Back in the 1980’s, you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing a song by Darryl Hall and John Oates of Hall & Oates fame. With 6 number one hits and 34 Top 40 singles, it’s clear that the duo’s soulful rock music struck a chord with audiences. To this day, they credit their success to their ability to combine the best of both of their talents into songs that resonate with their audience.
So what’s this have to do with web marketing? Well, much like Hall doesn’t sound the same without Oates (and vice versa), no single digital marketing tactic will ever meet all of your needs and allow you to achieve all of your goals on its own. In short, you need your tactics and channels to be partners — and you might say that the Hall & Oates of digital marketing is using SEO and PPC together.
Hall & Oates were so successful because they each brought unique talents to the table, and figured out a way to leverage those talents into one cohesive sound. It’s no different with SEO and PPC — but first, you need to know what each has to offer.
SEO (search engine optimization) is a general term that includes all the efforts you undertake to get your content or website to appear higher on search engine results pages. Since most users don’t look past the first page or two of results, the higher your content appears on the results page, the better it is for business. Also known as organic search or natural search, when someone clicks on a link in search results, you don’t have to pay for it at that very moment. Chances are you paid for it by investing time, money and effort into your website design, your content, and the acquisition of links to your site through outreach and manual outlets. That, in a nutshell, is SEO.
PPC (pay-per-click) essentially allows you to pay to appear in search results. Your ad, which is based on keywords, will appear in search results (usually above or beside the organic results), and you pay for the ad only when someone clicks on it. How much you pay for that click depends on quite a few factors, including the estimated “quality score” of your ad, the landing page, and how the two match with whatever term you’re bidding on. Other businesses may also bid on those same keywords, and the more you are willing to pay for the ad space, the more likely it is that your ad will be prominently featured on Google, Bing or Yahoo.
At first blush, it might seem that SEO and PPC have about as much in common as a south-side Boston Red Sox fan and a Bronx-based New York Yankees fan. A business on a budget might wonder why it’s worth paying for clicks when your site and content will appear in search results anyway. Others might wonder why it’s important to bother with SEO, when you can just buy ads and get traffic without all of the work of actually building a winning site, creating great content, and trying to get backlinks or brand mentions from others in the web-o-sphere.
The short answer to both questions is that by using SEO and PPC together the sum is greater than the whole of the parts. By choosing one technique over the other, you miss a number of benefits that may not be immediately apparent. Using SEO and More often than not, business owners seem to choose SEO as their weapon of choice. The tantalizing vision of dominating important keywords “for free” after a year or two’s investment is just too enticing. If only it were that easy. If you’re in this boat, please keep reading…
You Make My Dreams (Of Massive Amounts Of Traffic) Come True
The best place to start the discussion about why PPC and SEO should be used together is an explanation of what PPC cannot do for SEO. One of the most common misconceptions among Internet marketers is that a PPC campaign will automatically improve their SEO, and get their content a spot at the top of search results. Some have even gone so far as to claim that Google actually rewards advertisers with higher Search Engine Results Page positioning. Fortunately, that’s just now true. However, PPC does have plenty of value that’s at least semi-related to SEO.
- PPC is a research tool. Any successful marketing campaign requires constant analysis. Unless you have unlimited time and funds, a scattershot approach based entirely on assumptions and what appears to be working is only going to cause frustration and run up your bills. Conducting a PPC campaign gives you additional keyword data to analyze in addition to the SEO analytics that you’re gathering. By comparing the two, you can determine the most and least effective keywords in terms of conversions. Remember, as of this year, Google no longer provides real keyword data in GA. You can get limited 30 day data out of Webmaster Tools, but PPC gives you the clearest look into keyword costs and conversions. With a minimal investment, you can test new keywords before completely overhauling your SEO strategy unnecessarily.
- PPC increases your visibility. We know. We just said that PPC doesn’t guarantee a better spot in search engine results. And it doesn’t. What it does do, however, is improve your visibility. When you pay positioning, your link will appear in a visible spot on the SERP — either above the organic search results or in an obvious location on the side of the page. And there’s only so much real-estate on a page. Let’s say the term you bid has no local angle, and there are two top ad spots, six sidebar ad spots and twelve organic places on a page. If your organic rank is somewhere below the 3’s, why not eat up one of the top pad spots? Real estate is real estate, and even just seeing your ad could enhance the organic clicks to your site. Hey, two spots is better than one. Period.
- PPC can boost your PR. A well-planned and executed SEO strategy can do wonders for your company’s reputation. When you consistently produce quality content that is relevant and useful to your audience, you’ll develop a more favorable reputation — and improve your standing in Google search results via some hard-earned links. You might not realize, though, that PPC can help improve your reputation as well. That great white paper you wrote last quarter? Give it away for free as part of your PPC campaign. What’s the point of great content if it isn’t shared and read? Paying for “traffic” to your carefully crafted content is a great way to increase customer awareness and position yourself as an industry expert.
I Can’t Go For That (Yes You Can)
Cost is often the main reason that business decision makers shy away from PPC. Considering that some popular keywords can cost close to $30 per click, that’s understandable. You may be able to quantify the value of the research data that you gather from the PPC campaign, which will help you calculate ROI, but you cannot ignore the fact that PPC can get expensive, in a hurry. That’s why getting professional help is important. The money you spend on a good PPC consultant will be pennies on the dollar compared to the wasted spend of incurring click costs that have virtually no chance of turning in to a customer. But if you think you want to go it alone, read this post before getting started.
Another consideration is that PPC does provide a certain level of protection against Google’s near-constant algorithm changes. Thousands of businesses have been hurt by changes like Panda and Penguin. Unfortunately, it’s not just shady websites using black-hat SEO techniques…legitimate sites like eBay and 1-800-Flowers have been mercilessly caught up in the wash of recent updates. When you are purchasing ad space, though, you’re largely immune to those changes, ensuring that you can maintain a steady stream of traffic while you make any necessary adjustments to your SEO strategy.
PPC campaigns can also help you compete in ultra-competitive industries. In some cases, the keyword searches are dominated by huge companies with a massive amount of authority links and brand equity. In these instances, even incredible content and top-level SEO’s aren’t going to get you in a top spot…unless you spend like crazy. If that’s the case, a PPC campaign will help move your business higher up the SERP and start building your reputation and traffic — as well as help you test alternative search terms and phrases that you can use in your SEO strategy to gain more organic traffic.
So as you see, Hall & Oates have some important messages for surviving the digital marketing landscape, at least in the sense that they show exactly why using SEO and PPC together, which at first blush may seem completely unrelated, can create a successful enterprise. If you listen to the sage advice implied in their titles and lyrics, your business could become a “Maneater” in the search world too (groan . . . we know. It had to said.)