searches, both text-based and visual with Lens, occur on a mobile device."

Pay attention to site speed. (From Angela Poulson on 3 Aspens Media—an excellent site run by former SIPA member and SIPAward winner Lindsay Konzak) "Google has been penalizing slow-loading websites for years, and they added a new penalty along these lines just last week. This so-called 'Speed Update' will target the slowest-loading pages as accessed by mobile users. While loading speed is only one factor considered by Google's algorithm, slow-loading pages can also increase your bounce rate. Since a high bounce rate can negatively impact your Google ranking, long load times can end up hurting your ranking" in many ways.

Other suggestions from Poulson:

  • Get access to a decent keyword research tool. Wordtracker, SEM Rush and Keyword Explorer are all good choices and come with free trials.
  • Don't depend on meta descriptions. They no longer have a direct impact on search engine rankings.
  • Go easy on the ads. Aggressive advertising is no longer a welcome part of the user-friendly experience.
Huff from January Spring sums it up nicely: "Smart advertisers use an integrated marketing approach to reach their potential customers. Consider this: 65% of internet users see online search as the most trusted source of information about people and companies, according to Forbes. That's a higher level of trust than any other online or offline source."

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…