PPC marketing is an extremely structured and precise form of marketing. The way keywords are structured into campaigns and ad groups and then targeted to send traffic to areas of the site allows for very precise allocation of the marketing budget and very accurate ROI per campaign.
On the other hand, SEO is typically a much less targeted channel. If you described PPC as using a rifle to shoot at a target, then SEO would be more along the lines of using a flamethrower — there's a lot more to it and you should still hit the target, but you'll also cover everything around the target! This is because SEO activity tends to be more creative. Often, the more targeted you need to be, the less leeway you have for creativity. Also, the impact of content on brand and the overall domain tends to be quite universal.
This makes targeting and reporting on SEO rather tricky. You could just report on the fact that the bulls-eye was struck, but how about the impact on everything else? This is particularly problematic since Google has removed keyword data. We aren't able to measure keywords reactively, which means we have to be much more proactive about the way we target our activity.
So what happens when we take the precision of PPC and apply it to your SEO activity? By creating the systems and structures to view the marketplace in a similar way to a PPC account, then by measuring the site performance within those campaigns, we can get a much larger and complete view of where we need to target activity.
The Approach Part 1: Understanding the Marketplace
The first step is to get a complete understanding of the marketplace. We do this through very thorough keyword research that doesn't focus on prioritizing keywords, but rather categorizes all targeted and surrounding keywords into campaigns and ad groups (which should be reflective of your PPC activity).
We're talking about the inclusion of thousands of keywords across a number of campaign spaces. This allows us to focus on a complete view of the market rather than just "top tier" keywords. By creating SEO campaigns that focus on specific keywords you're forgetting huge volumes of surrounding keywords that people will still use to find your products.
A really useful metric to understand the marketplace is Keyword Media Value. This is calculated by:
Monthly Search Volume (segmented by month) × Approximate CPC in Google
What this metric is essentially telling us is the amount we would have to pay Google if we were to buy that traffic through paid search. This is valuable as we can use it to link up our SEO and PPC campaigns, and prioritize based on the cost of that traffic to the business.
By applying the Media Value at an ad group and campaign level we start to see the value of SEO activity not just from an individual keyword perspective, but from an entire campaign perspective. Then we start making far more informed decisions as to where the strengths and weaknesses of the market are.
This graph is the kind of thing that comes out of this part of the marketplace analysis. We have four campaigns where we can see the number of different searches, the total search volume on those searches and the cost of buying all that traffic through PPC.
The Approach Part 2: Placing Ourselves in the Marketplace
Once the full view of the marketplace has been built, the next step in this approach is to place our site in the marketplace to understand how we currently perform.
This involves a whole lot of rank tracking! Ideally we want the organic rank of the site on every single term within the marketplace in order to establish a complete view of the site's performance. We can get a lot of this data through Semrush SERP tracking functions and also Google Webmaster Tools, although it's very important though to make sure that this data is complete for all keywords that have been gathered.
This combination of rank tracking and marketplace data gives you your position within the marketplace. There's enough research on position-based CTR to approximate our traffic off keywords that, when aggregated, will give us traffic off particular campaigns and ad groups. Turning this search traffic into Media Value then applies the value of that traffic to the business, which we can use to make direct comparisons across other channels.
Once we have integrated our site's performance into the marketplace our comparative metrics between campaigns are not the site's rank, rather, the value of the traffic that comes off the site's rank. These lead to far more informed SEM decisions, campaign by campaign, on where to prioritize through PPC and where to prioritize through SEO.
The Approach Part 3: Targeting Campaigns
So we are now at the stage where we have our marketplace structure, reflective of PPC structure, and we can see how our site performs within. Our data now allows us to make decisions on where to place focus based on market capacity and site performance, rather than particular keyword rank. The next step is to action this information into marketing campaigns that target the campaigns.
Ultimately the goal is very clear — to increase the aggregate media value for campaigns by increasing rank across terms. Our data shows the areas where this is done most efficiently so we can use it to target content campaigns to particular campaign groups. This then leads very nicely into the creation of a content calendar.
Where else is this approach particularly valuable? We can look at the effect of shifts in onsite content that might drop our rank on top tier keywords, but would give us an aggregated improvement over our campaign.
The Approach Part 4: Measurement
The beauty of structuring a project in this way is that when it comes to measurement, it is clear cut and we can align it very nicely with our other channels. By measuring our media value over time we can assign a value to increases in rank (and traffic) that in turn shows the level to which a campaign was successful.
Reporting also becomes much easier; you're not just showing an increase in ranking positions, but the value of the resulting traffic, should you have paid for it using PPC.
The chart above shows us a lot more information than any ranking chart. We are able to see the performance over time of an entire campaign according to the value of the traffic that it generates, not just the increase in rank.
So naturally, we can overlay this measurement very nicely with our PPC data to create a broader SEM measurement. This helps us understand where the strengths and weaknesses are between SEO and PPC that helps us make better decisions in the future.
The Approach Part 5: Where You Take It
This post is very much an introduction into a way of structuring SEO campaigns that makes them easier to understand for higher marketing levels (such as directors) and those unfamiliar with SEO.
The value of this approach comes from where you take it. Using this data to drive content decisions is only the start, and with the inclination we can take this approach to so many different heights just by adding different datasets in to gain greater insights.
For example, I haven't even started on the role of landing pages in all of this — by mapping the landing pages to this data, we can bring behavioral and conversion data from analytics software into this mix to give us clearer user intent. This in turn gives us added depth in prioritization and content development, and a better idea of how valuable the campaigns are from a business conversion perspective.
Also, as I've mentioned throughout, the value of this approach comes with its alignment with other channels. Because we have a thorough view of the marketplace and our focus is not simply on rank, we can overlay PPC and Display data to identify gaps. And, more importantly, identify the best strategy to fill them.
The future of marketing comes with creative integration between channels. Right now, on the whole, most marketers still haven’t got their heads around how to properly integrate different channels effectively. Approaches like this are a really good start.
By aligning the data between channels we can then understand the relationship in your particular business and benchmark performance. The above system requires a fair bit of preparation and setup, but the opportunities to combine this with additional data to better understand the marketplace, which invariably results in efficiencies in SEO activity, are massive!
I'd love to hear feedback on this approach, or similar approaches, in the comment section.