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Getting your keywords to the top of Google is a common part of most marketing strategies. You’re capturing users with a level of intent that is simply not reachable through many other channels. But even if you get to the first position of Google, and you always have a search ad appearing above the fold, you’re still missing out on a ton of traffic.

Owning the search results is a dream for many, and larger businesses have learned that to really own the SERPS, you don’t want to just have an ad above the fold, you want all the ad spots above the fold. Likewise you don’t just want one result on your perfect keyword, you want the top ten results for your perfect keyword.

After all, the average CTR on organic position one may be 37%, and position two, 32%. Sure the top spot gets you both, but owning both spots gives you 69% of the market share. Likewise, competition for paid ads can be fierce, and you can only have one ad show per account. CTR varies more on ad spots, but the truth remains, owning two, or three, even four of the displayed ad spots will get you more traffic over time.

Achieving a greater level of search ownership isn’t easy, but it can be broken down in to building a strategy around three core types of content.

  1. Primary Properties: Most likely your brand domain, or a secondary product brand you own.
  2. Secondary Properties: You might have an industry publication for awareness, or have purchased secondary products supporting your main product line
  3. Third Party Owned Properties: Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc, can help you own the serps (although these would probably only appear for branded terms)
  4. Third Party Properties: Affiliates, Partners, or Publishers

So lets break this down!

Search Arbitrage Properties

Primary Properties

Your primary brand should always appear first, a challenge with arbitrage on search is that you risk less relevant pages or sites outranking your core domain. This is less risky for brand terms, but on product terms it can be a challenge.

The primary property is most likely where your core products are sold, and core purchase intent keywords should lead to. You do not want other listings to outrank pages from you primary domains.

Secondary Properties

Secondary properties are often supportive for brands, they provide an awareness level of information relevant to the brand, but often not competing. Secondary properties can be used to build out related interest and awareness level traffic which can be funneled through to the main site. Since the secondary properties are owned these can be used for both SEM and SEO arbitrage tactics.

Third Party Owned Properties

Primarily SEO or similar sites, these are controlled content on third party sites. Social and web 2.0 properties are commonly used here, and while mostly these are going to rank for brand terms, careful crafting of messages can help get social media and similar content in to the SERPs. Forums also provide a level of success here when threads are regarding relevant terms, since you can craft the content, but follow on threads might not support your message, or people could post links to competing brands.

Third Party Properties

Not directly owned, but often influenced in one way or another. Third party properties can be affiliates, partners, publishers, or even unaffiliated sites who are talking about your brand in a positive way. utilizing these third party properties can help stack the search results in your favor, but make sure to keep these people happy, they may switch their content to promote a competitors product on a whim.

The lift of maintaining additional sites can be pretty heavy, so make sure you’re able to take on the additional workload, and make sure those properties provide more benefit than just another listing for your keywords.

To provide value here think of them as an interest or awareness level strategic play to prioritize your brand. It could be a tutorials or news site, something providing helps and insights to a broader audience.

Arbitrage Strategy for Owned Properties

Owning the SERPs with owned properties is a dream, but rarely realistic by itself. The paid search side is easy if you have the budget, but if your budget is limited you’ll need to stay closely on top of your bidding rules to make sure you aren’t artificially increasing your bids across your portfolio.

Owning the organic SERPs with owned properties can also be a daunting task, ranking a single website alone can be challenging, ranking just one more site can be a huge lift. You shouldn’t build another site just to own another SERP, however if you build other sites for other reasons (I.e. you run a brewery, and you also have a blog about brewing your own beer), you can leverage those by providing content targeted towards your ideal keywords.

Third party owned properties can be a good way to get some quick ranking wins, but it may be harder to gain traction on core purchase keywords, the usual opportunities here revolve more around Twitter cards and other rich media listings, that may not have the sticking power you would like.

Arbitrage Strategy for Third Party Properties

Running an arbitrage strategy is a far more efficient way of owning the search results, but it is harder to control, and could end up harming you if for example, an affiliate decides to promote one of your competitors instead.

Running arbitrage in this way often involves a heavy initial lift from a partner manager, or affiliate manager, working with third party publications to promote you as a service of choice on pages that are targeted towards your core keywords.

Since this is a relatively large non-scalable lift you will likely want to prioritize the keyword topics you focus on, starting with the highest converting keyword topics and then working down from there. You may be able to get this data from your SEM or site data insights, but if you don’t have solid data here, you can always go with your gut on 3-5 keywords on your core topics.

So which third party sites should you target?

Simply search for the keywords and pick the top 20 sites. Some will likely be competitors, but there’s a good chance that some of these are review, comparison, or information sites you can reach out to and build relationships with. don’t expect quick wins with big names, so target smaller sites first, but make sure you start the process of talking to the larger websites that may own some rankings.

Affiliates and partnerships are a great starting point, but do require work. Some sites however are pretty transparently pay-to-play. This can sometimes be cheaper than the overhead of paying a partner manager to build a relationship over time, so even if it’s expensive, consider that payment a steal to get to the top of a top 10 list. Be careful about paying for listing on spam-ish sites, always ask yourself the question, do I think this site is going to provide legitimate buying traffic.