When it comes to Google search, a lot of you may still be working on your SEO and PPC campaigns separately. This isn’t always a bad thing, but it’s good to know the pros and cons of each as well as how they can potentially work more effectively together.
In this blog post, we’ll uncover the special relationship between SEO and PPC—and how this relationship impacts performance.
SEO and PPC Pros and Cons
Sometimes you’re working with limited bandwidth or budget and can’t allocate to a more hybrid approach. In that case, which should your business use: SEO or PPC? Let’s explore the pros and cons of using solo approaches as opposed to a more combined approach, so that you can make the decision that’s best for your brand.
Search Engine Optimization
What are the pros and cons of engaging in search engine optimization?
Let’s go over them:
- Long-Term Sustainability. SEO can impact your ranking sustainability in the long-term. With PPC, you can quickly get booted out of first or second place if someone chooses to bid higher for a particular keyword. So, perhaps a key benefit of SEO is that even though it may take longer to achieve a good position in search, it tends to hold that position longer than an ad would (especially if you stop paying for advertising).
- More Real Estate Coverage. There’s less space for ads than there are for organic listings — so if you optimized your website pages well, you could potentially get more real estate coverage with organic listings than with paid ads. But keep in mind that having more space doesn’t mean quality space. I rather have my brand near the top on the first page of Google once over having several of my website pages on the third page.
- Less Costly. SEO is free (okay, that’s up for debate, because time is money and brands often pay for someone to carry out the tasks). But it doesn’t drop rank just because you stop paying, like PPC. Depending on the competition for a keyword and industry, to outbid by increasing ad spend can get pretty costly — so even if you’re paying for someone to do SEO, it could potentially be cheaper.
- Higher Click-Throughs with Low Threats. Delving more into costs and return on time spent, brands often offer free content (non-gated) such as blog post to draw people in. If it’s a low request (only asking for them to read) and providing good value, it could be just what you need to snag someone’s attention.
Think about it: you see an ad and are probably already thinking, “Man, what are they going ask for now?” Not to say that you can’t promote a blog post without asking for someone to fill out a form, but people may not want to pay for promotion if they don’t get something of equal value in return (say, an email address), especially if their budget is limited. So, for the sake of this point, we’ll say you’re trying to get something from the user.
Even if you’re not, many people skip over ads with this assumption. Sure, you can make the ads sponsored and more native in your timeline or feed rather than a standard side ad, but users are becoming even more wise to recognizing ads even in their timelines/feeds.
The stats speak, a higher percentage of users click on the organic results. While there are exceptions to this rule, you can generate more clicks from a highly placed organic listing than from a highly placed paid ad.
- Higher Perceived Credibility. Playing off our last point, non-paid content can give users the impression of perceived brand credibility and stamp of approval by Google — because if you’re rising in results organically, without having to pay, others must also be enjoying your content and find it relevant. If you’re trying to build thought leadership, this can be a big benefit to you.
- Speedy Implementation. The common thought is that SEO takes longer to implement and take effect than PPC. But I’m going to play Devil’s advocate for a moment here and say, if a content writer already has optimization in mind when writing, it may not take that much additional time to add in just the right SEO elements to get the content ranking as opposed to having him/her both writing the content and setting up the campaigns.
Or, you’ll often find yourself paying for two people to work if trying to implement PPC, as an SEO writer may not have enough experience setting up paid campaigns.
- Free Up Funds. If not spending to promote the free content, your ad budget is freed up to run more paid ads for retargeting campaigns (for those further down the funnel). I rather pay to target someone of higher intent, wouldn’t you? Let’s get some content up, start building out our lists and then pay to target.
Of course, I refer back to the con of content development and SEO potentially taking more time. You have to weigh for your own brand: does it cost more for the time to do SEO vs the budget and time for paid advertising? Too many factors to have a cookie cutter answer for everyone.
- Not Forgetting Top of Funnel. So, why wouldn’t we just pay to target those of higher intent and not worry about investing in those higher up in the funnel who haven’t shown interest yet? Well, you still have to keep the pipeline flowing. Everyone starts somewhere. You never know if someone at the top of the funnel, unaware of your brand, could be your top buyer if he/she just knew of your product/service and the value to him/her.
- No Additional Landing Page Creation. It’s worth noting that PPC campaigns often go to dedicated landing pages. Not to say you can’t run paid traffic to a product or homepage on your website–but performance isn’t as good, because you’re giving the visitor too many options and not tailoring for the offer or for the audience.
Therefore, you pay an additional cost with PPC to create and optimize these landing pages in addition to optimizing on a website that you’ll probably optimize anyways due to it being the main hub for your business.
- Capture Additional Audiences. If an audience doesn’t frequent the sites or platforms you’re running paid ads on, they may not see them. I am mostly referring to social paid ads, such as Facebook ads. Obviously, we’re all on Google searching (and some Bing advocates).
So, let’s say you’re currently running ads on Facebook and AdWords, but your audience isn’t really on Facebook (this is a stretch…who’s not on Facebook?). In this case, the Facebook ad spend could go more so to SEO, so you focus on both paid and organic Google search.
- Keyword Exploration. Last, but not least, you can do some experimentation with keywords for free with SEO before you invest in PPC for them. Now, it won’t be a perfect test, because keywords perform differently for different audiences and even for SEO vs PPC. But if you’re brainstorming to at least get an idea of where to start, SEO efforts can provide insights to assist (more on this later).
But if you find your competition is paying to play and continuing to take those valuable clicks from you…
…perhaps it’s time we turn our discussion to the benefits of PPC.
How does paid search differ from organic search in its pros/cons? You can probably already guess at some of them just from our discussion on SEO.
But let’s get into it…
- Quicker, More Reliable Results. Although it’s not free to run paid ads (duh, they’re “paid” ads), you usually get quicker results without having to wait several months for a good ROI like you might with SEO. I say might, because there are some cases where rankings pick up quick, but the factors are less reliable than with PPC. Especially, if competitors are jumping into the paid game or already ahead of the curve with a strategy, you need to be able to compete on their level quickly.
- Automation and Scripts. Though manual management and bidding are recommended for the best results, you can set up automation and scripts to help give you back some of your time. So, if you have to put more money for ad spend, at least maybe you get back with time, which is something that people say less when it comes to SEO efforts.
- Better Targeting. You can get super targeted with paid ads. This means that even when you’re paying a bit more than with SEO upfront, you can potentially target individuals deeper in the funnel with higher intent (or more quality leads), which can justify that spend and lead to a high return on investment (or lower cost per acquisition). And ultimately, that’s what you care about, right?
- Higher Average Position. Okay, we’ve said it, being in the first spot isn’t necessarily the best spot, but being high up is definitely better than being on the bottom of page 1 or anything past that page. Paid ads dominate above-the-fold in Google search (with typically four ads on desktop and three on mobile), so the potential to get more eyeballs on your brand is pretty great.
According to Neil Patel, paid ads can start generating leads in a half hour (or less), but owned media can take up to a month to start showing results.
If you have no clue what you’re doing with SEO, you probably have to hire a professional and that costs money — but with PPC, you can set automated bidding that helps you get results even if you’re a noob.
- Budget Control. So, even though you’re paying to play, you have tight control over your budget. You can set limits–so if you’re working on a limited budget, you can rest assured it won’t go above that max set. Also, you know what kind of return you’re getting, which provides some assurance.
Sure, you could say that the negative is that you’re always having to pay, but one could also say that SEO is an ongoing investment as well (in time, at least). As you make adjustments to your PPC account, over time (hopefully), your quality score improves and bid costs are driven down — so not all hope is lost.
Just be careful not to get into bidding wars with other advertisers that drive up costs. Keep in mind that there’s more than one way to play the game and you have other options to compete.
- Agility. It’s easier to see in reporting what’s working or what’s not with tests and implementations you make, and then quickly make adjustments. Basically, you have more agility with paid ads than you do with SEO.
- More Real Estate Coverage. Wait? Didn’t you say that about SEO? Let me explain. PPC ads can be enhanced beyond that of most organic search listings (unless you know about snippets and more advanced coding). As such, you have far more space you can take up for each individual ad to deliver your marketing messages. Just check out this blog post on extensions and you’ll get a gist of what you can do.
- Visually Appealing Product/Shopping Ads. Where you sell a product, Google provides the option of visual shopping ads (Product Listing Ads or PLAs) that can help a user see what they’ll be clicking on and potentially buying. This kind of ad can really improve the click-through rate by offering a feature not available in organic search.
- Marketing Intelligence. Where organic largely hides keyword data in the name of privacy, there’s no such restriction with paid search. With conversion tracking and a solid integration with analytics software (like Google Analytics), we can determine what keywords convert and at what percentage and cost. Let’s stop playing the guessing game.
- Sustainability. Another one similar to SEO? Again, let me explain. Although there are some changes that can be major for paid advertising like the removal of side ads in search, in general, algorithms for SEO tend to change more often in a way that causes a huge impact. Because SEO changes can take awhile to implement, having a quick change that’s catastrophic to your rankings and business success provides a less stable landscape for your brand to play on.
- So Many Options. There are various options for search advertising with PPC, and making smart choices here will influence results. If you see product listings dominating the screen for your keywords, then text ads may not perform so well. Likewise, if you run product ads and only text ads are returned, these ads may not deliver the goods. Luckily, the choices you have with targeting, structure, and tools seems endless and you can continue to test and optimize until the end of time.
Okay, now that you have a lay of the land for the individual benefits SEO and PPC can provide, let’s tie it together.
Benefits of Running SEO and PPC Together
Here’s how you can utilize organic and paid search to become the ultimate “master of search”:
- Expand Net with New Channels. There’s more than one way to fry a chicken and there’s more than one way for someone to find your website. Even if someone doesn’t find you via paid Facebook ads, you have the opportunity to reach them organically on Google. Though some channels may pay off more than others, you may find that there’s more than one channel worthwhile to engage further. By expanding scope of channels, you can capture new searchers you may have otherwise missed.
- Enhance Perception of Brand. Seeing as both organic listings and paid ads can show up on the first page of Google, if you’re trying to optimize for both, you can capture more of the first-page real estate space around commercial search terms and informational queries related to your business. Sure makes your brand look like a big deal when that’s all a user sees in the search results.
- Nurture at Every Funnel Stage. Before we talked about increasing scope, so you can widen the top of your funnel. But we want to touch on scaling with current prospects that you could lose along the way if they’re not continually engaged.
- Kickstart the Process. PPC ads like those on Google AdWords are paid online advertisements. They appear next to relevant searches and other content on the web. Running a Google AdWords campaign does not immediately help your SEO rankings. However, PPC is often helpful in getting the conversion process started.
- PPC Picks Up Pieces When SEO Takes Temporary Hit. Here’s an example. Last fall, Google updated Penguin and added it to their core algorithm.
Content can be a major driver for visitors going through the conversion funnel. It can be offered via multiple channels: a blog post showing up in organic search results or an offer for a lead magnet provided via a landing page you visit after clicking on a paid ad.
Blog posts may be the first content engaged, educating and delighting, rather than presenting a threatening request. However, as someone begins to move further down the funnel, providing them specifically tailored offers in a more controlled setting may make sense. Really get to know your customer journey, and when you need to take a more proactive approach with paid ads vs reactive with your SEO.
Your ad helps you get that essential first click. Even if that first visit doesn’t convert, you’ve introduced yourself and made an impression (you’d think I’d be sorry for that pun, but I’m really not). As the customer warms up, they organically return and those clicks are beneficial to your ranking.
There are a variety of ways in which this latest (and rumored to be last) update could have and still does affect your organic search ranking.
For the visual learners out there…
With the Penguin update, search engine ranking is getting harder and harder to predict, and sites are penalized and forgiven from one moment to the next. PPC, however, can put your site literally above the top-ranked site for a page found via organic search. While technically your ranking within the search algorithm might change, the casual surfer isn’t likely to care about that if your ads answer their query.
And it (sort of) makes sense. Google keeps adjusting their SERP layout and algorithm, so that they can better align with customer objectives and making sure that content and listings are still relevant to what they’re searching for. So, work with Google rather than against them.
This gives marketers like you and I a better chance to stay on top of scammers and spammers. But that also means that we have to figure out new ways to keep our rankings on top in Google search, and we have higher competition with more commercial search results like “hotels in Vegas” or “how to lose weight.”
You get it, creating campaigns that combine both SEO and PPC efforts is a pretty good way to maximize traffic and conversion opportunities. In an ideal world, time and money would permit you to look at both SEO and PPC, and how they work best when supporting each other synergistically. Where you can get SEO and PPC working together, you’ll often be able to drive results that are greater than their component parts.
Best Practices for the PPC + SEO Hybrid Approach
Now, that you’re aware of the benefits of a hybrid approach, let’s cover best practices for how you can start to bring your PPC and SEO teams together with the least disruption.
There may be some overlap in the sides of the brain PPC and SEO specialists use to carry out their functions. But you may find that PPC teams are generally more left brain, more analytical and numbers-driven while SEO specialists work closely with content writers (at least with regard to on-page SEO) and may then access their right brain when blending the technical with the storytelling aspects of their job.
That being said, PPC teams are reliant on writers to craft quality ad copy — so, due to the overlap, communication between PPC teams, SEO teams and content writers should be fluid
Now that we covered the principles that allow your SEO and PPC teams to work together efficiently, let’s cover 5 key best practices:
1) Share Brand, Product, and Industry Information to Save Time & Money.
Both teams work hard at developing keyword strategies, creating unique content and employing a number of tactics that focus on attracting online consumers. That is an excessive amount of data that can be shared to create a harmonious relationship while bolstering results for everyone.
SEO and PPC strategists should work together to share key points of information that highlight how and what the competition is doing.
Create monitoring systems that identify your competitors in terms of:
- positioning within SERPs;
- key message points/branding initiatives; and
- primary and secondary keyword terms (we’ll cover this more with our next best practice).
Both teams should be showing their seasonal data, especially if there are specific times when product demand is significantly higher or lower than the rest of the year. You can create a calendar of events that revolve around organic search and paid ads for customers within specific locations or seasons.
Use this information to adjust your ad spend or ad copy, to improve CTR, and to outrank your opponents.
2) Share Keyword Data to Increase the Performance of Your Campaigns.
Keywords are the foundation of any successful SEO or PPC campaign. Obviously, however, what works for an organic SEO campaign might not produce the same results when employed for a PPC campaign.
Both SEO and PPC marketers conduct keyword research in order to identify which terms best align with their target audience’s online behavior, then project traffic growth and drive qualified conversions. That being said, the Search Console research on keywords that SEO specialists find can provide both PPC and organic search campaigns a foundation on which to build.
With stats like keyword difficulty, search volume, clicks, and clicks per search at your fingertips, you can create content for your site that’s specifically tailored to those keywords. If this content is offered both organically and through paid advertising, it could serve a dual purpose rather than you having to recreate the wheel with new content offers.
In your SEO strategy, you might consider choosing SEO keywords that you normally could not afford in AdWords. SEO experts can pick up search terms organically that competitors are spending a ton of money on or have already abandoned. Now, you’re covering your basis when it comes to the bucket of keywords your audience might be interested in while only paying for those which are top performers or cost less.
You’ll be able to reduce your advertising budget and/or utilize that budget for other advertising efforts that you originally could not afford.
3) Get Maximum Impact From Landing Pages Developed.
Before I start, let me just reiterate that, if you can manage it, you should have dedicated landing pages for your paid campaigns rather than driving paid traffic to your website pages. This way, the pages provide a clear direction and less distraction for visitors to take action.
However, in some cases, you may be able to drive traffic to a product or service website page that’s both indexed for organic search and utilized for paid traffic to save on costs of landing page development while still helping drive both more paid traffic and increased organic ranking.
Keep in mind a big issue with doing this is that it can get harder to track (though not impossible) if traffic came organically or through paid channels as opposed to knowing that a landing page was only used for a specific paid campaign.
Still, though not always appropriate for every landing page, indexing certain landing pages can improve organic ranking and if you’re low on cash, it may be a temporary solution to tackle both paid and organic channels.
4) Fill in SERP with Both Organic and Paid Results.
As previously mentioned, running paid ad campaigns that offer precise messages and are located next to your organic listings on Google can increase overall CTR and lead to a higher return on your investment.
In the example above, we see both paid ads and organic search results ranking at the very top of Google search’s page layout. I would say Beats does pretty well. A lot of people know the brand name, if nothing else.
It may be a consideration to run ads for target keywords that you’re not yet ranking for organically, so make sure you check if you’re already capturing organic real estate and may need to shift focus to another keyword for your paid efforts. This way, you aren’t spending on keywords that you may already have good representation for in SERPs.
While it’s true that first-page ads generally have a lower click-through rate than first-page organic search results, people still click on them. In fact, 64.6% of people click on ads when searching for a product or a service.
And, again, dominating both organic and paid search results will give the impression that you have an established presence in your market.
5) Use Paid Advertising to Assist with Organic Efforts.
Organic link building can be time-consuming, and you may have already tried and failed with many link building strategies. You know quality links are a requirement to improve organic rankings, but you’ve run out of ideas for new websites to publish on or earn links from.
If you advertise on the Display Network, a complete list of relevant sites across the web may be right at your fingertips. This is especially true if your campaigns are contextually targeted, meaning that they’re displaying ads on relevant sites based on your keywords. You may find some good ideas for websites to reach out to for those link building efforts.
You can find this data by navigating in AdWords to ‘Display Network > Placements.’ You’ll likely find that many of the placements listed are large sites that don’t, specifically, cater to your niche. An advanced technique is to drill down even further using the “See Details” option, to see the exact page your ad was shown on.
By selecting the root domain of the site you’re interested in and choosing “Selected,” you can drill down to the internal pages of only your domain of choice. This can help identify the category, subcategory, and specific pages that provide great opportunities for link building organically as well.
PPC is also an easy way to promote your content to a large audience who would never see it otherwise. So, first introduce influencers on popular partner websites to your content with paid ads. Then, hopefully, they’ll continue to read and share your content organically moving forward and be more than willing to exchange links.
What Does This Mean for SEO And PPC Marketers?
With only three to four ads being allowed on each Google Search page, paid search marketers need to put their efforts into creating the best ads that will end up at the top for transactional queries, while SEO teams could instead focus their efforts on informational intent and developing quality online experiences that are based on a customer’s content needs. Then, you’re covering multiple intents and stages within the funnel across your efforts.
When both teams collaborate and strategize together, you’ll be able to optimize your search results in both paid and organic methods. Ultimately, it’s up to you which option is best for your business. Still, it’s worth understanding that both SEO and PPC ads help in different ways.
But so we come full circle, let’s cover some case studies that show that success depends on several factors. In some cases, PPC or SEO alone works well. In other cases, there’s opportunity for them to be combined to bring better results.
Case Studies for Solo and Hybrid Approaches
PPC Case Study #1: Apparel Company
For one apparel company, PPC advertising increased revenues by 383%, which translated into $154,628 in annual profits. Over 20 ad campaigns were posted across all major paid search engines, including Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search, and Microsoft adCenter (now Bing Ads).
Conversions increased the same day that their PPC campaigns were started. Previously, the apparel company spent $2,500 per day on PPC ads. Testing and altering ads led to a return on investment within one month.
In this case, targeted strategy, flexibility, and posting ads on multiple platforms led to immediate PPC conversions. So, this defends the stance that PPC can work well for a brand, even without being combined with SEO.
PPC-SEO Case Study #2: Local Contractor
A local contractor hired a marketing company to help increase traffic to his website. Instead of linking PPC ads to his listing on a directory page, the goal was to send traffic to his own landing page using targeted keywords. The company also incorporated SEO into their marketing plan by improving the page’s content.
Paid search led to a conversion rate of more than 14% while conversions from organic search reached 5.25%.
Combined, the local contractor experienced a 325% increase in traffic to his website, and his goal of obtaining qualified leads was achieved. This is a good example of where a combined SEO/PPC strategy worked to the benefit of the brand.
PPC-SEO Case Study #3: eCommerce
In an ecommerce case study, PPC ad campaigns accounted for a higher number of conversions than SEO and organic search marketing. Using the keyword phrase “water alarm,” this company’s PPC ad (which included the product’s price) often appeared within the top three advertisements – and was often listed first. Its organic search ranking was typically between the 4th and 6th pages.
Over the course of six months (February 1, 2012-August 1, 2012), the company ran both the PPC ad and relied on organic search. Within that time, the PPC ad generated 586 unique visits to the website, and organic traffic led 552 visitors to the website. In terms of conversion, however, the PPC ads led to more sales.
Twenty-five orders resulted from PPC traffic while only three orders were made through organic search, even though each method sent about the same amount of traffic to the ecommerce website.
PPC-SEO Case Study #4: Mortgage Brokering
In a case study involving a mortgage broker, PPC was infused into the marketing plans by a marketing firm that typically focused solely on SEO. The marketing firm, Polar Design, linked one of four landing pages to PPC campaigns.
With subtle differences in web copy, conversation rates varied for their mortgage broker client. With testing, they found that copy for “Combination 2” performed best and converted at a rate of 16.8%.
Their worst performing copy combination converted at a rate of 8.72%. Without properly monitoring and testing each campaign, the company would not have known which landing page would have worked at all.
Polar Design also found that using medium and long-tail keyword phrases cost less per click, because these phrases generated less traffic. Creating a cost-effective campaign involved researching which keywords were most competitive and avoiding those that had been bid up by other companies in their industry.
PPC ads for this mortgage company ran for two months. Their highest converting ad received 383 clicks and generated 62 leads. It cost them $9.62 per lead. Their lowest performing ad cost them much more. It only generated one lead from 137 clicks, with that one lead effectively costing them $113.81.
Because of this, Polar Design strongly suggests testing ad campaigns, copy, and keywords to increase conversion rates and decrease the cost per lead. From their experiment, they concluded that it was more cost effective to balance their use of PPC ads in the short-term and SEO for long-term marketing efforts.
PPC-SEO Case Study #5: Auto Parts
In another case study, sales from organic search and paid campaigns steadily increased over the course of thirteen months.
Within that time, organic sales increased over 30% while paid campaign-based sales increased by 68%, more than twice as much as organic search. Similarly, organic search traffic increased by 26%, and paid visits increased by 42%.
Although both approaches increased sales, the PPC campaigns resulted in more traffic and more targeted conversions.
It is also worth noting, as this company points out when you use both SEO and PPC, your SERP real estate becomes larger than your competitors. When you use keywords to rank for organic and paid search results, your website becomes more prominent, making it more visible to individuals searching for content you’re ranking for.
The more your website is peppered across search results, the more likely searchers are to click and even trust your website over those of your competitors.
In this case study, using both SEO and PPC led to more sales and SERP prominence.
PPC-SEO Case Study #6: Jaguar
One final case study is the progress that Jaguar Land Rover has made. When they saw that their traditional methods of marketing weren’t working, they turned to the Internet and developed a content strategy that involved SEO and PPC to help them drive sales.
Wrap Up on Google Search
Rather than having both SEO and PPC teams fight to the death to determine who is the strongest of them all, why not work together, hit some epic conversions and make bank?
Like rain and sunshine…
…Or Kim and Kanye.
Digital marketing is now more sophisticated and integrated than ever. To maximize your revenue in highly competitive markets, you have to understand our target audience’s demand, the content they’re looking for, and the performance of your efforts as well as those of your competitors.
Having both SEO and PPC work together in every campaign will not only help your company’s conversion rate and drive more traffic, it will also give your customers a better online experience.
Now it’s your turn. Do your SEO and PPC teams work together? How’s it working out for you? Let me know in the comments below.