Beyond Keywords: 2 Steps for Balancing SEO and PPC
When marketers ask about how to achieve search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) synergy, they are often pointed to studies like the 2011 Google research "Incremental Clicks Impact of Search Advertising," which demonstrates that keywords shared between SEO and PPC produce larger results than either channel could produce independently (the common "1+1=3" analogy).
But in reality, balancing SEO and PPC is so much more than bidding and optimizing for the same keywords and getting incremental clicks. There are many advantages that are equally if not more important than increased clicks—such as sharing strategy, testing insights, and the time and cost efficiencies of integrated reporting and communications.
Let's start by examining how to maximize keyword visibility and produce a more common form of "synergy," and then dive into how testing and optimization strategies between SEO and PPC can produce synergy beyond that of just sharing keywords.
Maximizing Keyword Visibility
Appearing in both the paid and organic search engine results of a given keyword is the most obvious goal of coordinating SEO and PPC together, as appearing in both results will increase your clicks more than either channel would independently, as well as reduce the likelihood that a high-value click goes to your competitor instead. When devising a keyword strategy to maximize joint SEO and PPC visibility, it is usually beneficial to break the shared keyword strategy into two primary components: branded keywords and non-branded keywords.
A branded keyword strategy will typically focus on trying to appear always-on in both SEO and PPC. Paid search clicks on branded terms are generally inexpensive, convert well, and are important terms to appear for so you can control messaging and reduce the risk that the click goes to an affiliate, review site or other third-party asset.
In SEO, you typically rank No. 1 for your brand 95 percent of the time, but PPC data is very useful for determining the extra 5 percent of the time where you may not be ranking well for a branded keyword variant and need to produce new content or repurpose existing content to outrank the competition. For instance, you probably rank well for your own brand name, but you may not rank well for "Brand-Name + Reviews" or "Brand-Name + Phone Number" or "Brand-Name + City/Zip Code."
Your PPC data, by bidding on broad and phrase-match branded keywords, should help determine exactly what variations consumers are searching for that you may not already be targeting. Then you can run a ranking report to find branded keywords you're not ranking No. 1 for organically.
If you find any gaps in your SEO visibility, develop new content or optimize existing content to make sure you're ranking No. 1 as close to 100 percent of the time as possible. Conversely, if you find branded keywords that you're ranking well in for SEO but not in PPC, consider allocating more budget to improve coverage of these terms, or consider making changes to the landing page or account structure to improve your quality score, and your PPC rank along with it.
For non-branded keywords, prioritize those keywords you're targeting in both SEO and PPC, as typically your most valuable keywords (those that convert the best) are going to be expensive in PPC and very competitive in SEO. While there may be mission-critical keywords that you'll definitely want to target in both SEO and PPC, a smart approach is to start by looking for the "long-hanging fruit" opportunities.
Take a keyword list of your top thousand or so best performing keywords in PPC and run a ranking report to see which keywords already have decent (but not first page) organic SEO visibility. These keywords should be a high priority for SEO, as they're proven performers in PPC and already have some SEO visibility upon which to build.
To identify opportunities for PPC, take a list of your 100-plus best-performing, non-branded SEO keywords and ensure all keywords have been added to your account as an exact match. For top-performing SEO keywords not in your PPC account, build spend estimates for these keywords and try to launch new campaigns for as many of these keywords as possible. You will likely find you're already bidding on a lot of your top-performing SEO keywords in PPC, in which case you just need to adjust spend upward slightly to ensure joint first-page visibility for these keywords.
Testing and Optimization Synergies
Landing page testing can drive better cost efficiencies and revenue. By using A/B or multivariate testing, you can swap out different creative or messaging to determine what converts best and ensure you're getting the most bang for the buck from both PPC and SEO investments.
Where possible, your SEO and PPC strategies should leverage the same landing page for keyword optimization. When it's not possible to share a landing page for SEO and PPC on the same keyword, marketers should attempt to leverage paid search testing results to improve their SEO conversion rate and vice versa.
For instance, if you find a certain creative layout converts at a higher rate in PPC, be sure to leverage that creative for any pages ranking in SEO where the test results are applicable and relevant. Likewise, top-performing ad copy and messaging from PPC can be leveraged for SEO in the meta-description, page title, on-page copy and calls-to-action.
In addition, applying SEO best practices to your technical website architecture can improve the effectiveness of both your SEO and PPC campaigns. SEO best practices, such as reducing page load times, having a search-friendly information architecture and other technical elements, may lead to a higher quality score for PPC, as well as more conversions after the click.