SEO and Paid Search Campaigns: Share the Data!

Data must flow between search advertising and natural search engine marketing (SEM) for maximum return on investment (ROI). Too often, it doesn’t.

My colleague Shari Thurow wrote an excellent column last week on leveraging pay-per-click (PPC) search advertising for natural search engine optimization (SEO). Anyone who’s seen Shari speak at industry events knows she has great timing, and the timing of this column was perfect. For weeks, we’ve been exploring the interactions between natural SEO and paid search. Since Shari described the PPC-to-SEO story, perhaps I can offer the reverse angle: SEO to PPC.

Companies often hire multiple vendors to manage SEM campaigns. One firm, often a traditional agency, manages the paid search advertising spend; another executes an SEO or site-side optimization campaign; and in some cases, a third firm manages paid inclusion feeds into Yahoo’s OSMX program. There’s nothing wrong with this strategy, except these companies often don’t — or won’t — share information.

In those cases where we manage the entire SEM engagement, from PPC search advertising all the way through paid inclusion and natural SEO, the campaigns benefit from this symbiotic data sharing. PPC data improves the natural SEO campaign, paid-inclusion data improves the search advertising campaign, and natural SEO data improves both.

The challenge is in those instances when we’re retained to manage only one component of the SEM campaign. We’re isolated from the data that would be so valuable for optimizing an overall campaign.

When your vendors work in isolation, each is forced to reinvent the wheel. When you engage a full-service firm or help your vendors work in full cooperation, you leverage the discoveries of each campaign and drive higher ROI. Here are some examples of marketing intelligence that can be shared between efforts in a mutually beneficial fashion.

Keyword Conversion Data Sharing

Shari touches on this in her column. I feel it’s so important, I want to explore it in more detail.

What keywords are you targeting in your natural SEO campaign? How do they differ from the keywords you target in your PPC search advertising campaign? Should there be overlap? Absolutely. Not only should there be overlap, but keywords should regularly flow between campaigns.

This is especially true of keywords that show a high conversion rate, in either PPC search, paid inclusion, or natural SEO. Campaigns should be compared and keyword changes made on a regular basis.

What about keywords that convert at rates too low to produce a positive ROI? How about keywords that have very low conversion rates but are proven to be important to prospects early in their buying cycle?

Immediately target these keywords in the SEO campaign. There’s virtually no incremental cost. And, if a top ranking can be attained on a keyword that converts well but is too expensive in PPC search advertising, the client wins.

SEO campaigns often target many of these keywords already, of course. Often, the selection of a keyword “group” is determined accidentally. It isn’t based on known data from the search advertising campaign, which could speed the selection.

A wake-up call: A natural SEO campaign often drives traffic on keyword queries that weren’t intentionally targeted. These are keyword combinations that occurred accidentally when all the keywords were present on a page, causing an “accidental ranking.” Often, very valuable keyword real estate is uncovered in such data.

The natural SEO campaign manager regularly reviews this data to expand the keyword target universe. But the information is rarely shared with the search advertising campaign manager at a different firm.

Creative Sharing and A/B Testing

What about ad copy creative from the PPC search ads? Shari correctly points out the results of A/B and creative testing can be leveraged in natural search, and site design in general, from title tags to page layout considerations.

Yet natural SEO campaigns often cause deep site content to achieve top rankings, and sometimes those pages have surprisingly high conversion rates. Would the search advertising teams be interested in knowing which pages of the actual site convert well? Would they be interested in which keywords drove those conversions? Of course they would.

But again, this intelligence rarely crosses the line from one vendor or department to another.

The Chinese Wall Challenge

We find conversion rate by keyword data collected by the paid search advertising team is rarely shared with the natural SEO team. Conversely, the natural SEO team is rarely asked to share its similarly valuable data with the paid search advertising team. Invariably, the efforts are run from different locations, with different champions, or different vendors that don’t share data. In cases where one vendor manages the entire SEM engagement, this data is leveraged to great benefit.

There are some reasons for data hoarding, but they can’t be justified by anyone other than the vendors themselves. No doubt the agency managing the PPC spend doesn’t want to provide the SEO firm (which likely also has a paid search advertising offering) with data that could be used to win that part of the business someday. That’s in your vendor’s self-interest, not your own. The vendor managing natural search is similarly fearful that the big agency has a competitive offering.

Whether you engage a full-service SEM firm, consolidate in-house efforts under one roof with one champion, or help multiple vendors work with each other is up to you. Failing to inform a natural campaign with findings from a search advertising campaign, or vice versa, is a mistake with a hefty lost-opportunity cost. How much more success will you produce by leveraging these findings between engagements? You’ll only know if you try. But the benefits can be significant.

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