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SEO and PPC are two search engine marketing disciplines that a lot of people have tried to compare in the past, each discussing the merits, and the clear advantages and disadvantages for both sides.

Many SEO and PPC marketers argue also about which one is better for providing return…

Having started my career in SEM in PPC, then moving into SEO I have a broader perspective of the two, so felt that I was qualified to talk about the two without bias.

In truth there are more similarities between the two disciplines than some people may imagine. First of all we’ll look at how the keyword approach compares, then I’ll discuss the similarities within SEO and PPC campaigns and finally end with my thoughts on how SEO and PPC can work together in harmony.

Keywords

Both SEO and PPC marketers undertake rigorous keyword research based on the offering of the subject site. There may be subtle differences in the type of keywords targeted for SEO and PPC but by and large the keyword types that both optimise for are the same:

  • Head
  • Long tail
  • Category level
  • Product level – Can often be an easier job to optimise for using SEO, via well-structured product templates and the right product naming terminology.
  • Geo specific – Easily done via PPC (geo-specific advert serving & location specific terms) however for SEO it’s limited to actual physical locations / areas serviced.
  • Competitors – Easily bid on competitor terms in PPC, however for SEO it’s definitely possible, but very difficult.

Campaign aims

The overarching goals and principles of both are the same, the difference is the methods they use to optimise in order to gain and improve position.

Similarities between SEO and PPC

Clicks (via Click Through Rate)

Position

Optimisation

Even through optimisation, SEO and PPC both share common ground. They both need resources and then they need to be refined. It is the processes involved to gain visibility that are quite different.

Resource

For PPC the resource needed in order to rank is the click budget. For SEO the resource need to facilitate ranking (in competitive spaces) is the site authority (passed to the domain via links).

Refinement

This is where the real skills are used in PPC, by using campaign setup and structure, relevance, bids and using results to refine the campaign to produce a maximum return on investment.

In SEO this refinement takes a very different form in ‘on-page optimisation’, This is the technical side of SEO to improve the crawlability and then relevance of a site to maximise its potential visibility in SERPs.

Similarities between SEO and PPC Table

SERP listing

Relevance to increase CTR

Titles for SEO should be written with the user in mind, a succinct encapsulation of what that page is about and reflects the predominant terminology used by a search user.

Although not always forced to appear in the SERPs, the meta description should be treated as the advert copy is with PPC. Try to draw the click using wording reflecting that of the search user; for resonance and bolding. Numbers (to draw the eye) and a call to action are also important to try and maximise the CTR.

Search Result

Richness to increase CTR

Structured data and schema mark-up provide added richness to organic SERP listings, positively influencing CTR’s.

Search Results Screen Shot

SERP Results Snippet

'Bag' Search Reuslts

The same can be said for paid listings in the form of product images, sitelinks and star ratings.

Star Ratings in Listings

Conversions (via conversion rate)

Conversion

Landing page relevance

For organic search, a well-structured / well optimised site should naturally have its most relevant pages ranking for the search terms they are relevant for.

For example, it sounds obvious but for an ecommerce site selling fashion items, the best page to optimise for ‘maxi dresses’ would be the maxi dresses category, not the main dresses page nor a single maxi dress product page.

A well put together PPC campaign would use the same approach, by landing a user at the most relevant page to match their search query. Landing a user on a page with a single product or a more generic category will negatively impact the likelihood of that user converting.

Landing Page Relevance

Conversion type

Does the conversion type address the requirements of the search user? The conversion needs to reflect what the user is looking for, not try to force them into doing something they are not looking to do.

For example, someone searching for ‘spring / summer 2013 styles’ may fit into the exact target market for a fashion ecommerce site. However, trying to get them to buy an item from the site at that moment is highly unlikely.

Their intention is to find out about and keep up with current trends. Somewhere down the line they may wish to buy item(s) in line with those that the said website produces.

So the conversion for the style guide optimised page needs to be a sign up to receivethe ‘latest trends newsletter’ or input details to download the ‘2013 style guide’. This means that the search user’s requirements have been served in exchange for their details. The fashion site can then use that information to market their products directly to the user.

Path to conversion

Making sure there are no barriers to conversion is key to both disciplines. We have to make sure it is as user friendly as possible, to ensure that the relevant search traffic driven by SEO and PPC is converted. 

Clear barriers to conversion could be:

  • Trust issues – Does the user feel the site / business is trustworthy?

Trust online is key

  • Unclear calls to action – less prominent / unclear buttons / poor wording.
  • Long / arduous conversion path – too many fields to fill / stages to convert.

Conversion Paths

Offering

This is all about the ratio of price to quality. In order to gain conversions from the traffic a site receives, the product or service must be of a realistic value. Some companies can price themselves out of securing a conversion, when compared to the rest of the market appearing within a SERP.

For example, a company sells premium widgets and is aiming to compete for the term ‘widgets’. The rest of the SERP sells regular widgets at a much lower price point. This will mean that the premium widget company will find it extremely difficult to convert traffic via the term ‘widgets’.

To compete, they would have to realign their focus to keywords like ‘luxury widgets’ or ‘premium widgets’, alternatively they would have to lower their prices to be closer to that of the competition.

Range / service

Does the offering address the requirements of all the search users that potentially land on the site? An example from ecommerce would be if a search user entered the site using the term ‘skirts’, the site would require an adequate range of skirts to suit the differing tastes of the many users.

A site with just a handful skirts in their range would not convert very well at all.

Range of Products

Ideal situation – SEO and PPC working together

It’s clear that both SEO and PPC have similarities as well as USP’s. The best approach to search engine marketing is to understand and utilise the strengths of both as a combined effort whereby you are constantly learning, testing and improving.

PPC

As well as a way of driving revenue, a key strength of PPC is that it’s the ultimate intelligence tool to understand how search users interact with a site. It allows you to quickly understand and test different variables in a more controlled environment. This insight can then be used to improve the site usability and feed the priorities for the SEO campaign.

PPC is agile and that allows you to be more reactive, allowing you to capitalise on traffic spikes caused by relevant recent news events. As mentioned previously, PPC is much better at targeting competitor brand terms so I would definitely recommend that if the traffic proves to provide relevant conversions for your site.

SEO

SEO is a slower more long term process, the authority side of it being cumulative and more beneficiary for the long run. Ensuring that the emphasis of SEO is channelled into key priority areas is paramount.The usability information gathered from continual testing (using PPC) can be fed into conversion optimisation of the main site.

Not only will this aid conversion rates but it will help the SEO for the long term – with search engines constantly trying to enhance reflect what’s best for the user in their SERP’s.

PPC cannibalisation?

After reading this post it may raise another common question of whether or not bidding on terms that you already rank organically on leads to PPC cannibalisation i.e. paying for traffic you would have normally got organically.

Studies have been done to suggest that the sum total is worth more than the constituent parts, meaning that the uplift more than pays for that outlay in paid traffic.

There are anomalies however, just take care to be consistent across your titles / ad text. For example a better offer in your advert text could force traffic to ignore the organic listing and click the paid one.

Search Results for 'bingo'

Summary

SEO and PPC are more similar than many people would lead you to believe. They should not be pitted against one another in competition, but each one should be recognised that they have strengths when trying to achieve a common goal.

These strengths should be utilised to their fullest and intelligence (keywords and usability) from PPC should be fed back into the SEO campaign.

This holistic approach to search engine marketing should ensure that you are getting the most from both your SEO and PPC campaigns, rather than treating them as completely isolated marketing channels. 

Jimmy McCann

Published 13 February, 2013 by Jimmy McCann

Jimmy McCann is Head of SEO at Search Laboratory and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can connect with him on Google+

6 more posts from this author

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