Search engine optimisation (SEO) and pay-per-click advertising (PPC) are the guts and, for a few individuals, the glory of Google. If you want your website to be visible in Google’s monolithic search engine, you’ll have to engage with one of the two marketing channels at one point or another.
Often, SEO and PPC are handled in silos, treated as competitor services or, even worse, cannibals of each other’s success. For this reason, many will choose to stick to one path, working away to achieve success in the channel they feel works best for them. Further to this, dedicated SEO and PPC agencies offer these services exclusively, eschewing the other in the process and further fueling the longstanding war of the SERPs (not actually an important link, but a hilarious Twitter profile) between organic and paid.
It doesn’t have to – and shouldn’t, in my opinion – be this way. Integrating your SEO and PPC activities together successfully can create results you couldn’t achieve without them in concert, and the data you can gather from this marriage can be a powerful tool in it’s own right. It’s certainly not an easy feat though; here’s my guide on how to handle SEO and PPC integration for your business.
Why Should I Combine SEO & PPC?
The first thing to understand is why integration of these channels is beneficial, and whether it will be beneficial for you. There are a couple of points to raise here and it’s important to stress that all of these benefits are the product of a well executed strategy!
You can be an SEO Magician and put your website at the top of organic results for that key search term you’ve targeted, but if a PPC Warlock decides to step in, you’re going to have to take a step off the podium and settle for second, or third… or fourth. Now you’re beginning to see why these channels don’t get along all that well.
Conversely, a top paid ad placement is still just that – an advert. Users have gotten accustomed to how Google & Bing deliver ads within their search engines and some users will simply skip right by to look at those trusty organic results. No matter what you do, you’re destined to lose clicks to wary internet lurkers.
But what if we combine powers? If you can capture the top organic placements and have a prominent presence in the paid space too? That’s when you begin to really maximise your visibility.
Some would argue that there is cannibalisation here; you’re either wasting money on a click that could have been organic or you’re wasting time optimising for the queries you’re PPC team are owning. I disagree with this sentiment 90% of the time, but it is important to target the right queries with both channels. If there’s no paid competition and you occupy the top organic position, there’s little reason to spend your budget stealing clicks away from your organic result that will gather the majority anyway for free, unless you really want that SERP real estate!
We’re all over the great keyword betrayal of 2013, but it’s hard to argue that it hasn’t made our lives as SEOs a fair bit trickier. Third-party tools have done a good job of bridging the gap, especially when married with the data still provided by Search Console, but they can’t match the (near) limitless amounts of granular data that Google is willing to hand over to a PPC account that’s paying.
The specifics of how we can leverage this data for mutual gain will come a little bit later, but suffice it to say that accurate data is good data and PPC campaigns can deliver in droves. Everything from search term reports to SERP copy analysis can be achieved through your PPC channel, which can have a huge impact on how you approach your SEO strategy.
SEO and PPC are better at different things, surprisingly. For one, the immediacy of paid advertising lends itself better to support short-term campaigns – perhaps seasonal – and generating visibility when it’s absolutely mission critical. SEO, on the other hand, requires time to become a valuable resource, which can devalue it for certain marketing campaigns.
Having both at your disposal means that you’re better equipped to handle new, emerging marketing opportunities you unearth and can remain agile at all times. It’s worth noting that PPC does have superb long-term applications, it’s more that you can’t rely on SEO for short-term success like you can PPC.
How Should I Integrate SEO & PPC?
There are a number of ways to bring both channels together, and the value of these will differ based on your business, current requirements and strategy. Pick a few from this list that you feel will be the most valuable to your business and start actioning them – don’t go overboard right out of the gate, or you might struggle to quantify your efforts effectively!
Use Adwords Search Term Reports to Learn & Inform
Search term reports are a pretty valuable tool from a PPC standpoint, as you can see the exact search queries users who clicked on your ads used to do so, along with a number of additional metrics, such as the campaign and ad group triggered, and any number of additional columns that you are used to customising within Adwords itself. This data is just as valuable for SEO, as you can use it to uncover a number of things that can help to inform your efforts.
Content Gaps & Long-Tail Keywords
You can assess gaps in your existing content and discover valuable long-tail keyword opportunities by reviewing the search terms themselves, looking for any that you’ve received multiple impressions for, or a cluster of semantically similar phrases you can speak about.
Search Behaviour Analysis
You can use these reports to analyse user search behaviour, giving you a better understanding of how they’re actually searching within your niche. It’s important to give users some agency when triggering your ads, however, as you’ll be disappointed when everyone seems to search [SEO] just as you’d anticipated. That’s an exact match joke, that is.
Use Google Analytics To Gain Big Picture Insights
To make a multi-channel marketing campaign successful, you’ll need to analyse a great deal of data, benchmark your individual efforts with the right metrics and understand what is and isn’t working. Further to this, individual channels will require bespoke analysis, and Google Analytics is a great tool to capture the necessary information for SEO and PPC channels.
Audit Landing Page Experiences
To maximise paid advertising campaigns, you’ll need to either create or optimise the landing page experience to meet user’s expectations – someone searching for a specific product wouldn’t expect to land on a category page for the product type, for example.
Adwords data largely ends at the click (outside of conversion reporting), meaning it doesn’t track any on-page metrics. It’s far more effective to utilise analytics data to view individual page performance through the analysis of behaviour metrics, user journeys, and engagement.
If the landing page you’re directing users to is showing poor behaviour metrics, such as a high bounce rate, you can already assess that a change needs to be made. At this point, you can either dig deeper through more bespoke tools, or go straight to the optimisation work. Paid advertising doesn’t stop at the SERP – you need to be serving the user right through to the end conversion to maximise performance!
Inform Content Optimisation
When you can recognise high-performing content, you can build a strategy around it and amplify appropriately. It works with any channel, and you can gain a lot of insight through proper analysis of performance. Analytics can provide a lot of signals to let you know when something is going well, such as traffic levels, engagement metrics and goal completions (if setup correctly), and you can use third-party tools (such as STAT – a personal favourite) to gain further insights.
For example, if a service, category or product page that you’ve painstakingly crafted content for is climbing the SERPs and drawing in a lot of organic traffic, you know there’s healthy volumes of search available to target. Providing this is a core service or product, it could be prudent to create a paid campaign to generate additional traffic to the high-performing page.
Additionally, the metrics available in Adwords for analysing ad copy can help inform your metadata optimisation efforts massively. I recommend using SKAGs (single keyword ad groups) when using Adwords to inform organic metadata, as you can marry the keywords and the ad title in each case, ensuring you understand the relationship between different copy approaches around a specific term and user engagement.
SEO & PPC Working Together: Assisted Conversions
Now that we’ve ran through some of the ways that these channels can support each other, it’s time to see it in action. Assisted conversion are one of the most underappreciated metrics within Analytics, despite being a key aspect of understanding your real conversion funnel.
It’s too easy to see a low number of conversions – or a poor cost/conversion ratio – from a given channel and decide the time spent wasn’t worth it, leading to a reduction in resources – social, referral and email channels often suffer from this, in particular.
Assisted Conversion Analysis
An assisted conversion is any channel that a user engages with prior to the end conversion, such as a shopper who found your product through organic search, went away to compare prices, and then came back direct to your site to purchase. In that instance, the conversion would be granted to direct, whilst organic would get an assisted conversion. This data can be found in Analytics under Conversions > Assisted Conversions.
We can see that the above data better illustrates the relationship between different channels and how they typically convert. Note the ratio of assisted conversions to conversion for social network – it’s 7.25 times more likely to be part of a conversion funnel, but not the key driver. Does that sound valuable to your business? Would conversions have been lost if social had not been a step in the conversion process? These questions can help you to understand how channels are working together, and this works incredibly well for a combined marketing campaign for SEO & PPC.
Top Channel Paths
We can further analyse the relationship of channels by analysing the conversion paths users have taken to convert. Conversion paths provide much needed context to the previous data, and can help you to understand your users better in the process. I’ve used the same dataset as above to provide cohesion in our analysis.
Organic search is both a strong standalone channel and a key driver to start user journeys for other channel conversions. Paid Search achieves a similar result, which could be grounds to increase the budget and scale of the campaign. Direct, on the other hand, serves only as a final path in the user’s journey, and doesn’t serve other channels well.
It’s important to note that single step conversions are not shown by default – you’ll need to adjust the segments to see this data.
Go Out & Conquer
There’s so many ways to leverage both channels to improve performance that I could probably go on ad infinitum about it, but the above points should get you on the right track and start making an impact in how you view your work. Pick one point, action it and then measure success – don’t try and integrate too quickly, or you might just create a big data-driven mess that won’t help anyone.
Check out your conversion paths (and set up proper conversion tracking if you don’t have this data already), review performance for your key landing pages, try out some new ad copy and measure results, or dig deeper to find new content opportunities – measure your success and iterate.