Using Paid Search Engine Advertising for Better SEO Campaigns

Many search engine optimization firms are quite successful at generating search engine traffic for client sites without participating in pay-per-click (PPC) search engine advertising. Even with successful optimization campaigns, smart SEO firms use search engine advertising to gain useful information.

This column outlines some useful strategies search engine advertising offers site designers, information architects, usability professionals, and search engine optimizers (SEOs).

Keyword Research and Information Architecture

Before I build a new Web site or redesign an existing one, I research keywords on the major search engines to determine the common phrases a target audience types into search queries. Keyword research can help information architects categorize sites more effectively.

Suppose an e-commerce site sells men’s and women’s clothing. The site might be categorized as follows:

Home > Men’s > Shirts

If an information architect performs keyword research at Overture and Google, he might determine more effective ways of categorizing the Men’s section:

Home > Men’s Clothing > Shirts > Polos

Home > Men’s Clothes > Shirts > Polo Shirts

I’m not suggesting keyword research should replace user testing, focus groups, and data mining Web analytics software. However, if information architects take the extra time to really analyze search behavior, categorizing Web pages becomes an easier process.

Refining Keyword Phrases

SEOs know most search engines display up to 70 characters from a page’s HTML title tag in search results. Smart SEOs write title tags that contain targeted keyword phrases people type into search queries that are also a call to action (CTA), such as clicking on a link to the Web page. Accomplishing both goals in only 70 characters isn’t always a simple task.

One site we’re currently redesigning uses the words “find” and “search” throughout the site. These are great keywords not only in terms of optimization but also because they’re CTAs.

We came up with two samples of title-tag content:

Find payroll accounting software from XYZ Company (48 characters)

Search for payroll accounting software from XYZ Company (55 characters)

Since both title tags contain fewer than 70 characters, both could be effective for an optimization campaign. In fact, an SEO might use the “find” title-tag content for some pages and “search” title-tag content for others.

Keyword research tools might indicate one keyword phrase may be used more frequently than the other. However, the conversion rate for the less-frequently used title-tag content might be better.

A short PPC campaign with the words “find” and “search” in the ads can help determine the specific keyword phrase with the higher conversion rate. This data can then be used to refine title tags throughout a Web site.

Site Redesign

During a site redesign process, search engines will often take one to three months to completely respider the updated site. Search engine traffic usually fluctuates during that transition period.

To maintain search engine visibility, we’ll often recommend a brief PPC campaign. As “natural” SEO traffic kicks in, we’ll phase out some or all of the PPC campaign.

Data from search engine advertising campaigns can be applied to the natural SEO campaigns.

Comparison Test for Web Page Elements

Before we launch a site design, we often comparison test, also known as an A/B testing, with short PPC campaigns to determine the best placement for various elements on a Web page.

Landing pages from PPC campaigns offer a great opportunity for Web designers and developers to gather useful data on design elements. One of the most important design elements on a Web page is the CTA.

Suppose a site’s main CTA is download a white paper (for lead generation). The design team creates a three-column page. The team knows it wants to place the CTA above the fold but wonders if the CTA belongs in the left column, below the navigation scheme; at the top of the right column; or within the main content in the center column.

A short, targeted PPC campaign allows the design team to test the CTA’s placement to determine which delivers the best return on investment (ROI) before the site launches.

Guidelines for A/B testing using PPC search engines:

  • Keep ad positioning consistent.

  • Use the same ad for each landing page.
  • If using day parting, contextual ads, or any other variable, be consistent. We tend to use exact matches for these particular campaigns.
  • Specify a set dollar amount and number of clicks for each landing page.

A/B testing with PPC search engine campaigns is a simple and effective way to determine page layout elements in a short time.

Turnaround Time and Guarantees

If a client requires search engine visibility for a specific period, such as a holiday or a publicity campaign, we recommend PPC campaigns. Search engine advertising offers two things natural optimization doesn’t: fast turnaround time and guaranteed placement.

Data gathered from these campaigns can be used for future publicity and holiday SEO campaigns, which allows the marketing department to plan ahead.


I’m a big search engine advertising fan. For sites with content management systems that generate unspiderable URLs, search engine advertising is a great way to generate qualified traffic. For sites that are naturally search-engine friendly, PPC campaigns can give them extra traffic and help information architects, designers, and developers make more effective Web sites.

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

Meet Shari at ClickZ’s upcoming AdForum and at Search Engine Strategies.

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