SEO and PPC working together: a proven formula for success

SEO and PPC working together: a proven formula for success

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SEO Manager at Bring Digital in Bolton. We help businesses improve their online performance through search marketing, social media and web design.
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Last updated 13th August 2016

Google’s own data tells us that there are incremental benefits when a website has a presence in Google’s organic and paid listings at the same time.

But what’s even more beneficial is when a business eliminates silos in its search marketing team and gets SEO and PPC working together.


Google’s research – 1+1=3

As you can see above, those who invest in PPC don’t retain all their visits when they cut ad spend because their site starts to rank organically for a given keyword. Organic and paid listings for the same website reassure users of the authenticity and trustworthiness of a site, whereas a single organic listing under-performs without the presence of another paid listing, and vice versa.

But it’s not enough just to do both if the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. SEO and PPC integration is the answer, with both working towards the same goals – more traffic, more conversions.


First step – eliminate silos

Knowing the tasks that can help achieve this goal is one thing, but the hardest part is often getting departments and individuals talking in the first place. I’m convinced it’s any digital marketing agency owner’s dream to have SEO and PPC working together, but too often the two teams work on the same client without communicating or sharing insights, to the detriment of the client’s results.

This Forbes article discusses a unified vision being key to breaking down silos and this is especially true with search marketing. It’s not as if SEO and PPC teams are working towards different goals – both are there to provide traffic to a website with the eventual aim of converting those visitors into customers.

When you think about it in these terms, it becomes incomprehensible that the two teams wouldn’t work together to achieve that common objective.


Our SEO / PPC Integration Strategy

Recently, our Head of PPC Lisa and I got our heads together and came up with a process to encourage increased SEO/PPC synergy at Bring Digital. We both agreed that our clients would benefit from more communication and collaboration between the teams, so we researched, discussed and formed a solid process to make it happen.

Below is the deck we used for our internal training, a blueprint for using SEO and PPC together going forward, with notes on each point to explain further:

  1. Use AdWords search query reports to inform organic keyword strategy

The first thing we look at when working on integrated PPC and SEO campaigns is search query reports. Nothing new here, but this really is the minimum any search agency should be doing to ensure the two departments are collaborating:


There are two ways we use these reports regularly. We tweak keyword optimisation by adding related language and synonyms to landing page content for a semantic SEO boost, while checking for queries that have triggered our ads which might justify new pages of content.

Using the example above, we might want to create an awareness piece about ‘fat freezing’ to serve an informational intent. We know that anyone further down the funnel (transactional searchers) is more likely to search for the name of the treatment (‘lipo freeze’ and its variants).

Pro tip: Hanapin Marketing have just produced a fantastic webinar entitled ‘how to run an effective search query report in less than 15 minutes’ which outlines a really time-efficient method for digging into this data.


  1. Split test PPC messaging to improve organic CTR


As a meta data junkie and a ‘CTR-as-a-ranking-factor’ believer, I’m always up for finding ways to improve the appeal of my clients’ organic listings. PPC allows us to split test specific messaging to figure out which USPs, offers and sales propositions resonate with searchers, which we can then use to prioritise the messaging we use in title tags and meta descriptions.

If better click-through rate really does equal better conversion rate, there’s a direct benefit to improving CTR beyond simply attracting a greater volume of traffic. PPC allows us to get data quickly and compare variations side-by-side.

Pro tip #1: Find messaging to split test by speaking to the sales team. Ask the question; “what do you say to someone who’s unsure about your product/service to persuade them to buy?”

Pro tip #2: As with any A/B test, ensure you’re only changing one element in each variation so you can be sure of the impact of each change you make.


  1. Online reputation management

Firstly, if you have negative reviews online you should be fixing your service, not just tinkering with the SERPs.

But if legacy complaints and negative sentiment in the organic listings is dominating your branded searches, you’ll benefit from a PPC campaign that optimises for queries like ‘<brand> reviews’ and culminates at your testimonials page.

We ran a similar campaign for a conservatory client while they worked through the internal issues that caused them to receive bad reviews:


While the business understood that not everyone who searched for their brand name would be distracted by their ads, they were happy to catch as many searchers as possible before they hit the less flattering listings below.

The traffic is cheap because the advertiser owns the brand and because of (generally) low competition, and if it rescues a handful of lost sales it’s worth the expense.


  1. Get cheap traffic to your content

Full credit goes to Hristo Hristov for this tip, which I spotted in an inbound.org thread and have started to use for my clients.

Long-form content that identifies problems with which an audience relates, before presenting a product or service as the answer, is a great way to get top-of-the-funnel leads. If you have a client in an industry that is the subject of a lot of research and informational search, the opportunity is there to create an in-depth piece of content that answers a lot of important questions, while persuading the searcher to invest in your solution.

The cost per click for informational terms tends to be much cheaper than for commercial queries due to a massive lack of competition. We’ve run PPC campaigns for clients before to get traffic to content quickly and cheaply when we know that the content converts at a decent level:


Pro tip: For me, the beauty of Hristo’s approach is again the speed at which conversion data is collected and the opportunity to tweak the article and split test the changes. The content can be an ongoing project that is never ‘finished’ – at least until the tests show diminishing returns.

Of course, you might not need to write anything new. If you have content already and you know it converts, just start running ads, keep an eye on the CPA and when you have the cost per sale right, ramp up the spend and watch the sales roll in.


  1. Cover all bases with ad extensions

While a content team is traditionally seen as part of an SEO team, the above example shows how content and PPC teams can work together to the benefit of an integrated search campaign. A variation on this theme involves ad extensions.

Rather than just placing links to related services or cross-selling similar products, why not use ad extensions to capture the above-mentioned informational searchers in an ad which primarily targets those closer to a conversion?


In a super-competitive vertical like PPI, it is tempting to drive every visitor directly to the conversion page in an attempt to chase the maximum ROI for your expensive clicks. Gladstone Brookes have used ad extensions intelligently, taking anyone clicking the main link to the ‘start your claim’ page but also catering for anyone looking for more information with links to the content that answers the important questions.


  1. Find new target keywords with Search Console data…

We’ve already touched on how keyword research for an SEO campaign can be informed by data from search query reports, but the same is true with data being passed the other way.

Search Console’s Search Analytics feature gives valuable organic data about keywords the site is receiving impressions for which may not be covered by more tightly-optimised PPC accounts. Crucially Search Analytics shows keywords the site is actually ranking for, not just what your team has optimised for.


The above is real data from a client’s account which highlighted keywords that we weren’t targeting through PPC or SEO. Thanks to Google’s semantic understanding of the site’s relevance to these keywords we were able to identify two popular terms that were ranking organically at the bottom of page one, tighten up the keyword targeting to increase organic ranking and put some budget behind them to bring in PPC traffic in the meantime.

Pro tip: look for keywords ranking lower down the page with a strong click-through rate, such as ‘457 visa processing time’ in the above screenshot. The user’s willingness to click your listing should be encouragement enough to create some specific content or optimise the page more carefully to increase organic rankings, while also putting PPC budget behind the keyword to test its conversion potential.


  1. …and Analytics data…

By setting up keyword suggestion reports in Google Analytics (as found in this post by Emma Barnes), longtail keywords appear in query reports which restrictive PPC campaigns may have missed.


The above custom segment produces a list of keywords providing traffic without including brand terms, nonsense keywords and keywords which are overly long.

To see the queries, navigate within Analytics to Acquisition > Campaigns > Organic Keywords.


  1. …and internal site search data


Google Analytics tracks site search queries, which can help you find:

  • Products and services that are in demand, which helps prioritise PPC budget
  • Products & services people are struggling to find on the site, which can help UX teams tweak the user journey, which in turn helps brand PPC campaigns convert.

The amount of sites which have a site search feature but don’t track site searches in Google Analytics is shocking considering how useful this data is. If you don’t trust the keyword information Google provides from search data (and plenty don’t), trust your internal data to give you valuable insights as to what your visitors are looking for on your website.


  1. Be nice to your content team if you want better quality scores

Content teams are usually under the SEO umbrella, but when PPC teams notice quality scores aren’t what they’d like there’s only so much they can achieve before the landing page needs to be optimised for relevance.

AdWords quality score relies partly on relevance between keyword, ad and landing page, and a well-drilled SEO content team knows all about relevance. They can either tweak the existing page, or create a new one if the existing content doesn’t adequately answer a particular query.



  1. Use ranking reports to prioritise PPC budget

I’ve referred to prioritising budget a number of times in this post, mainly because many of our clients are careful about spend when it comes to PPC.

Small businesses have to pick and choose where they spend their money, so as much as we’d like to have a #1 organic ranking and a presence in the ad space, often we have to look at keywords with lower organic rankings to dictate the terms we bid on in our PPC accounts.

We track rankings for every client and feed the subsequent reports into the PPC team as well as the client, so they can be reactive when our content starts to rank highly and pull budget away from those keywords when the organic traffic comes in to free up spend in other areas.


  1. Build remarketing lists from organic traffic

Remarketing doesn’t work for everyone but it gives many of our client cheap conversions, so making the most of traffic sources other than PPC to build the lists (rather than using the AdWords remarketing code) is a huge bonus.

We don’t want the budget to run away with itself, so we can segment users to add to our list by many different criteria, including:

  • Time on site
  • Page depth/pages viewed
  • Bounce rate
  • Date since last visit
  • Goal completions / abandonments


SEO & PPC together, not in opposition

Research ‘SEO & PPC’ using any keyword tool you like and you’ll see plenty of people asking which is better, but this is a narrow-minded question. Anyone asking this is missing the point of how well the two work in conjunction with one another. It’s like asking which is better – fish or chips?

While many use PPC to bridge the traffic gap until their sites rank organically, there’s no need to pull the plug once SEO rankings catch up. If PPC is a profitable channel, why stop investing in it – especially when PPC and SEO together can provide incremental benefits that neither channel provides in isolation?


Did I miss any? If you know any other ways SEO and PPC can work together, please share them in the comments below.

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