Where PPC and SEO Meet

All the studies out there point to the fact that an integrated online marketing strategy is more powerful than just using one Internet marketing channel alone.  Most strategies compliment one another very well.  Today, I want to talk a bit about the use of search engine optimization and pay per click advertising together as a combined strategy. 

About SEO:  Organic search engine optimization is the process performed on (and off) a website to improve the quality and volumes of traffic from the natural search results.  A good SEO campaign starts with a targeted keyword strategy.  Then best practices must be applied to site architecture, content, and link building.  SEO is one of the most important investments in the long term online visibility for any brand.  However, unless you already have good momentum with natural placements, it can take time to see results.

About PPCPay Per Click advertising is a strategy that involves buying keywords through programs like Google Adwords, Yahoo Search Marketing, etc.  Again, it starts with defining the keyword strategy and setting budgets.  You can of course dig deeper by geo-targeting terms as well as using daily and hourly targeting so that over time you can maxmize your budget and have your ads showing only during times where you are experiencing the best conversions.  Google now uses a Quality Score index to rank campaigns.  This is important because your budget matters less and the quality of your campaign and landing pages matters more. 

Here are some interesting stats on spending:

  • PPC search advertising continues to be the largest category, growing from $9.1 billion in 2007 to $20.9 billion in 2013. (Source: C|Net News, June 30, 2008)
  • Companies in the US spent $10 billion last year on paid search ads, and even more this year. How about SEO?
  • SEO: $1.3 billion (11%) (Source: SEMPO data via Massimo Burgio, SMX Madrid 2008)
  • According to SEMPO’s data, it’s 11% for SEO and 87% for PPC (with another 1.4% for SEM technologies and 1% for paid Inclusion).

It seems that people still do not quite grasp the power of natural search rankings.  Let’s take a look at this heat map study to show where most users look when doing searches online.

google heat map

Companies that use only paid search marketing do so usually because they either do not have good orgainc rankings or are deploying a very targeting ad campaign.  Companies that use only SEO usually do so because they have great natural traffic and don’t have much need for more targeted advertising (or think they don’t). 

As we all know, starting from scrath, SEO takes months to generate good lasting results.  The time it takes to show results is largely based on a few factors:  the competitiveness of the industry online, the age and history of the domain, the number of inbound links the site may already have, content, and the overall quality of the SEO campaign.  In the meantime, many companies use PPC to drive traffic and generate revenue.  PPC advertising managed correctly can show some big wins.  But you don’t want to have to rely on PPC alone forever.  This is not a scalable strategy nor will it always yield the best conversions as compared to great natural traffic. 

When using PPC as a means to drive traffic while working on building natural rankings, the keyword movements and traffic volumes coming through the SEO efforts should be monitored closely.  As specific keywords start to drive more traffic (most likely from moving to the first page results), you can gradually start to decrease the PPC budgets.  You don’t want to be too quick to turn certains terms off though and you will want to montior both efforts closely.

Many case studies are now showing that conversions rates increase when companies deploy BOTH methods, even for overlapping keyword strategies.  Companies using both methods, are seeing the conversions coming through SEO, but at a much higher rate than using either PPC or SEO alone.  So as keywords start generating more natural traffic, you may want to consider decreasing some budgets while still maintaining keyword visibility in both natural and paid results. 

A deeper analysis will come when you start really looking at your CPA (cost per acquisiton) and conversion goals through your paid search efforts.  Since PPC is advertising, you can lose money if it is not managed well.  SEO is really more of a true business development investment.  Once you start SEO you really can’t stop – and when you start showing higher traffic volumes coming through natural search, you won’t want to!  The visitors coming through natural search results usually stay on the site longer, view more pages, and convert better. 

The conclusion:  Every brand will need a different strategy but if you have the means, deploying both SEO and paid search can generate great results.  If you decide to manage both efforts in-house be sure to seek professional advice on how each work separately and as a combined strategy.

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