Here’s how PPC ads can complement SEO efforts

The tortoise and the hare

Well-executed search engine optimization yielding first-page search results is the dream of so many web businesses. If you could achieve this, you’d drive a steady stream of targeted and valuable traffic to your site. Unfortunately, there are a few major obstacles standing in the way of your business and this dream. The cruel reality is that there are billions of web pages and only 10 (best case) organic placements on each search engine results page.

Let’s say you do all of the right things to optimize your site over a six-month period. There are two likely scenarios:

  1. Your position improves but only on the most obscure of terms and not onto the first-page results that garner you real traffic.
  2. You’ll claw your way to a top 10 result for a keyword that is important to you, and within the next year, Google will issue an update to their algorithm — and like Sisyphus’s boulder, your position will tumble back down the list.

So should you give up hope on SEO? Heck no! SEO is an important part of your overall web presence and marketing efforts. But you probably shouldn’t put all of your eggs in that one basket. There are a few marketing channels that can complement your SEO efforts, including social media, content marketing and pay per click (PPC) advertising.

Let’s look at how a well-built PPC campaign can inform and complement your SEO efforts.

SEO & PPC: The tortoise and the hare

While SEO efforts can take months to bear real fruit, you can drive targeted traffic to your site within an hour using Google AdWords. So, let’s say you’re just launching your new site or you’re coming up on a seasonal promotion. With paid search you can get your ads running quickly and tailor your ad copy to things that are seasonally relevant and promote sales or special offers with near-term end dates.

The ability to customize PPC messaging serves a few important purposes: it helps your ads pop more than your competitors’ ads, and it creates a sense of urgency that can lead to higher conversion rates.

Consider a search query for “running shoes” that returns the two ads below. The first gets you excited by showing a low price and a limited offer; the second is pretty boring by comparison.

Sample PPC shoe ad

sample PPC shoe add that's more exciting

For search engine optimization you write meta descriptions for maximum SEO impact and often won’t risk changing them just to offer more enticing promotions. PPC campaigns give you the flexibility to test promotions and drive visitors who are motivated to engage with your site.

Use PPC data to make smarter SEO choices

When working on SEO for your website, one of the most fundamental starting points is to determine which keywords your efforts should focus on. Typically, the most relevant top searched terms might be too competitive to optimize for first-page results, so businesses need to get creative to find the next most important terms that are more realistic to rank for.

Determining the keywords on this list is potentially the most important step in your SEO efforts. If you choose poorly, you’ll spend countless hours over the coming months optimizing for terms that do not maximize your efforts.

vintage photo of prospector panning for gold
Using a PPC campaign to search for keyword themes with the highest conversion rates is like panning for gold … with a better success rate.


Running even a small PPC campaign for at least 30 days can give you an idea of what terms are searched most frequently, and reviewing your click-through rate (CTR) data can clue you into which keyword + ad combinations search engines perceive as most relevant. Most importantly, you’re looking for keyword themes with the highest conversion rates. This is where you truly pan for gold!

Many users will identify terms and themes that are high converting and far less competitive for SEO ranking. Yes, the volume might be lower on some of these terms, so you might still make a list that’s a mix of higher volume and higher converting terms — but there is no substitute for PPC in creating these valuable data sets to inform your SEO strategy.

Use PPC ads to combat negative PR

In today’s socially connected society, businesses small and large are profoundly affected by their online reputation and feedback from their users. Customer review sites like Yelp! can drive consumer confidence sky high or turn potential customers away from your business. (Best practices for managing your online reputation could easily fill a small book, but here are 10 helpful tips to get started.) PPC advertising can help you manage your rep on the web. If, like many businesses, you get a bad review or two, you can use PPC to get your messaging in front of users before they read these negative reviews.

Given enough time, just about every business will get a negative review. Use PPC to remind users that far more customers love your products and services.

First, make sure you’re monitoring  your mentions by setting up a Google Alert for your business name. Delegate someone to monitor review sites at least once a month. Then create an ad group in your AdWords campaign that focuses on terms like: [Your Business Name] Reviews, [Your Business Name] Yelp, etc. The ads for these ad groups should include positive language such as “Our customers love us” and “30% of our customers return to buy again.”

Still not convinced?

Maybe you’re still hesitant to spend your precious marketing dollars on paid search, but consider this: many industry experts agree that even with strong organic placements, paid search is still a valuable piece of your marketing mix. In 2013 Resolution Media and Kenshoo analyzed $10 million in search revenue for Hewlett Packard. They found that for search queries where HP ranked organically and ran PPC ads, the PPC ads still garnered considerable traffic. If HP ranked No. 1 organically, PPC ads still got 40 percent of the visits; if they ranked 2-10, then paid visits accounted for 67 percent to 90 percent of visits.

More than just the traffic percentage, the study went on to prove that for non-branded terms, visitors coming from paid search ads were more profitable than those coming from organic search — even when you account for the cost of acquisition.

I know so many smart businesspeople who proclaim that “no one ever clicks on the ads.” Well, tell that to Hewlett Packard or to Google, with their consecutive $10 billion+ quarterly earnings. Instead of turning your back on PPC advertising, learn how to put it to work for you. Attract new customers with timely marketing, inform and improve your SEO efforts, control your online reputation, and most of all, drive high-quality new visitors to your site who are ready to become your new customers!