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How to Use PPC To Optimize Your Organic Search Strategy

Charles Settles

Search engine optimization, search engine marketing, pay-per-click, organic — all different yet related segments that comprise Internet-based marketing. As companies shift to content-based marketing, proper utilization of each segment is paramount for maximum ROI.

“SEO is dead.” How many times have we all heard that phrase? Of course, we know SEO isn’t dead, but dealing with the ever-changing policies, algorithms and rumors surrounding Internet marketing has caused many SEO experts to wish they were dead.

Despite what snake-oil salesmen and some dishonest SEOs may say, good design and quality content is the most consistent path to the top of the SERPs. But, as with all things, quality is expensive. In a business that is increasingly data-driven, marketers need to know what tactics to follow and keywords to target before they spend time and effort creating content.

Keyword analysis tools are useful for this, but only tell part of the story. Knowing that a particular phrase has a high amount of traffic is helpful, but for many businesses, overall traffic is a vanity metric. What’s more important is the number of conversions that traffic brings. Certain keywords will convert at a higher rate than others — and certain conversions are more valuable than others.

Before spending countless hours developing web content and applications to attempt to organically rank for a particular phrase, savvy internet marketers are using pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns as a testing ground.

Depending upon the competition, using AdWords to manage a PPC campaign is relatively inexpensive. When compared to the development and editorial costs of creating original content, PPC is an inexpensive way to discover the true potential of a particular keyword. Perhaps that high-traffic keyword you found is a great source of leads for your product or service. Or, that traffic might be comprised of researchers and consultants who have no plans to purchase anything. Using PPC to target that phrase allows you to boost traffic for that keyword, see what type of leads come through, and determine the real value of a phrase.

Of course, developing content for your ads’ landing pages is also important. But once you’ve established a system and/or template that converts well, adapting it from one campaign to another requires much less time or effort than creating new content for organic ranking efforts.

Here’s a hypothetical example:

Your site specializes in user-generated content: reviews of consumer electronic devices. Besides revenue from ads, you also have affiliate links to drive users to purchase the devices reviewed.

You’ve recently decided to explore adding a new section of your site for cell phones. Your keyword research has revealed some potential opportunities, but you’re not sure which keywords will have the highest conversion percentage.

Instead of taking a shotgun approach and trying to organically rank for them all, you’ve decided to try to use PPC to determine which keywords are the best opportunity.

  1. First, pick a few related keywords and run limited PPC campaigns to try and determine which phrases will result in the highest number of clicks on your affiliate links.
  2. Second, after you’ve identified some keyword opportunities, take a few minutes to adapt a few of your existing landing pages from the tablet section of your site and insert your affiliate links. Now you’re ready for your PPC campaign to go live.

    Within a few days, it should become apparent that one or more keyword phrases, even though they may have lower overall traffic, convert at a much higher percentage than the others.

  3. Finally, you can take a much more focused approach and devote your content generation and organic ranking efforts at the phrase with better PPC conversion, saving you hours of time developing content for the less valuable keyword.

In short, anyone saying, “SEO is dead,” “PPC is a waste of money,” or a similar sentiment is simply misinformed. SEO and SEM, when used together, can unlock far more value than either individual tactic.

Have you tried this approach? Let us know in the comments.

Charles Settles is a product analyst at TechnologyAdvice, where he covers a variety of topics related to healthcare IT and business intelligence. In addition to his writing and analysis, he also assists with keyword research and marketing strategy. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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Paul Nicholson
Generally I agree, but PPC data has to always be taken with a grain of salt. Certain target markets don't react well to ads. They might surf with ads disabled via browser add-on, or the might simply never click them. Similarly, some products might be in categories which are dominated by companies that have skewed PPC costs and results by basically spamming hundreds of keywords with high spend, low value ads that spoil PPC results for everyone. But that doesn't mean that organic SEO would be valueless for those keywords or in those situations.

So, all things being equal, PPC can be used as a directionally informative metric to help you know where to drive SEO. But a lot of companies need to look beyond that to get a better feel for their market and how their target customers behave. Drawing correlation between SEO activities and improved rank on certain keywords and a corresponding rise in converting traffic can be just as valuable for some customer sets. It isn't as clean and the answers come slower, but sometimes that's the best you can get.
Great article. I think you've got the point. Adwords is an essential source of SEO and I just wonder when an SEO guy tells it's a waste of money... Well, it could be a waste of money, but if you use it right it will enhance your SEO efforts.