Why choose between the two when you can have the best of both worlds? Based on our experiences and numerous external studies, the best results are achieved when combining search engine optimisation (SEO) with paid search/pay per click (PPC) advertising and creating synergies.
The main differences between SEO and Paid Search
Both organic and paid search results are displayed on search engines and compete for visibility and traffic. Therefore, it's important to create alignment and coordination between the activities carried out by the SEO and paid search teams. But let's first look at the differences.
What is SEO?
With organic traffic, you can attract 'free' clicks to your website through organic search results, eliminating the need for a cost per click. However, achieving a top-ranking position requires a targeted effort within SEO, as Google uses over 200 ranking factors to select the most relevant landing page for search result. It involves investing significant time and resources however the reward of SEO lies in its ability to yield long-term results that continue to benefit your website well into the future.
What is Paid Search?
The traffic obtained from paid search comes at a price – a cost per click. Your ads are eligible to be shown from the moment they are activated. And they are displayed above the organic search results alongside ads from other advertisers and competitors. In other words, you can achieve results instantly by turning the ads on and off as you please. In paid search, the advertiser retains control over selecting the landing page rather than Google. This strategic choice is typically based on the landing page's conversion potential, making paid search a central point for achieving favourable ROI/ROAS (Return of Investment/Return on Ad Spend). While the primary goal of advertising is to prompt the user to take a specific action, such as making a purchase (a conversion), paid search advertising can serve additional purposes beyond conversion-driven goals. It can effectively be utilised for branding and to cater to users seeking informational searches.
How SEO and Paid Search complement each other
There are clear differences between SEO and paid search, but the two disciplines can complement each other and create a positive spillover effect if handled correctly. It depends on collaboration, knowledge sharing, and transparency between the team's handling SEO and paid search.
Important areas where the synergy between SEO and PPC can be harnessed include:
- Landing Page Experience and DSA (Dynamic Search Ads): Ensuring landing pages are optimised for organic and paid traffic to enhance user experience.
- Keyword Analysis: Coordinating keyword research efforts to identify high-performing keywords for both SEO and ad campaigns, maximising overall visibility.
- New Content: Creating fresh content that caters to users at every customer journey stage can significantly boost organic rankings and ad relevance.
- Structured Data: By implementing structured data markup, websites can enhance search engine understanding of their content, resulting in improved display of search results for both SEO and paid ads.
- SEO Metadata: By crafting compelling meta titles and descriptions that align with ad copy, websites can ensure a consistent message across both organic and paid.
- Customer Journey Mapping: Developing a comprehensive understanding of the customer journey to tailor SEO and ad strategies accordingly.
Landing Page Experience and DSA
Landing pages play a vital role not only in optimising SEO efforts but also in maximising the effectiveness of paid search advertising.
In Google Ads, there's a keyword-level quality parameter called Quality Score. The score is calculated based on the expected click-through rate (CTR), ad relevance, and landing page experience. The landing page experience is of great importance in the overall Quality Score and is assessed, among other things, based on whether the keyword appears on the landing page, whether the site is mobile-friendly, whether the site is fast, and similar factors. These factors are similar to those that are important for SEO, so collaborating and sharing knowledge in this area is a good idea.
A good Quality Score often leads to lower cost per click prices, so optimising landing pages benefits both SEO and paid search advertising activity.
For example, the Ads team can share lists with the SEO team containing keywords with a low-quality score and poor landing page experience. This way, the SEO team can gain insights into which landing pages should be optimised for Ads or find content gaps.
The landing pages on your website play a crucial role in influencing Dynamic Search Ads (DSA) within paid search. DSA utilises your website's content, such as categories, landing pages, URLs, and more, to automatically select ad targets and create relevant ad descriptions. When a user searches for content that matches the selected ad targets, Google generates the ad and displays it to the user. DSA is only as good as the landing pages and URLs it is targeted towards. The better the landing page and its content are, the better the dynamic search ad can perform. Therefore, this is another important reason to optimise landing pages.
However, it's essential to consider that optimised organic landing pages may serve a different purpose (e.g. informative pages higher up in the sales funnel) compared to what is most effective for paid search advertising. By experimenting with landing pages, you can identify which ones resonate best with your target audience and align better with the goals of your PPC campaigns and which are better on organic ranking.
SEO and paid search teams can benefit from collaborating on keyword analysis. Many of the keywords you discover are likely more suitable for SEO or vice versa, so it's a good idea to coordinate who focuses on what.
The SEO team will typically end up with an extensive keyword list, much of which does not make sense to advertise on, such as how-to queries and other information-seeking terms higher up in the sales funnel. On the other hand, the Ads team will typically find a significant number of keywords further down in the sales funnel, such as purchase or price-related search terms like "cheapest [product]" or "buy [product]."
There will also be many keywords that make sense for SEO and paid search. In these cases, an evaluation should be made on whether it is tactical to be visible organically and through paid advertising. If you have poor organic results for an important keyword, but there is significant market potential, it's logical to advertise on that keyword. Other scenarios could include:
Scenario 1: Identify important non-product/non-brand keywords with organic position 1 ranking but no competition and no one advertising - in this case, advertising may not be necessary as there is already relatively secure visibility.
Scenario 2: Identify important non-product/non-brand keywords with organic position 1 ranking but significant competition and fluctuations, and many advertisers - in this case, it is a good idea to advertise to ensure visibility.
An effective and collaborative approach to leverage keywords is by sharing lists of converting keywords between teams. This practice empowers all team members to gain valuable insights into what has proven successful for each other, leading to a deeper understanding of keyword performance.
Keyword analysis and collaborative efforts create valuable opportunities for improved identification and utilisation of new prospects. For example, SEO teams can spot any content gaps on the website using Google Ads search terms. In line with this, the Ads team can alert the SEO team to new keywords with no landing pages or relevant content available.
Conversely, the SEO team can notify the Ads team if new content has been created that caters to a purchase-related search intent.
Structured data is extensively used in SEO and can be called a "metadata" layer that is not immediately visible to the user. It appears, for example, as review stars, FAQ answers, author names, and similar elements in the organic search results. These are called Rich Snippets or Rich Results.
Many of the structured data elements do not appear in the search results but help search engines like Google, understand the landing page's content, when it was published, who published it, and so on. The most common form of structured data is Schema Markup Language from Schema.org.
It is critical to understand how structured data is used on product pages and how it affects paid search. It transmits information about the product to search engines, such as the price, brand, name, description, and stock status, as well as photos, shipping price, and retail price. That is the amount of data that must be manually tracked.
Today, most ecommerce Content Management Systems (CMS), fortunately, have a function that means that the structured data is automatically posted on the product pages. However, your data must be correct. It is the same data set out in the product feed used for Google Shopping.
You can enrich your product feed with new data through Merchant Center or a third-party tool like DataFeedWatch. However, the better the base feed and structured data, the less time you spend on technical bug fixes and manual feed optimisations. Here, the Ads team can advantageously work closely with the SEO team to keep it sharp.
SEO and paid search teams can also benefit from collaborating regarding SEO metadata. On an advertising platform like Google Ads, it's much easier and faster to split test different ad messages, USPs and CTAs simultaneously than landing pages trying to rank organically.
In this way, you can find out quickly what works and what does not in the search results.
Split testing of different ad texts in Ads can inspire effective SEO metadata, based on, among other things, the ads' CTR. However, be cautious of blindly duplicating content in both ad text and SEO metadata. The reason behind this is that users at various stages of the buying journey may need distinct messages tailored to their specific needs.
Uncovering the purchase journey
The consumer buying journey often proves to be more intricate and multi-faceted than we might expect. Rather than following a straightforward, linear path, it comprises numerous touchpoints that span from the initial interest being sparked to the eventual purchase decision. This phenomenon, often referred to as "the messy middle" by Google, involves a more extended period of research and evaluation as consumers seek relevant information and compare products within their area of interest.
A simple example could be your friend telling you how convenient a robot vacuum cleaner is. You now get interested in buying a robot vacuum cleaner and research on Google which robot vacuum cleaner is best for a test. You'll get a whole bunch of results with organic search results, each with their preference for the best robot vacuum cleaner, as well as which ones are best for the price, best for dust capacity or suction power, etc. You visit the retailers with them for sale and try to find the best price. Subsequently, you will also start seeing many banner ads on various websites and social media. After a few days, you see that a retailer has offers on one of the robot vacuum cleaners you are considering buying, and you, therefore, choose to buy the product.
These steps, or touchpoints, influence the consumer's choices during the purchase journey. And there can be many steps, especially if the consumer has yet to choose a preferred brand from the start. Therefore, being present with your marketing throughout the buying journey is important.
When it comes to search engines, you should be present when the consumer begins his information search. And that's where SEO comes in.
The organic results are often more relevant than the paid results when you are so far up the sales funnel. In most cases, spending money on keywords as far from a purchase or conversion as information searches are, doesn't make sense. For example, it may be high-volume questions, where it might make more sense for the SEO team to create an FAQ that answers the questions.
On the other hand, paid search excels further down the sales funnel when the consumer has become more aware of the desired product type and brand and what is even more specified, e.g. colour, size, materials, etc. Here, the conversion rate will usually be higher, and the return on your ads will be better.
In some cases, it may also make sense to advertise on more generic search terms, such as robot vacuum, if you have the budget. Here, however, one must expect that there will be an increase in traffic and a decrease in ROI/ROAS compared to more specific, long-tail keywords.
In many cases, having visibility organically and through paid placements makes sense. Being visible in both places creates brand recognition and can attract more clicks. Users are more likely to click on an organic search result if they've seen an ad for the same site before. If users don't see both a paid result and an organic result, they may doubt the legitimacy of your brand, and you lose much potential traffic.
Why it's important to get synergy between SEO and Paid Search Advertising
It's crucial not to work in silos but rather take a more holistic approach to evaluating the performance of marketing activities.
To create synergy between SEO and paid search, it's essential to collaborate across departments. The SEO team, for instance, should inform the Ads crew about any changes or closures of important URLs. Conversely, the Ads team should inform the SEO squad if they require a new landing page for a campaign. This could be due to a content gap, but it could also be that an ideal landing page already exists for the purpose. Communicate and avoid cannibalising your keywords.
When relevant, new initiatives such as website updates, new products, campaigns, rebranding, etc. should be shared across both teams so that everyone is informed. If there is aggressive bidding on specific keywords during a certain period, it should be reported to the SEO team. Organic traffic may experience a decline during the period when ads have increased visibility.
Paid search advertising cannot replace SEO, and SEO cannot replace paid search advertising. These two channels work best together, and they should not be seen as competing channels but as part of a holistic Search Engine Marketing (SEM) strategy. This way, you gain better opportunities to have a comprehensive overview of data from search engines and make the best decisions based on that data.