The Perfect Pair: Using PPC Data to Influence SEO

When people talk about SEO and PPC, it’s usually theoretical. They rely on classic talking points, such as: “When used together, SEO and PPC increase visibility in the SERPs and increase perceived authority, which drives click-throughs to your site overall…”

And, yes, that is all true, but it’s also abstract and not super helpful. How do these ideas translate into tactical strategies? How often do you, as an SEO, actually work with your PPC neighbors? My guess is not very often, if at all.

We can fix that. Check out these four tactics for using PPC to improve SEO strategies.

1. Use PPC campaigns to test meta data

Testing organic ad copy – think title tags and meta descriptions - has historically been a long-term process. Once we implement changes to a website’s meta data, it takes time for search engines to crawl the site and update the index based on the new data. And it takes even longer to collect statistically significant data that we can use to measure success. If we use PPC ads to test our title tags and meta descriptions we can expedite the process and get to a well optimized site that much quicker.

Begin by identifying a poorly performing page in terms of click-through rate using the search analytics report in Google webmaster tools. Once you identify the page you want to focus on write three to four title tag (or headline) variations and three to four description or ad copy variations. The landing page we use to testi meta data should be the landing page for each ad. The strategy works better with high volume queries, which means priority pages on the site where we’re targeting high volume keywords.

Set your ad delivery to “Optimize for clicks” to help you see a clear winner sooner. This must be done on the campaign level, so if you want to use this function I recommend creating an organic playground campaign. Once you determine a winner you can use the key elements of the ad copy to influence your title tag and description. One caveat to remember is the difference in character limitations for ads vs. meta data. The premise is to use the themes defined in the ad copy but you will need to build on those themes for actual meta data creation.

2. Use PPC keyword data to determine content gaps

For this exercise, begin with the top conversion paths from the MultiChannel Funnels report in Google Analytics. Start by setting the lookback window to 90 days. This will give you substantial data to work with. Also set the path length to “All” (for the same reason). Next, set the secondary dimension to keyword and filter for paths that begin with Paid Search.

We’re looking for instances where paid drives traffic that converts on the site but Organic is not a part of the buyer journey at all. Most often that means Paid is the first interaction or even the only interaction. The idea is if organic is not part of the buyer journey then we probably have low organic visibility for these terms. We’re not ranking well, if at all, but we know they’re relevant terms for us because PPC is driving qualified traffic. So the questions are: Are we even targeting these terms at all with our organic keyword strategy? If not, why? If so, why is it not working? Do we need to expand existing content to speak to these topics? Or do we need to create new content altogether?

The answers to these questions will then inform next steps and on-page optimizations.

3. Use PPC data to define striking distance ranking opportunities

Ranking opportunities within striking distance are search terms that perform well for PPC – meaning high CTR, high conversions, etc. – despite that we are not actively targeting the terms from an SEO perspective. In an organic search we’re at the bottom of page one, maybe on page two or three of the search results. The fact that these terms rank at all without active targeting means that they are within reach – or within striking distance. With a little effort we can dramatically improve rankings because we know that search engines already see these as relevant terms.

Start by exporting the top keywords in Google AdWords – I filter by conversions greater than or equal to one to exclude extraneous data we don’t need. Select a time frame that makes sense, just be sure it’s enough to provide substantial data. Once in Excel, remove the unnecessary columns. All you really need is keywords, clicks, impressions, CTR, and conversions. We only want to look at non-branded terms, so filter out branded terms, then sort by conversions so we’re looking at opportunities for top converting keywords.

Next we want to know if we’re already targeting the keywords, and how well we’re ranking for each one. Based on this data we can see where the opportunity is and start assigning value to the keywords. Tier I opportunities mean we rank on page one in Google search results. And Tier II opportunities mean we rank on page two.  Again, this means that Google already sees us as relevant for these terms so with a little effort we can really improve our organic position. Based on this data we can incorporate these new keyword phrases into our existing on-page strategies – starting with the title tags and site copy.

4. Leverage PPC for Conversion Rate Optimization

As SEOs, we’re all about traffic. However I want to briefly speak to CRO because it is critical to any digital marketing program and it improves user experience.

When we define keyword themes for sections and pages of a website, there are often many pages that could be appropriate for a given theme. There’s natural overlap as part of any website. And we no longer have organic keyword data to help us define our keyword themes. Now, when deciding which keyword theme to assign to a specific landing page you can’t look at it as simply a semantic exercise – you have to take into consideration the buyer journey. Consider the type of information a user would expect to see when searching for this theme. Should the landing page be informational or more conversion driven? What level of granularity does the user expect to see? If the picture is a blurry, we can use PPC landing pages to test which page on the site is more likely to resonate with our target audience and which is more likely to drive conversions. This is how we get keyword data – by leveraging PPC.

Use your Organic Sandbox Campaign again to create a new ad group to test different landing pages for the same keyword theme. Create at least three ad variations, all similar because we’re targeting one keyword theme, but driving visits to different landing pages on the site. Set your ad delivery to “Optimize for conversions” to help identify a winner sooner. Once you have statistically significant data you should see which landing page users respond to best for the given keyword theme and which one has the highest conversion rate.

Conclusion

The opportunities are truly limitless. What else can we test? Maybe you can identify off-page opportunities by looking at retargeting data. Or change your tests. I like to set my ad delivery to see a clear winner sooner. I want to be agile with optimization. But maybe you want to take it slower and use Google experiments so you’re comparing equal data sets.

The main thing to remember is some things just work better together. Your SEO strategy is truly incomplete without leveraging the abundance of PPC data available to you!  The key to effectively using this information lies in understanding how to test SEO tactics and how to apply the results to your on-page strategies.

Written by Stephanie Wallace on July 13, 2015

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Written by
Stephanie Wallace
Vice President, Owned Media