A Guide to Co-optimization: What is it & Why is it Important?

What a co-optimization strategy is and why its important

Henry Ford once said, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” He may as well have been talking about co-optimization in the current marketing landscape.

The rise of mobile devices, nonlinear consumer journeys, and continually evolving search algorithms means marketers have to think about how their channel strategies impact the performance of other channels. Increasingly, a co-optimization strategy is required to ensure marketers are able to prove the full business value of their work.

What Is Co-optimization?

Co-optimization is the process of aligning marketing strategies, tactics, and messaging across channels to maximize shared business impact and understand how customers engage with each channel along the consumer journey. Traditionally, co-optimization referred to paid and organic search tactics. Shared search performance is more reliable and consistent than other channels that ladder up to the same end goal, but have less data available. However, this definition has expanded beyond search as non-search channels have become a natural touchpoint along the fragmented purchase journey.

Why Co-optimization is Important

As Google search increases the prominence of paid listings, expands features that keep people in results, and displays fewer traditional organic results, aligning marketing strategies through co-optimization is essential for success. Here’s why:

Organic search is still the first preference of most searchers – Even with the increased search engine results page (SERP) real estate for paid search, especially on mobile, potential customers opt for organic listings over paid listings by a 12-to-1 margin. So while paid search may be required to guarantee above-the-fold visibility, a website visit is not guaranteed.

Customers are “always” on – The mobile-driven rise of “always on” Internet access fragments the consumer journey and online experience as a whole, creating “micro moments” of engagement that make customer behavior more difficult to predict. It is as if someone turned up the Whack-a-Mole difficulty from beginner to advanced.

As such, “co-optimization” has needed to evolve to meet customers beyond their search experience to wherever they may be likely to see or engage with a brand. Display media, television, radio, podcasts, social media, and news coverage are all necessary considerations for any digital co-optimization strategy.

From 2013 to 2019, Google’s above-the-fold mobile search results have given more prominence to paid features, which makes co-optimizing the entire paid/nonpaid search ecosystem critical to sustained success.

Even at the search level, co-optimization needs to involve non-traditional paid and organic search listings. Google Shopping, Quick Answers, Google Maps, and Knowledge Graphs are just four of over 100 types of Google search features that allow customers to essentially “shop” for the listing that best fits their intent.

Shared performance aligns with business goals – By using revenue, conversions, and cost across channels, co-optimization takes channel performance out of a vacuum and paints a broader picture of digital success.

Brand engagement & interest varies by channel – Not all website visits come with the same intent. A potential customer searching on Google for a specific product is more likely to be purchase-ready than a customer coming from a home design Pin on Pinterest. The messaging on these channels should not be the same, but they should follow along a complementary path.

Benefits of Co-optimization

Implementing a digital co-optimization strategy will enable you to:

  • Know what actually works for your customers – Marketing strategies that align search, social, and awareness tactics lead to a better understanding of what your customer cares about at each stage in the consumer journey.
  • Optimize marketing budgets – Learn where organic search outperforms paid search (and vice versa), and allocate money to categories with proven success. Understand what awareness tactic or social messaging lifts performance from other channels so you know the most efficient ways to drive conversions, leads, or sales.
  • Improve paid search Quality Scores – Google Ads Quality Scores can be optimized by using SEO tactics such as improving onsite content and SEO meta tags (think titles, meta descriptions, headers) that impact click-through rates.
  • More effectively monitor search cannibalization – In a time when brand cannibalization is common, co-optimization can quantify the impact on search engagement and bottom line goals.
  • Align paid and nonpaid search successes – Starting organic search and content optimizations with topics that are most important at the end of the journey will produce the quickest business impact.
  • Support paid efforts with organic content (and vice versa!) – Informational organic content helps nudge early journey customers to take the next step towards converting. On the paid side, bidding on high funnel nonbrand keywords (things like reviews, ratings, or pricing) can improve visibility for a business that struggles to organically rank for those topics. Upper funnel nonbrand paid search fuels organic conversions when a user comes back through a lower funnel query and doesn’t click the paid ad.
  • Streamline big picture measurement – Showing the bottom-line impact of aligning strategies across channels resonates with the c-suite and executives (and makes you look super smart).

Co-optimization Case Studies

Below are two examples of Nina Hale-driven co-optimization strategies that improved client bottom lines, and/or led to insights into cross-channel behavior that later influenced our strategic approach.

1. Can paid search make up for organic drops?

Scenario: Organic search performance dropped from May to July, so the client wanted to increase investment in paid search to correct for the loss.

Findings: Without simultaneously evaluating campaign/bid strategy, simply adding dollars to paid search efforts as a whole could not make up for lost organic performance.

Strategy: Ensure paid search budgets were first allocated to top-performing organic keywords to maximize performance.

2. Is there an incremental revenue lift when paid search improves at the expense of organic traffic?

Scenario: Google rolled out Expanded Text Ads, which pushed organic listings lower on the page.

Findings: Overall search revenue improved 9%, despite less search real estate available to organic search listings.

Strategy: Continue investment in branded paid search and focus SEO opportunities on related topics with a reduced paid search presence.

What Marketers Need to Know

In order to reach customers where they are online, co-optimization needs to be a requirement for any digital marketing strategy. Paid and organic search are the easiest places to start because engagement exists within the same platform (Google, Bing, etc.) and both channels have similar metrics. That said, any co-optimization strategy also needs to include non-search channels (television, social media, display, video) in order to understand the full picture of the modern consumer journey.

Photo Source: Unsplash

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