How Paid SEM Helps Organic Search Optimization

I’m sure some of you would love to get more funds allocated for all types of search marketing, both paid and organic. Pay-per-click (PPC) search return on investment (ROI) is completely under your control, whether directly or through an outside provider. So pitching PPC search to your boss, investors, even the team that would manage the campaigns is fairly easy.

Often, the more difficult task is getting constituents excited about organic/natural SEO (define).

PPC search may be your most powerful weapon for communicating organic search’s importance. True, organic and PPC search are very different species, but they do share commonalities, including keywords, keyword phrases, message composition, and linguistics.

The main reasons companies fail to do organic SEO work include:

  • “It’s so competitive out there. I don’t know if SEO will work well enough to get me a positive ROI.”

  • “I don’t know where to focus my efforts. I can challenge high-volume keywords or less-popular, highly targeted phrases where competition is lower and may be easier to get position.”
  • “I’m worried my site isn’t ready to make good use of the expanded traffic that may arrive if my SEO efforts are successful.”
  • “I don’t have data to make a powerful case for SEO.”
  • “High SEO costs are mostly up front. The firm (consultant, vendors service) or employee costs are sunk, regardless of the program’s success.”

PPC search may be able to address most, if not all, of the above. The paid search clickstream comes from almost exactly the same place organic clicks originate, if and when you achieve a good position in search results. PPC search can be a learning lab for organic search.

Consider your PPC campaign. Is it backed with rich content that gives searchers a great user experience after they click on your listing? If not and content is sparse, perhaps you don’t deserve a high ranking. Even if you engage in SEO best practices, you won’t get it.

My organic SEO philosophy is either you deserve to be high in the rankings based on objectively gauged relevance, or you don’t belong in the top slots. The better your content and reputation, the more likely you’ll benefit from SEO efforts.

This is where PPC can be useful. Consider the search experience. If it’s poor, try adding content and clarity to your site’s landing pages to improve it. Pages built for PPC needn’t all be woven into your site, but do add the ones that make sense. Or, if your PPC landing pages have great content that would be useful to visitors on your main site, integrate it into your site’s structure.

What keywords convert best in paid search? Let’s say you run general, high-volume terms that correlate well with early buying-cycle stages and generate a good number of sales, registrations, leads, or other positive metrics (regardless of CPC (define) cost). Perhaps it’s worth building the online reputation required for a good position on a general word. If your phrase PPC keyword listings generate good conversion rates, focus on those phrases. The more quality content you have that’s well identified and labeled in a search engine friendly site, the more likely you’ll get a decent rank (assuming your SEO ducks are in a row).

If you test landing pages, you know how well PPC traffic converts. Generally, there’s a strong correlation between how PPC and organic search traffic convert. The difference lies in which link was selected. This conversion data helps forecast profit, assuming success in gaining organic search traffic. Remember, though conversion data between PPC and organic traffic tends to be highly correlated for the same keyword, it may still be quite different. Reasons include different messages or creative (titles and descriptions); differences in searchers who select paid instead of organic links (for a commercial search, paid links may be a good fit); or differences between paid and organic distribution networks.

Data from a well-executed PPC campaign might be just the thing to get your team excited about putting more resources into organic SEO. Paid inclusion (PI) is also a great way to test the effect organic SEO could have. PI doesn’t influence position (at least, not officially), but a good PI XML feed will at least include information about your site’s pages in a clear, accurate manner.

Even if you hire a firm or a consultant, send your team to Search Engine Strategies or buy some books on search. If you can allocate staff hours to SEO, you’ll be better able to predict the revenue that will result from a successful SEO effort.

Whether your energy and dollars will actually cause higher positions in algorithmic results depends largely on where you are now. The worse your situation is when you embark on SEO, the better the results will be. Take a closer look at PPC search campaign data, keeping an eye on organic efforts.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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