Combining PPC and SEO Effectively

The unattainable goal for many search campaigns is the ever-elusive melding of PPC and SEO tactics for bigger and better top-line results. Theoretically, the two should go together like peanut butter and jelly.

SEO’s thick and salty “peanut butter” should form a strong base and combine well with PPC’s more easily transplantable and sweet “grape jelly” to form an unstoppable search/sandwich force, right? Maybe, if you try to put them together in the right way.

Ensuring the two work together makes complete sense because the efforts target the same customer pool and utilize the same concepts of headline, body copy, and landing page. Heavy levels of research show that having both a natural and a paid listing result for a keyword drives more traffic, and even purchase intent.

Remember, however, that the primary ingredients of a perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich come from different jars, are applied in very different ways, and sit on top of each other rather than directly mixing. Similarly, SEO and PPC call on very different disciplines, depend heavily on different teams, and create very different effects.

Does this mean that they can’t be combined effectively? Of course not — it’s just a question of drawing on the strengths of each and using them to chase the whole, rather than merely looking at the sum of their parts.

The Basics: Keywords

The ultimate goal of your paid and natural campaigns, outside of the resulting traffic/revenue/smiting of enemies, is ranking at the ideal spot for the right keywords. The best selection of keywords, however, varies from brand to brand and site to site — even within the tightest of competitors.

Given that it takes a lot of effort to change SEO keyword strategies, and buying less-than-ideal keywords for search ads can quickly eat up your non-brand budgets for less-than-ideal returns, how can you make sure you’re making the most of your opportunities?

Enter your keyword reports.

Depending on which program is more advanced, go through the natural or paid keywords that are producing the most traffic and, especially, the most revenue and frequent conversions. Go beyond the head terms of the campaign (men’s shoes), and look at tail terms like descriptors (designer men’s shoes vs. fashion men’s shoes), superlatives (best men’s shoes vs. popular men’s shoes) and actions (buy men’s shoes vs. shop men’s shoes).

In the case of paid keywords, also be sure to focus in on exact match terms, or use Google’s Search Query report so that you’re looking at the exact keywords that people are using to trigger sales, rather than their phrase or broad match versions.

As your natural campaign progresses, keep your paid team up-to-date on keywords that your site is now ranking higher for (and thus might be able to help support a higher paid spend for an even better net effect) and keyword patterns that emerge as unexpected traffic and revenue drivers.

It’s a tough choice between which to lean on: Natural search will tend to have the longest history but, without advanced optimization work involved, might not involve results from a full scope of keywords. PPC data depends completely on when you start and what keywords you’re buying, but is more ideally suited to testing.

The Advanced: Testing and Applying

As an SEO higher-up, I see natural search as the answer to everything from “how do I drive more traffic in a recession?” to “what condiments are best to offer at a business-casual dinner party?” What it most certainly is not, however, is an ideal testing ground, given the time it can take for crawlers to even identify and apply changes to an indexed page — let alone show it’s of any value.

Your PPC campaign, however, can move in and out of keyword segments with ease, and has message testing built right into the interface. Even though you’re limited to 70 characters in your ads, you can use your ad copy to test the gambit of copy approaches, from broad copy concepts (i.e. brand-centric copy vs. keyword-rich vs. arty and expressive) to specific messaging (price point vs. value) to the nitty-gritty (different calls to action, numerals and symbols vs. spelling out). You can then apply what you’ve learned to your natural campaign via meta descriptions (which function much like ad copy), title tags, and on-page copy.

You can also use it to test the effectiveness of landing pages, keyword sets, and even URL structures and apply it to natural search efforts.

The Aftermath: Measuring and Adjusting with the Total Effect in Mind

Your natural search just took a dive last week on your biggest brand terms. You just changed out your meta description, which alters how the page appears in the index. The two must be connected, right?

You need to stop your development team and have them scrap that change right away, right? Possibly, until you remember that you just started buying those keywords last week, too.

To some, this may sound simple and overdramatic, but it happens to the best and most attentive of us unless we have all the data in front of us. Integrating your paid and natural results for all parties involved can be just as important as integrating your actions, as it can prevent hasty and painful decisions that could easily be avoided.

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