Did you ask yourself which marketing strategy is better: SEO or PPC? Maybe there is not something like the BEST strategy, but both can help you get the desired results. Of course, it also depends on your current situation, budget, objectives and what is going on in the marketplace.
If we are thinking about new and/or small businesses, they surely can have a hard time choosing between SEO and PPC, as paid search can offer faster results than SEO. But how can SEO and PPC efforts come in handy together, in a digital marketing strategy? Let’s take a dive into the pros and cons of SEO and PPC, and how you can integrate both for great results from search marketing strategy.
Top of mind: choosing between SEO and PPC
Many marketers are asking themselves: what should I choose between SEO and PPC to make my presence online have the best results… quickly. There is no magic formula for that, but take a look at the benefits of SEO and PPC, how these two can work best when you integrate them both, and you align them strategically. First of all, you need to have clear in mind what these two different concepts are about.
What is SEO?
SEO abbreviation stands for search engine optimization, and you can think about SEO as the process of improving your website in order to obtain better visibility in search results, when people are searching for topics, services, products related to your business in search engines, such as Google or Bing.
What does PPC stand for?
Pay-per-click advertising is a cost-effective way to reach your target audience quickly and develop brand awareness which leads to converting buyers and drives profit in the long run, regardless of your budget, type of business or size of your company.
Ad prices, set by bidding, are offering brands the opportunity to stay flexible with their advertising budget, depending on the seasonality and market conditions & opportunities. There are many types of campaigns on the Google Ads Platform, but for this case study we are looking for the overlap between paid search and organic search, so we will focus only on Google Search Campaigns.
Where do paid SEO and PPC strategies overlap?
Search engines use bots to crawl pages on the world wide web. They collect information about those pages and put them in an index. Indexing is the process of Google understanding what a page is about. After indexing, we can talk about the 3rd step, which is serving and ranking. So, we have crawling, indexing, and serving (ranking).
Not all the pages from your website need indexing or even crawling, and not all the pages from your site are worth the good rankings. How you decide this is a part of SEO. Let’s take a look at the SEO process of deciding which pages can be crawled, indexed etc.
- Identify the types of pages from a website and how the URLs are formed SEO
Pages such as home page, categories, subcategories, blog articles etc. are important pages and you will want them crawled, indexed and well ranked. But URLs formed using parameters may be duplicate content for these important pages, if you have the same content served on these ones. For example, sorting products in a category by price, sale etc., will generate new URLs which are duplicate for the main subcategory URL (e.g.: NEWEST: womens-clothing-jackets/?order=activation_date).
This kind of URLs should be stopped from crawling and indexing; they have no value or SEO potential. Moreover, they can harm your website, if they are crawled, wasting crawl budget, or indexing, because they will be reported as duplicate content, and then your rankings will drop. More about crawl budget and why it is important, in a next article.
But there are other types of pages formed in the website that have a great potential to index and rank on. For example, filter URLs. Here, an SEO specialist can make an analysis on which are the filters which need to be kept/removed/added from/on the website, how to optimize them to rank on high search volume keywords etc.
TIP: be careful when deciding which URLs you want to be crawled and indexed; you can create duplicate content issues; Google could think that your website has a large number of unimportant pages or with thin content etc. Add a meta-tag that includes ‘noindex’ on the pages you do not want to be indexed, but make sure to disallow them in robots.txt file, if you want them to not be crawled by bots. Noindex does not stop an URL from being crawled!
Some URLs, as category filters, are still important to be left crawlable for your paid search strategy. For example, you can set up a Dynamic Search Ads campaign using the categories targeting option, which generates a set of landing pages from your website, organized by theme. This strategy will help you capture additional traffic coming from long tail keywords queries, for which would be quite complicated to optimize organically.
For both organic and paid, developing a SEO strategy will help you grow your business with lower costs in the long run. Users searching for your products/services on Google are already in the Consideration Stage of the funnel, this means they are more likely to convert faster than if they would see a Display Ad of your business on Google Display Network.
While optimizing your best organic keywords on-site in order to become the most relevant website in “the eyes” of Google Crawler, drives free and valuable traffic interested in what your business has to offer, it also helps you reach a lower CPC in your Google Search Campaigns, due to Ad Ranking.
Ad Ranking determines your ad position in the Google Search Result, considering six big factors, the quality of your ads and landing page being one of them. It is crucial that the landing page you are promoting through your Google Search Ad is found relevant for the keywords you are targeting. This means that it is highly recommended that these keywords are found within your Meta Title, Meta Description and Landing Page.
2. Keyword research and page optimization
One of the most important things to do is to identify the search terms that people enter to search engines to use the data for a specific purpose: transactional, informational or both. Conducting keyword research will help you uncover queries to target, their search volume (popularity), how difficult it will be for your website to rank on search engines, and more. However, it is very important to understand the user intent when searching some great search volume keywords. If you do not have that type of content on your website, you should consider adding it, if it is relevant for your website.
For example, let’s take a look at the “vitamin C” query. If you search for it in Google, the results will be articles, so the user intent is, first of all, informational:
But, if we are searching for “vitamin C price”, the user intent “magically” change to transactional intent:
TIP: if you want to rank on informational queries, you may consider creating a blog section, where to write articles and rank with them on important queries. You need a content specialist who will know how to structure an article, what information to put in it etc. You can also link products from your shop in the article and make users pay attention and click on the relevant products. This is a good method to send users from informational to transactional, to buy your products or to create awareness, but this does not guarantee conversions.
While SEO is optimising for both transactional and informational queries, PPC optimizes for transactional ones, in order to have a higher return on investment. Even so, you can use all types of queries which are found relevant to your business in your PPC strategy, in order to raise awareness of your business and even reach audiences searching for your market competitors.
It is recommended to target keywords for which you are organically relevant, but you cannot rank too soon for the first positions in the Google Search Results.
How to find the best keywords
There are many online tools (free or paid) which can help you find keywords that matter for your website. You can search for them and see which one best suits your needs. One of the most used tools is Ahrefs Keyword Explorer, which can give you data from many countries.
TIP: you can use Google Search Console to find important queries your website has impressions on, and see if your webpage can be better optimized for these queries. This works when the business is not at its very start, because you need to give Google Search Console some time to gather the data.
You can look at the Queries tab, and see where you have a big number of Impressions, but not so many clicks (so you may think of better optimizing the content for those queries), or at the Pages tab, where you can click on a certain URL and then click on Queries tab and see all the top queries for that webpage:
Other methods of finding what people are searching for are People Also Ask (PAA) and Related searches sections in Google. These are some free and quick ways to have a look at user interests:
The best-known tools for keyword research are:
- Google Keyword Planner is maybe the best tool you can use to identify keywords related to your business and see estimates of the searches they receive and the cost to target them. With keyword research done in Keyword Planner, brands can get suggestions for keywords related to their products, services, or website and see the monthly volume of searches and the average cost for their ad to show on searches for a keyword. Besides that, they also get insights of which ones of their competitors are bidding on the same keywords. It is important to keep in mind that Keyword Planner is only accessible with a Google Ads account using expert mode. You won’t be able to access Keyword Planner if your account is using smart mode.
- Google Trends is a free tool, accessible for everyone interested in accessing a largely unfiltered sample of actual search requests made to Google. Google Trends keep brands updated to the latest market trends and search queries related to what their business is offering.
There are plenty of paid tools available on the market for making keyword recommendations and research, and no matter which one you choose to use for your business, you should always keep in mind starting from your core business keywords which are organically profitable for you and research related queries based on that.
How to optimize your webpages
After conducting a keyword research, you have to see how to use the keywords to optimize the existing content on your website, and if you identify the opportunity to write some new and relevant content, in order to rank on some of the keywords you found in your analysis.
Where should you place the keywords? Make sure users and search engines bots are understanding the content of your page. Take attention to:
- Meta title (ranking factor);
- Meta description (catch the eye of users in search results, and it can increase the clickthrough rate, which means the number of clicks that your result - organic or ad - receives divided by the number of times it is shown);
- H1 element (this heading element is meant to describe the content of a given page, and it is an important part of SEO ranking factors);
- Content (make sure the content of your page includes the keywords, but also that the optimization is natural, do not overuse the main keywords throughout the page text etc.).
TIP: do not be afraid of using emojis in your titles and meta descriptions. This is a great way to get user’s attention in search results and click on your page/ad. But keep in mind that Google chooses whether to display the emojis or not, if it believes they are relevant, useful, and fun. But you definitely need to give it a try!
Even if you cannot use emojis in your ads, Google Ads can help you rank higher in the search results, which will bring you higher CTR. The higher you rank, the more likely you are to get clicks from your ads.
If you rank for lower positions organically on the first page of Google Search Results, you should also consider including those keywords in your ads to stay ahead of your competitors.
Spy on your competitors
This is your chance to feel like a James Bond 007 agent: what are your competitors doing? First of all, you need to know who your competitors are, and then what they are doing to rank higher, get traffic on their websites, and convert.
- Your SEO competitors;
- Keywords gaps (keywords they are ranking on, but you don’t);
- Top content (you have that content on your website? Is it relevant to add it? What information should you focus on? etc.);
- Google SERP (meta title and meta description);
- Link analysis (off-page efforts, such as link building strategy).
Use the collected data to optimize your website, and to get more relevant and authoritative (on-page optimization, link building strategy etc.).
On the PPC side, you can always check your competition real time on Auction Insights inside your Google Search Campaign, or by simply searching for the keywords you are advertising.
Keyword Planner, the research tool we previously exposed, is also offering some competition level insights about your keywords. In the example below, we can see that there is already a high competition on these keywords:
Even if you are addicted to Christmas, and you cannot wait to decorate the tree, ‘Tis the season to be jolly… is not in April. So, make sure you know when is the right time to make some online marketing efforts. As the seasons change, so do your audience's interest. You will find out that some products are needed all year round, but others do not have the same popularity in every season. Here, you need to have a clear strategy based on time (specific season, such as winter or summer), and on events (Valentine’s Day, Halloween etc.). Boost your sales by marketing your products and services at the time they are needed.
TIP: you can find more about a product's seasonal popularity by checking out these tools: Google Trends, Google Keyword Planner, Google Search Console.
The control over seasonality is maybe the most important asset of your PPC Strategy, as it is not something you can easily adapt your SEO strategy real-time. Christmas Holidays, Easter or even Black Friday are examples of seasonal changes to which businesses have to adapt very fast and always be one step ahead of competitors.
Having higher bids, optimising ad texts and extensions and landing pages are just some of the examples of the things you can do in order to increase your sales during peaks and capture the traffic boost.
Grab this list of SEO versus PPC pros and cons
As we see, SEO and PPC work best when we know how to integrate both of them in our online marketing strategy. These are the most important things to know:
Organic traffic PROS:
- Increasing website traffic;
- Business awareness, by increasing the visibility on search engines;
- Branding: your brand becomes associated with informational queries and commercial search terms;
- Audience trust: have your website return in organic results -> get credibility from users -> users will skip ads and will click organic results, instead -> lower CPC;
- Improved CTR: generate more clicks on organic results, by improving on-page and off-page efforts, to rank higher in the listing.
As the only CONS, SEO is not a quick win, it is not easy, but in the long run you can see the results. You just need to be consistent and think about users’ needs.
Paid traffic PROS:
- Increase brand awareness faster;
- Visual ad products from Google Shopping Campaigns, which can be the only type of ads appearing on an informational query such as “Vitamin C”;
3. Get a higher position on the page in the search results;
4. Good optimized ads dominate the search results;
5. Paid Ads offer you the ability to target the right audience. Besides search keywords, ads can be also targeted by time of day, day of the week, geography, language, device and audiences based on previous visits.
Wrap-up: Why should you integrate your SEO & PPC strategies?
In an ideal world, the optimal solution is to integrate a synergistic approach, where SEO & PPC strategies are complementary and fix each other's problems, considering that both of them have their pros and cons.
Here are just 5 reasons why complementary actions in both SEO & PPC are driving better results:
- The mix of both organic and paid visibility are building stronger brand awareness and confidence in the eyes of the consumer;
- You can test your paid keywords strategy, before you commit to an organic keywords SEO strategy in the long run;
- You can use your paid keywords and conversion from Google Search Ads data to improve your organic search strategy;
- Target users in all their acquisition journey from research to comparison & final purchase with transactional keywords;
- Increase the total volume of traffic by targeting both paid and organic high-performing keywords, by being ahead of the competition.