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SEO&PPC - Yin and Yang


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David's slides >>>



Halide E: Welcome everyone to our SEMrush webinar today, SEO and PPC Yin and Yang. Thanks for joining. I think it's a very interesting topic. It's the first episode of a series actually, and I'm happy that I'm the lucky one to be hosting the series. I'm Halide Ebcinoglu, co-founder of the international SEM and SEO agency, Kubix  Digital. 

This webinar topic means actually a lot to me personally as I'm one of the very few people who actually do both, SEO and PPC. PPC is very common and it's a broad term. I would rather say search engine advertising because PPC covers more than just paid search. 

I think usually people find it very weird if I say I do SEO and SEM because usually, they're always two fronts, you're either doing SEO on the one side or PPC. People usually think these two areas are totally different, and having different approaches, different mindsets, different techniques. 

PPC, in general, is more about the money, the spend, the data, so terms like ROI, CPA and so on plays a much more important role. On the other side when it comes to SEO, people usually think of the technical part only. They think SEOs are only doing technical SEO audits like checking crawling and indexing issues, running websites through some tools, and working on the mistakes the website has for example.

But generally speaking, aren't both SEM and SEO not about finding the right strategy for a user searching on Google for example, or other search engines? We should always think about reaching these searches with paid or either organic results. To me, both have the same intention.

Actually, the trick is about the strategy and how we leverage those two areas, how can these two parts work best together, what we should consider and maybe also in which cases should we decide on whether to just use one or both of them? 

As I said, this is the first episode of this series, which will be general discussion today about the topic itself, but we will also deep dive into more specific areas in the coming episodes.

Today I have two great guests, Kevin Indig and David Szetela. Kevin, he's the vice president of SEO and content at G2 and David Szetela, owner and CEO at FMB Media. One SEO and one PPC expert and I'm in between. It's all about the balance, the yin yang story. I will watch out that you guys get along well, be nice to each other. Don't forget that SEOs and PPCs are friends. Let's start with an introduction of yourselves to our audience. We will also have some short presentations.

Kevin Indig: Thanks for the intro Halide and hello for everybody tuning in. So I've had about 10 years of experience mainly in SEO. I'm traditionally one of the tech SEO guys, but over the last couple of years, I've broadened my horizons and have been much more involved in other inbound marketing channels from social to email and all that kind of stuff. I've also have had the opportunity to gain experience in paid search campaigns.

David Szetela: I've been doing PPC for 13 years... or 16 years actually. I've done almost nothing but PPC during that time. That will be very apparent by my slides and my discussion. I have spoken at a lot of conferences, I've written a couple of books about PPC. I've been doing a podcast for 10 years called PPC Rockstars and I just started an organization called The Paid Search Association which is for PPC professionals. 

Halide E: Cool. Kevin, would you like to start with your presentation?

Kevin Indig: Yes, I'm ready. We're going to jump right into the topic: SEO versus PPC. I want to start with some of the benefits of PPC and SEO, and then talk a little bit about the downsides. 

The Benefits of PPC

First of all, benefits of PPC. We all know that PPC scales really well because you can, in simple manners, just simply turn it on, right, start bidding. You get immediate exposure. 

It also allows you to target much better because you can define the keywords to a certain degree yourself. You can also use PPC very well for testing because you can direct the traffic better to certain URLs. You can use it for A/B testing and get information much, much quicker and we'll dive into that in just a second. 

You also have more power over ad integrations. You can display a call ad integrations and others, you can just design your ads in a much more active way than you can compared to SEO. 

And lastly have less uncertainty. Halide already alluded to PPC being much more ROAS, returns-driven. I think it's a much more arbitrage perspective to look a. but because it's so much faster to scale and so much better to target, you also can control it much more than SEO.

Another benefit of PPC is that you actually gain a click-through rate for paid search on mobile. This is data from SparkToro that was looking at the last three years and how the click-through rates differ on mobile between the organic results and the paid results. You do see that the organic click-rate on mobile is declining, whereas the paid click-rate on mobile is increasing. 

I would want to add to that, that Google changing the layout of ads to where now they're just indicated by a little tiny logo, that certainly contributes to more clicks on paid results. I, myself, have fallen through the trap where I thought it was an organic result but it was actually a paid result and was doing some quick searches on mobile, but PPC has that going forward it. 

SEO Benefits

The other side: SEO. SEO is technically free. Yes, you might have to pay writers or some designers, right, but in essence, organic traffic is free. Organic traffic is also more trusted, and we'd look at some data proof for that in just a second. And we get more clicks in comparison, even though, for example, the mobile click-through rates for paid results is growing. In total SEO and organic results still get more clicks for searches. 

We are also not dependent on investment. For example, for PPC if you turn your spend down, if you shut it off, you will get no more traffic, whereas with SEO if you stop grooming your content, or optimizing your site, you would still get traffic, sometimes for a very long time.

When we look at the distribution of clicks, this is also from the same SparkToro analysis, we see that the majority of clicks go to organic results, right? There's only 3.8% that go to paid clicks. More than 10 times that is going to organic clicks. But the big statement I want to make here is, it would be foolish of me to pretend that SEO is the only thing that works, right?

If I want to call myself a marketer I wouldn't rule any of those out, instead, I would want to combine the two. That's where the magic is. And especially nowadays where marketing is getting so much more holistic and omnichannel, we cannot simply isolate the two channels. I'm all for the yin and the yang and all for the going together. 

Combining SEO and PPC

Maybe some people expected me to put up a fight and bash PPC and have some punches, but at the end of the day this is all about working together and making the most of both channels. But the question is how. 

First of all, when you bid on your brands...the question is not should you bid on your brand or not. The question is, how strong is your brand? 

These data is from a study that was in 2014 by researchers from Berkeley in collaboration with eBay. What they did is, they went out and tested what happens when they completely turn off the paid ads for their brands on MSN search and on Google search. 

As you can see, when they turned off paid search, the clicks on organic search increased. You see this correlation very clearly. What happens is that the users are just simply reverting back to the organic results when they didn't find the paid ones anymore. One of the reasons is that eBay is a very strong brand. 

For very strong brands like JIRA or Trello, people would simply click on the organic results, but for brands who were not as well known there was an impact where if we stopped bidding on the brands people would maybe click on competitor paid results. 

What's also interesting is that this is from the same study, this is the abstract from the same study, that when you want to bid on non-brand words, they're most effective when it comes to new buyers. As it says in the abstract, I highlighted this last sentence down here, that more frequent users whose purchasing behavior is not influenced by ads account for most of the advertising expenses resulting in average returns that are negative. Meaning that when you display ads to regular buyers you don't really get anything else from them because they're already buying. 

The only net positive result comes from new buyers. And that is challenging. There are ways to steer your ad campaigns to new buyers but in regular paid search on Google, it's not really that controllable. We'll come back to that in just a second. 

Now, what you should do when you bid on non-brand keywords is you should look at your profit margin, right? In the startup world there's this classic equation of lifetime value versus customers acquisition cost, which is what you see here, LTV versus CAC. And so, of course, when your lifetime value is higher than your customer acquisition cost, meaning when the returns you get from a customer are higher than what you have spend to acquire the customer, you can bid on non-brand keywords, no brainer. 

However, if that's not the case, you should be very careful. You can do this for a certain amount of time to stimulate purchases, or buying power, but over time you're basically eating away your profit margins. And so that's also pretty much what a little paper from Google on the AI blog from 2012 stated, is that organic results and paid results work really well in conjunction but, only when your profit margins are positive. What you can do with paid search is you can use it from SEO perspective to test user intent. 

If you read some of my articles or visited some of my presentations, you know that I'm preaching this concept of user intent and how crucial it is to rank nowadays. If you don't satisfy user intent you will not rank in search results. 

And it is very difficult from an SEO perspective because it's kind of a chicken-and-egg problem, right? You create some content, it doesn't rank, is that because of search intent or not? You can use paid results though to test that. What you can do is you can compare the user's signals per keyword to determine their intent. 

You could see for example that certain keywords have a higher bounce rate than others, and if you pull the strings together, you can build a model that helps you to understand if the keyword is satisfying user intent for the URL on your site. 

What you can also do with paid search from a SEO perspective is you can get very accurate impressions data. The search volume that we get from Google Keyword Planner is, most of the time, an estimation. When you go to Search Console and you compare the impression that you get for a certain keyword when they rank on the first page of Google with the search volume, you see that there are often very big gaps or differences. PPC helps you to bridge those gaps by giving you accurate impression data. 

Using PPC can also help you to get around really nasty surf features. What you see is that you have a ton of ads on top of the search results and below that you have a ton of Google integrations like a news carousel, or like a knowledge card. Those integrations take away a lot of clicks from the mobile organic results. You can bid on the paid results to get around these Google integrations and get a lot of the traffic. Granted that you follow the rule that I stated earlier about lifetime value having to be larger than the customer acquisition cost. 

I think one big problem that I see for PPC and ads, in general, is that it's still very difficult for us to understand if they actually stimulate purchases, or if there's a lot of noise. There's this famous quote that says, "Half of advertising spend is lost money but you don't know which half." 

There was a study from 2018, from last year, where researchers looked at Facebook ads and basically researched the selection effect. The selection effect means, or describes, the effect that happens when people already had a buying intent and see the ads and then buy. If that happens, have the ads really influenced the purchasing intent or not, right? 

This is very hard to measure and that's why I want to question you how much demand ads really drive because we cannot say with a hundred percent certainty in every case that the ad was actually responsible for the purchase, or if the purchase was already planned and the ad just accelerated it. That's my take. I hope I was able to give away some information and curious to hear your take David. 

Halide E: Thank you very much Kevin. Very great insights. I think it's important to understand how really SEO and PPC can work together. Can we also listen to David's presentations and his thoughts on this topic and see what he thinks about that. 

David Szetela: I chose to take a slightly less balanced view than Kevin did. I'm going to try to make the case for why PPC is better than SEO. It's a little bit of a tongue-in-cheek position because I do value SEO. I wanted to briefly mention the paid search association which is a new industry association exclusively for people who practice PPC management, and that's at paidsearch.org. 

A few caveats before I get started. I don't know anything about SEO. I did SEO back in...2003 for a few years, but since then I've done nothing but PPC. I apologize if I display some ignorance about the SEO and the technicalities of it. My last caveat is that I really do value SEO but for the purposes of this presentation I'm going to pretend that I don't. 

Drawbacks of SEO

Why does SEO suck? Well, first of all, as Kevin just pointed out with a slide showing organic listings and ads on a mobile device, the organic listings are getting pushed further and further down on the search results page. For some SEO that's extremely frustrating and for PPC practitioners that's really good news because it means that the lion's share of the screen real estate is being taken up by stuff that's under our control. 

Another reason that SEO is difficult, let's say, is that every engine update can either make or break the organic listings and make or break the fortunes of the companies that are underneath the listings. That's got to be difficult to contend with. 

Another reason that I think PPC has an advantage over SEO is that with SEO it's difficult to control the messaging. In other words, with PPC you can vary the messaging of the ad to exactly match the search query and hopefully mirror that messaging on the landing page such that the person doing the search concludes that they definitely come to the right place, they can see benefit in the ad and they take advantage of the offer on the landing page. 

I think it's difficult to judge what is valuable original content that drives so much of the SEO juice... I think juice is an old word. Another difficulty with SEO is that legal link building is so time-consuming and so it's difficult to predict the outcome.

One of the main reasons that I see SEO practitioners tearing out their hair is that their clients run out of patience so early. One of the advantages of PPC is that you can see the results so quickly. I know from working with SEO people in other agencies that it's not uncommon for a client to conclude that the SEO program is not working because it's not producing results within a few weeks. 

In What Ways is PPC Better Than SEO?

What makes PPC so great? The main reason is that the messaging is so totally controlled. The ad text, as I said, can match the intent of the search query so perfectly that the person looking at the ad can conclude right away, "This is exactly what I was looking for." 

Furthermore, the use of ad extensions and other techniques can really occupy a lot of real estate on the search results page and reinforce messaging and really get across complex concepts in a relatively small space. To me, that's really, really important because the very first intent of any listing on the page is to ensure that the person doing the search concludes that they've come to the right place and that there's something in it for them if they click through. 

As I mentioned earlier, results are immediate. You can mount a PPC campaign on day one and have sufficient data and results to start optimizing within a week, and within a month have increases in conversion rates and return on investment that are much, much better than can be obtained through SEO. Ads can be tested against each other within a short period of time, landing pages can be tested. And all of this can take place in such a short time that the client is happy as can be. 

Another reason I think PPC has an advantage is that the best practices in PPC are much more clear cut and straight forward than I believe they are than SEO. In other words, it's quite possible to pick up a good book on PPC advertising and learn the best practices and apply them and be fairly assured that the best results will be obtained. 

Another reason is that there's always a way to get the ad to rank at, or near, the top of the page. For those of you who are not PPC managers, the ads are ranked not only by the amount the advertiser's willing to pay, but also by virtue of a factor called quality score where the ad, or the advertiser, is rewarded for better and better click-through-rate over time and better and better landing page quality over time. An ad can actually rank higher than a competitor even if the competitor is paying more, or willing to pay more per click. 

Last reason I think PPC is fantastic is that it's just complicated enough that I have, and all PPC managers have good job security. In other words, it's very unlikely lately that an individual, or a company without the resources, can decide one day to start doing PPC management out of the blue and get good results. 

Now, I want to remind everyone that when I'm talking about PPC it's not just paid search. Display advertising, let's take for example Google's Display Network or Microsoft's Audience Network, it's not just for branding. Some of my clients get 50% or more of their conversions, and that's leads and even sales from display. Remarketing is a tactic that everyone should be using that is utilizing pay-per-click or paid search. Shopping is another must-use tactic for anybody that's advertising for eCommerce. 

When Should You Choose PPC Over SEO?

So when is PPC crucial and maybe even more important than SEO? In my mind, PPC is crucial in situations where the geographic area that's being addressed is confined, so for local businesses and businesses that want to target a small geographic area.

Another place where PPC is crucial is with low-search products. Display advertising can be used when search advertising and organic or SEO are insufficient to reach the target audience. For example, a new product or service is being rolled out, where there's no search demand at all for the company's brand or the company's branded products or services. 

Another place where PPC is crucial is with high competition keywords. Again, even without knowing a lot about the tactics that are used for SEO, I'm sure that the high competition keywords make it really, really unlikely that everybody can get a chance to rank whereas, as I mentioned before, a smart PPC manager can make sure that your ads appear closer to the top of the page by using things like exact match and long tail and display advertising. 

The question comes up often and has come up often over the years about whether PPC advertising actually helps organic listings, helps a company rank higher with organic listings. I think the answer is actually yes. When I create a display campaign for a client and get millions of display impressions for them that, that must boost brand organic searches and that must affect the rankings of organic listings. The same with the number of visitors that are generated through PPC especially display advertising. 

I wanted to show my book one more time and offer a free copy to anybody that wants to drop me an email. It hasn't been updated in a while but there's a lot in it that's evergreen and what is intended to teach people, from amateur to expert, new techniques. 

Halide E: There is a question for you David. Codrinne asks, "The benefits of PPC, what about the mistakes that can be done and the cost  associated on overspending on PPC? How do you optimize for that?"

David Szetela: Right. Well, the way to optimize for that particular mistake is just don't do it. I would encourage the person asking the question to do a search, and again, I'd be happy to provide a link if you want to email me, to scripts that have been published that actually monitor the spend day-to-day and set off an alarm if the overspend looks to be problematic. 

Increasing Conversions in a Zero-Click World

Halide E: We have another interesting question here, with the increased number of zero-click searches in Google. Jenny Hill asks, "I would welcome hearing how you increase conversions in our increasingly click-less world, or as you say, stuff that is out of our control?" Do you have any recommendations? 

David Szetela: I'm not worried about it. I mean basically, a good click-through rate is 2%, 3%, 5%, 6%. Obviously that means that a huge number, or a huge percentage, of people are just not clicking on ads. If there is a slight increase in nobody clicking on anything on the page I don't think that's going to materially affect the results of my PPC campaigns or my ability to improve the results over time because so much of that improvement comes from factors other than click-through rate. 

Kevin Indig: I want to respectfully disagree at this point. Google is getting users into the habits of getting the answer in the search results without clicking anything. And that's why, David, I respectfully disagree with you at this point because I think the danger is real for both SEO and PPC. That's also why I'm an advocate for combining the two because we have to do everything in our power to get the traffic that we still get. 

I think the right response is to do everything in your power to become a destination yourself. This is what successful companies have done with Google, like Amazon, Booking and a couple of others. They invested heavily in Google Ads and organic results, both, and now they're such a destination that people go to their sites and apps directly. I think that has to be the end goal at least for larger companies because I agree that banking all your money on long term on organic, or on paids, and thinking that it's super-secure is pretty risky. I hope that answers the question. 

How to Promote Collaboration Between SEO and PPC Teams

Halide E: Another very interesting question, which is also very interesting for me because I see in lots of companies that the PPC departments and SEO departments are completely different and separated. Cassia is asking, "As an in-house SEO, what's the best strategy for collaborating with our in-house PPC manager?" 

Kevin Indig: I can only speak to my experience here at G2 and Atlassian. What we did there was to hold the two teams accountable for similar goals. We would have meetings with both teams on a weekly basis to compare performance and basically come together at the bottom line of the company. What are the conversions from both channels and how can they support each other? 

I think it also makes a ton of sense to have them in the same department. But it gets tricky, right, because technically SEO I think should be under products where on-page SEO and content marketing should be more under marketing, hopefully combined with PPC. There's no perfect answer to that but I think by having similar incentives and similar metrics to look at, you automatically align the two teams. 

Halide E: Yeah, the intention is the same basically. I mean, to get the user on the website or to let the user do a conversion or engagement, so two teams should work and collaborate together towards this goal. 

Can PPC Campaigns Negatively Impact Organic Search Efforts?

There's a very interesting question about cannibalizing PPC and SEO. Has anyone seen organic traffic drop after implementing a PPC campaign? 

Kevin Indig: Yes, yes, many times. But it's so dependent on context, right? I've also seen the opposite, where the two of them work very well together and they create synergies and drive way more bottom line at the end.

I want to say that the context is really that you have to take into account how competitive the search results are from other brands, and how many integrations from Google you can see in the search results. That should determine your strategy. The best way is to always test things, right? Good thing about PPC and SEO is you can turn PPC on and off, determine your spend, it's very controllable. The best answer to this is to always to test it out and see what their result is. And do that on a keyword level. 

Halide E: If both PPC and SEO done right, if you're ranked number one organic and if your search snippet is written well and you really trigger the search term and everything is perfect and then you start doing a PPC campaign, it might result in drop off in organic traffic. You will, yeah, probably see it more often with brand keywords. 

It depends on what you're showing on your PPC campaign because it might be different from the SEO search results. In the SEO search results, you might talk about the general brand itself, in the ads you might mention a specific deal or offer, so the CTR might be higher than the organic results. It really depends on the context. 

How Can SEO Help PPC Campaigns?

I'm also interested in finding out how SEO can help PPC. I mean, as you said, it's not only about search engine advertising, there's also shopping campaigns and display advertising. Do you have any example how SEO can help PPC?

David Szetela: I regularly consult SEO counterparts about messaging. I guess it's probably apparent how important messaging is to me. I want to see through analytics and through anecdotal evidence from the SEO people what content works best to produce a return on investment. 

Kevin Indig: Yeah, I think it really depends on the type of keywords that you target. If it comes to specific products, for example, I think it is much more complimentary, right? Imagine you looking for something like the latest Adidas sneakers, or something like that, you'll see mostly products listing ads. That's a clear pay-to-play game. 

I think the organic results are much more complementary. It's interesting though when it comes to, for example, image search, right? That's where you also have a much more even playing field where organic listings, or organic results can still have a really good impact. 

Halide E: For me personally it's important to...for example, for a shopping ad...it's important to have a SEO-optimized website. It can help a lot because it can help...trigger better keywords for shopping ads as well. Because shopping ads mainly trigger keyword from the website content, from the product pages, from the titles and descriptions. The better SEO-optimized product pages are for example, the better shopping ad campaigns can work. 

I can get a lot of negative keyword ideas from SEO. If I don't want to show my ads for informational searches I really want to do more like show only product keywords I usually use SEO search controlled data, the keyword to create my negative keyword list for Google Ads. This could also be done for PPC optimization. 

Insourcing vs Outsourcing SEO & PPC

Okay, we have another question from Heather Flash."When is best to insource versus outsource SEO and PPC? Do you have any recommendations?"

Kevin Indig: I'm personally a bigger fan of insourcing things, of keeping them in-house. I think there are great cases for outsourcing, for example, if you don't have the time, if you don't want to deal with staff or if you're understaffed, right, then I think it's anything great idea to bring somebody in from the outside or to back you up internally when it comes to politics. 

David Szetela: Yeah, I think insourcing, I guess that's a new word for me, is fine when the company is honest about the number and kind of resources that are necessary.  I really believe that expecting one person to cover every possible digital marketing discipline is a recipe for disaster. 

If companies are thinking about keeping PPC in-house they should be cognizant of exactly what it takes to keep someone well informed to make sure that they're well trained in it requires significant resources above and beyond necessarily just one person. I usually recommend people that companies outsource when they just don't have the resources especially to keep their internal resources well informed and tracking all the changes in the industry and platforms. 

Halide E: Yeah. I mean I would get this question 10 years ago I would say like, "Okay, you can insource and do everything in-house but nowadays I think SEO and PPC is getting so complex. There are so many different factors, so many everyday new changes and so many factors are getting into the count so that people really should get an objective eye on the work that they're doing. It's good to have an in-house team but also get an objective consultancy from someone not working in-house. It can always help, I would say. 

I think we are out of time. It's now one hour. Thank you very much for all the questions. It was very, very engaging, lot of people contributed. SEO and PPC yin yang. The next one will be about local marketing and SEO and PPC paid search. This will be end of January. Bye everyone!

Kevin Indig: Bye.

David Szetela: Bye!

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