Connecting SEO & PPC for smarter search marketing

SEO and PPC should work together. It’s crazy not to.

But because these two channels operate so differently, it’s easy to get caught up in one channel and its performance metrics and completely overlook the other.

So let’s fix that!

Here are ideas and tips for how most advertisers can better align SEO and PPC.

But before you jump in, a disclaimer! This is a massive topic.

(Anyone have time to write a book?)

So this post is intended to be a primer, a jumping-off point for your future discussions. And it’s aimed at most small to medium businesses rather than the enterprise group who have more niche needs.

Let’s get to it!

First: Set shared objectives for SEO & PPC and start watching how they interact with each other

Setting shared objectives is a good way to align SEO and PPC at a fundamental level. This creates a bind that other connections can follow from.

We find that people in SEO are often comfortable with metrics like rankings – and people in PPC are comfortable with other metrics like CPCs. This doesn’t have to change but a sensible common goal is website conversions and goals.

With website conversions and goals in place, you can slice and dice your data using Google Analytics to show how users interacted with each channel during the decision making journey.

Here’s a quick video explainer from Google:

Go to 2:18 to see:

  • Top conversion paths: show each sequence of interactions that led up to a conversion
  • The multi-channel funnel section also shows how often each channel initiated, assisted and closed sales and conversions.

Reports like these shed light on the full path that led to conversions, rather than just the last click.

Understanding this bigger picture makes for better decisions about where to put budget (and if you’re getting budget from someone else, how to help them see where performance is coming from and stop them from accidentally pulling something that’s working).

To achieve this in a typical setup, make sure website goals are agreed and added to Google Analytics. Then make sure that these goals are imported into AdWords – and that Analytics and AdWords are linked.

Here’s a video showing how to do that:

Fast-forward to 1:31 for instructions.

The same principle applies to ecommerce transactions for online sellers.

Second: Share your search term data from PPC with SEO

Google hides organic search keyword data.

Hiding organic search keyword data makes it difficult to separate search terms that refer good quality traffic from those that don’t. Gone are the days when you could see performance at the organic keyword level. Here’s a post on this issue from way back in 2014.

The same issues are still in place today. In fact, they’re bigger.

One reliable solution to this problem is to look at the keyword and search query data from PPC. All of this is still available and can be imported to Google Analytics (once linked, as above) to show you how people using a particular term interact with your site (e.g. bounce rates, time on site, average page views, conversion actions, etc.). Thank you PPC!

You can then use this info to have more clarity about which search terms lead to engaged visitors, and which don’t.

The two reports you want to look at in Google Analytics are:

  • Keywords: the keywords you’re targeting in AdWords. Find this report by going to Aquisition > AdWords > Keywords
  • Search Queries: the specific search query that triggered a keyword you’re bidding on. Find this report by going to Aquisition > AdWords > Search Queries

keywords-search-queries

Third: Use PPC ads and keyword data to inform page titles, meta descriptions and content

What works for PPC often works for SEO.

The PPC ads that get most clicks and drive the most conversions are a good starting point for creating attractive page titles and meta descriptions, as well as content for the pages that you want to rank organically.

Including keywords in title tags is particularly important.

Ideally, you want to write your title tag to strike a balance between keywords and communication.

Too many keywords in a title tag looks bad.

Too few and the search engine misinterprets what the page is about.

You’ve got to find the balance!

PPC data can be used to make these tags more attractive to people, as well as search engines, by looking at the messaging that’s getting the highest response rates. And because most PPC ads include the search query in the ad copy, it’s somewhat balanced already.

title tag and meta description example
Quick recap: In SEO, the title tag of your page appears as the clickable text. The meta description is the text underneath it.

Organically testing page titles, meta descriptions and content can be quite a bit of an investment, therefore using data collected by your PPC activity to help you choose the keywords to target helps you focus on testing the right things.

Vital: If you’re expanding SEO campaigns to cover new keywords, test those keywords with PPC first to make sure they drive conversions. If they do, great! If they don’t, you’ve got other work to do before focusing on SEO (like conversion rate optimisation).

Fourth: Have an ongoing search strategy and use each channel for its strengths

There are times when focusing on PPC works best, and there are times when SEO is better.

Knowing when to use each is important to get the two disciplines working together in a complementary way. But this depends on your context and timing.

For example, SEO is not an overnight endeavour. A new business chasing leads NOW won’t get them from SEO because it takes time, so they should focus on PPC to begin with. As PPC begins to drive a return, investment becomes available for SEO.

One fuels the other.

At the other end of the scale, a longstanding brand with very strong rankings for a wide variety of search terms may need less PPC support. The budget could be better applied by continuing to invest in expanding SEO coverage while using PPC for remarketing, bringing visitors back to particular areas of the site and promoting email opt-ins.

It all comes down to your business requirements, your available budget and your timeframe.

In an optimal scenario, both PPC and SEO are clearly measurable and deliver a positive ROI within a set range. This is where a good digital marketing agency really shines – multiplying value and ROI by scaling up what’s working and fixing what’s not.

Fifth: Maximise your coverage and visibility

Depending on your objectives, you may decide whether or not you’d like your paid ads to appear for queries your website is not ranking for organically.

Even for terms where you rank high organically, you still may want to have a presence in both PPC and Organic results.

Why would you want to double up your presence, showing a PPC ad if you’re already ranking well organically?

Because the space above the fold (without scrolling down the search result) is largely devoted to advertisers. And it’s the first thing your searcher will see.

A high organic ranking doesn’t get you into this space, but a well-built PPC ad does. And that PPC can command even more attention with compelling messaging and ad extensions.

Especially on mobile.
mobile serp
The whole top of this search result is devoted to ads.

So if you’re worried about a competitor getting to your prospect first for a particular keyword, consider SEO and PPC at the same time.

Having a PPC ad run above a top SEO ranking can benefit the overall results of digital activity as you are creating a second point of entry to your website, and essentially doubling your chances of receiving that click.

You can run mobile-only PPC, too, of course.

Sixth: Segmenting keywords by category and intent

Keywords tend to fall into three distinct categories: Informational, Transactional and Navigational.

Informational keywords are searches where the goal is the information itself, e.g. “holiday ideas”. These tend to be lower in commercial intent.

Transactional keywords are searches with more intent to transact, e.g. “flights to Paris”. These tend to be higher in commercial intent.

Navigational keywords are searches where the user has a specific website in mind, e.g. “flight centre”. These tend to be a mix.

Understanding this, you can choose to target:

  • Informational keywords with SEO only, as people using these queries are not yet ready to purchase from you. You could offer a downloadable item in exchange for an email address, to start the marketing process.
  • Transactional keywords with SEO and PPC, to maximise your chances of attracting a converting click. You could provide a compelling offer that involves your sales team, because this person is likely a lead.
  • Navigational keywords with SEO and PPC, to make sure people who are looking for your site find you first (and don’t get diverted to a competitor).

By strategically balancing your keyword coverage with SEO and PPC, you can deliver the best marketing message for each type of search, your preferred USP/KSP’s, a strong CTA (call-to-action), and the most compelling landing page, etc. In other words, you can maximise your chances of success.

Lucky number 7: Cross-train to stay ahead of new features

Historically, digital marketing departments have worked in a prescriptive way – one service only – especially within agencies. This siloed approach doesn’t breed collaboration and can lead to clunky work.

It is now crucial for digital marketers to embrace multiple skillsets so their work is better connected, and of better overall quality.

In digital, being a bit of a jack-of-all-trades can have its advantages…! The first being that you know where to look among the channel mix to solve a problem, rather than trying to solve every marketing problem with one channel.

In other words, a SEO specialist should have a good grasp of PPC, and vice versa.

But this is even more important because of how fast each channel keeps changing. It feels like every day, a new feature, tool, capability or network becomes available.

And plus, staying up-to-date is exciting. Each major announcement is another arrow in your quiver of options for solving marketing challenges.

Which is awesome.

Do you know of any other ways to effectively link together PPC & SEO? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments.

And if you think someone else could benefit from this article, a social share is always appreciated.

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