At first glance, it may seem as though pay per click advertising and SEO are staunchly at odds. After all, one is about dumping money into an immediate but short-term reward, while the other is about a slow investment in ongoing growth and organic traffic. As it stands, however, they are perfectly complimentary. You can use PPC for a quick jolt of traffic and leverage that traffic with your SEO techniques to keep those users around and continue to grow. Here are six interesting ways PPC and SEO synergize.
1. PPC as Keyword Research
A thorn in the side of webmasters for the past couple years has been Google’s slow restrictions on keyword research. Google has been slowly encrypting keyword data, to make it harder to perform keyword research through the webmaster tools. This is part of their drive to force webmasters to focus on content quality and not search optimization. Unfortunately, it makes it quite difficult for a webmaster or marketer to target keywords effectively.
An effective SEO campaign can take months or years to reach a point where a site has reached critical mass to rank for their target keywords. If those keywords turn out to have unexpectedly high competition or, conversely, unexpectedly low traffic, the SEO campaign becomes wasted money.
PPC is a great way to test keywords. Compile a list of possible target keywords and run short, low-budget PPC campaigns. Measure the incoming traffic numbers, conversion rates and engagement levels of the traffic coming from each keyword-targeted ad. This will give you a good idea of how each keyword will perform as the focus of your SEO campaign. This way you can eliminate the poor performing keywords and find any hidden gems you may not have noticed.
2. PPC as a Measure of Brand Effectiveness
A large part of modern SEO is tied up with the issue of brand. The days of an unknown name ranking for keywords and still bringing in success are over. You need to create a brand and use that brand to create a trusted reputation. That’s part of why social media is so prevalent; it helps you create a public face for your company, a persona that users can see and interact with. More importantly, it gives them something to trust beyond a logo and a dry, corporate website.
Building a brand name is a long and arduous process that’s hampered by competition, similarly-named brands and rebranding along the way. It’s difficult to get right the first time; impossible to see the future and pick a compelling brand name right off the bat. With all of these issues, it’s hard to tell if your brand is successful.
Thankfully, you can test your brand reach with a well-planned PPC campaign. Come up with a good keyword – possibly one from the previous step – and run two simultaneous ads with very similar parameters. Target the same groups, use mostly the same copy, just change the keywords. Use a keyword and use a branded version of that keyword.
If your branding is successful, you’ll see a decent amount of traffic on the branded keyword; as much or more than the unbranded version, in some cases. If your branded keyword doesn’t perform well, you have two potential problems. Either your branding isn’t working, or your keyword has fierce branded competition.
3. PPC for User Experience Split-Testing
There comes a time in the life of every website where it must go through a redesign. Sometimes it’s due to a rebranding. Sometimes it’s just the business growing too big for the old design to handle. Sometimes it’s because the old design is based on old code that’s due for a solid refresh. No matter the reason, the new site needs testing to optimize for user experience.
PPC can help greatly with user experience optimization. Essentially, what you’ll do is create two similar pages with slightly different navigation or flow, with all other variables controlled. Set up two otherwise identical PPC campaigns and point one at each of the split landing pages. Run the campaigns for a couple weeks and analyze how users converted.
In this scenario, PPC is used to draw in a guaranteed level of traffic for both pages. You can use everything from Google Analytics to a click-tracking heatmap to monitor what users do once they’re on those pages. Iterate and test until you’ve developed the best design you can, and then implement it site-wide.
4. PPC for Traffic Investment
One nice thing about PPC is that it’s not a total loss when the campaign ends. Yes, to keep up the level of traffic you get from an active PPC campaign, you need to keep that campaign going with a continual investment. However, when you stop, your traffic doesn’t immediately drop back to the level it was at before you started the campaign.
The people you draw in with PPC are just that; people. They’re not robots, programmed to forget about your site the moment you stop paying for their services. Yes, PPC is not as effective at drawing in people long-term as SEO. However, it is still somewhat effective. Some of the users you drew in with PPC – a higher percentage the more accurately you’ve targeted your customer base – will continue to search out your site even after the ads stop running. They will convert from paid users to organic searchers.
This is part of why you don’t want to spend too much time investing in the same small PPC campaign. When you change the parameters, you change the audience. A different audience means different people coming in, some of whom will convert into organic users. When you’re sticking with one or a small handful of campaigns, refusing to change them up, you end up saturating and annoying the same userbase and bringing in diminishing returns.
5. PPC to Balance Costs
The cost per lead of a PPC campaign is flat. When you start it, the cost per lead is fixed. A month later, the cost per lead is the same. You only encounter diminishing returns if you stick with the same campaign without changing the ad text for a long time; months or longer.
Meanwhile, the cost of a lead with organic SEO is highly variable. This is because the majority of the cost of an SEO campaign is front-loaded in the research and development. Implementation is easy, as long as it doesn’t involve a lot of site redesigns and split testing. The cost per lead for organic SEO, if that plan is effective, drops constantly. Or, rather, the amount of leads you bring in over time increases with an effective SEO program.
PPC allows you to add a flat investment to your curve; it’s the same amount more when you first start as it is when you have your SEO campaign up and running. You can use this to bring in a relatively fixed, predictable number of leads during the high-cost, low-traffic beginning of your PPC campaign. This helps you bring in more users and more conversions when you otherwise would suffer from a slump of low traffic and high expenses. Your costs will still go down over time, unless you invest an increasing amount in PPC, but your traffic will generally rise.
6. PPC as Algorithm Update Insurance
SEO is highly dependant on stability in the world of search. Unfortunately, stability is hard to come by. Every Panda update, every Penguin change, every algorithm tweak changes your traffic. Even if it doesn’t affect your site directly, it may affect other sites in your niche, or the way users browse.
PPC is largely independent from the algorithm. If Panda updates midway through your campaign, it doesn’t matter; you’ll still pay the same cost per click. This way, PPC can be used as a bit of traffic insurance if your site enters a slump due to an algorithm update. Rather than suffering a massive expense and loss after an update, you can use smart PPC investments to balance it out and maintain at least a basic level of profit while you fix the issues, refocus your SEO and return to growth.