I recently heard the suggestion of a PPC (pay-per-click) “dark time” to test the impact of paid search on a site, shortly after the new design launches. The agency suggested this would allow them and us to get a baseline of the new site while also showing the impact and effect of the paid search campaigns on traffic.
It’s an interesting idea for many reasons, but none of them would be good for business.
Search Engine Optimization
First off, let’s talk about SEO. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and means building and creating the website structure, file names, and on content, both on screen and off screen, so that it is easily recognized by search engines and meet within their mysterious algorithms that rank the relevancy of the content, which in turn, sets where you appear in organic (non-paid placements) search results.
Changes in existing content take time to updated, and the general rule of thumb is that new content or redesigned websites can take up to 2-3 months before the full assessment and impact of the SEO is in place. From then on, adding new content and updating pages throughout the site keeps the content fresh and active, and lowers the “staleness” rank for the search engines.
It is a standard practice that when launching any major website revisions or redesigns is done during slower traffic times/months, if you have a seasonal business, staged with structure changes being last and updated content ongoing with continued submission of updated site maps which get noticed then as refreshed content, rather than new. During the major rework, however, it is always consistent that if you have a paid search program in place, that this is increased during the initial site relaunch to compensate for the drop in SEO rankings.
Going dark during this time then would never be recommended, and any data gleaned during that time would be invalid at best.
Evaluating Campaign Impact
This concept, however, raised a very interesting question, that of assessing and evaluating the impact of a paid search program or campaign through direct testing. Turning it on and off is simple and quick, and the results are immediate. But is the data valid? It depends on the comparison data and time frame. It has to be exact, either year over year for seasonal businesses, or comparable activity environments otherwise.
The influence on the data has to be normalized so the outcomes can be compared. Hence, another reason never to compare launching a new site without paid search vs. with an existing site with paid search. There are simply too many variables to render the comparison valuable.
The comparison is the key here, and thankfully, the information can be gathered and reviewed without mucking around with the campaigns. If you want to see the impact of all or select campaigns, through reporting. The data is all available, from time of day, day of week, keywords, geography, rank placements, etc. Simply compare that against the same keywords for organic search, and see where the rankings are.
If you have a #1 ranking in PPC and a #4 ranking in SEO, then you would be less likely to lose the click through. On the other hand if you have a PPC 4th place rank and a 7th place SEO rank, well, then you likely would not be in contention without the paid campaign.
NOTE: There will always be variation as with Paid Searches there are more options and variables, including color and call outs to make them more attractive for users to click on, so there is a margin of error that needs to be considered here.
This reporting should be done regularly. It’s a standard part of analysis and initiative assessment. It helps you compare and optimize the balance of your media spend and your SEO ranking, to see where to focus your content development and optimization efforts, and to also see where you can reallocate the spend. Finally, it keeps you focused on and in tune with what your customers are searching for, and when.
Go dark periods should never be considered to test the performance of a campaign. Good analytics and insights can do that for you. In fact, it should be what you’re campaigns are working towards, aligning with the strategy to meet the objectives and planned goals.