Keyword Strategies for Hybrid SEO/PPC Search Campaigns

Many online companies work on search engine optimization for their websites as well as launching pay per click advertising campaigns. Rarely do they consider uniting the two strategies. That may be a mistake. Jacqueline Dooley describes a plan you can use to make them work together.

Pay per click (PPC) advertising campaigns on Google and Overture have traditionally been considered as a separate marketing tactic from organic/natural search engine optimization (SEO) in the eyes of search marketers and site owners. The key differences between the two are the control factor and the way your search listing is displayed in the search engine results pages (SERPs). Although advertisers and search engines see a clear distinction between paid and organic search results, the average searcher arguably does not. A study conducted by Pew Internet and American life in January 2005 revealed that only 38 percent of searchers could distinguish between sponsored results and unpaid results. (reference link: http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/146/report_display.asp)

Even if most searchers are aware that some of their search results are from paid advertisers, the methodology they use to find relevant Web pages is the same. Searches enter a keyword or phrase into the search box, hit the search button and click on whatever listing catches their interest. It makes no difference to the searcher whether the listing is sponsored or organic. With this in mind, it makes sense that a highly effective search engine strategy would employ the use of both paid and organic search listings. Developing a strategy meant to capitalize on both paid and organic listings requires some up front research and planning.

Paid and organic search listings have a symbiotic relationship with each other. Understanding how they relate and which keywords to target for which tactic (e.g., SEO or PPC or both) will enable you to maximize your search engine exposure while minimizing the amount of money you spend on both PPC and SEO. Itai Levitan’s recent article ( http://www.seochat.com/c/a/Search-Engine-Optimization-Help/Increased-Brand-Awareness-via-PPC-and-SEO/ ) about branding through search marketing really touched on this issue of combining SEO and PPC into one umbrella of search marketing.



The goal is to create one consistent keyword list for both your paid search and organic search campaigns. This does not mean that your list of keywords will be the same for both tactics. Rather, you’ll have one main keyword list and each word will be assigned to SEO, PPC or both. Start by brainstorming what you believe your primary keywords would be once your site is live (or for your existing site). Using a spreadsheet (my spreadsheet program of choice is Excel), list as many keywords as you can. Here is an example of a preliminary list of words from my perspective as an Internet marketing consultant.

TERM

PPC

SEO

BOTH

Internet marketing

X

Internet marketing consultant

X

E-marketing consultant

X

SEO consultant

X

SEO expert

X

Web marketing expert

X

I’ve created this list based on the content that already exists on my website or content I intend to create. It is counterproductive to target keywords that are not supported on your website. For example, although I am capable of developing an email marketing campaign, it is not my specialty and I do not focus on this on my website. If I wanted to target the term “email marketing” I would first need to create some relevant content on the site in the form of articles, informational Web pages about the service and/or blog entries to support this term. I would then need to get some back links from sites that discuss the topic of email marketing.

If I just insert the term in the home page or on one or two interior pages then I will likely see poor results in the SERPs for this term. Since “email marketing” is a highly competitive term, the sites that rank well will have a lot of supporting content (entire websites devoted to the term) and relevant back links. I cannot hope to compete for top positions for this term until my own site reflects topically the term I am trying to target.

It is helpful to look at your competitors’ websites and see what language and themes they are focusing on. Don’t just look at Meta and Title tags, read the actual content. Try to get a sense of the structure of the site. What are the categories? What markets are they targeting? Add terms to your list as you do this and flag terms that present key opportunities. Ideally, these will be terms that are not heavily targeted on your competitors’ sites, will help to differentiate you, and have a decent search volume.

Finally, you can use any number of free tools to get a list of synonymous terms that complement your ever-growing list of keywords. Google has a free tool that will display thematically-relevant terms to words you’re researching ( https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordSandbox). Just enter a keyword into the search box and Google returns a list of terms from actual searches. When I searched for “Internet marketing” I got a list of terms that included this term and, interestingly, a list of additional terms that these same searchers entered into the search field even though they didn’t include “Internet marketing.”

There are two main tools available to help you forecast the search volume for your keywords. They are Overture’s Keyword Selector Tool, which is free ( http://inventory.overture.com/d/searchinventory/suggestion/), and WordTracker.com, which uses its own proprietary database and Overture’s database to forecast keyword volume.

Once you have your preliminary keyword list ready to go, you’ll want to know how popular the terms are. Very popular terms are desirable, but often very competitive. Terms that get little or no traffic may not be worthwhile for SEO, but are great to include in your PPC campaign. Middle of the road terms that generate a moderate volume (say, 2000 searches per month) can be targeted in both PPC and SEO campaigns, then moved to either SEO or PPC based on whether they actually bring in qualified traffic.

At this stage of your research, your main criteria for assigning terms to SEO or PPC are search volume and appropriateness of the term. Terms that are critical to your business and come up over and over again on your website should be targeted for both SEO and PPC. Cost is another factor to consider when including a term in the PPC component of your strategy. If the term is highly competitive and its per-click cost high then it may be prohibitive to include it in the PPC campaign. If you do include it, then you’ll need to figure out where you want it to appear in the sponsored listings (the #1 listing may be too much money, but #5 may be just fine) and how much money to devote to this term compared with your overall PPC budget.

SEO can be expensive in terms of both time and money. If you are doing it yourself, then expect it to eat up a good portion of your work week as you get it implemented. If you are hiring an agency or consultant to do the work for you, it can be as expensive on a per-term basis as a sponsored listing on Overture or Google. Consider your terms carefully for SEO. Don’t optimize pages for terms that get a very low volume and are not absolutely appropriate for your business and your audience. Secondary and low-volume terms should be relegated to the PPC campaign and evaluated closely for relevancy and conversion.

I will not restate the process of SEO for this article. Rather, I’ll say that once your site is fully optimized for the terms you’ve selected based on the above research, you’re ready to set up your PPC campaign. A Google campaign can be launched in mere minutes with ads appearing instantly once the campaign has been funded and set up. Overture takes a bit longer because all ads must be approved by Overture’s editorial team prior to going live.

Google can and will take down ads at its editors’ discretion. However, they give advertisers the benefit of the doubt in that new ads and changes to existing ads are made live within minutes.

Your paid search ads should complement your organic search listings. As such, make sure the language in the sponsored listings is not identical to language you use in your Title and Meta Description tags (this is impossible to do with Google ads, but can be done with Overture ads).

Take advantage of the additional control that paid search listings have by restating the keywords you are targeting as much as possible within the ad copy. This is particularly useful with low-volume terms that are not addressed via SEO. By featuring second-tier terms prominently in your paid search ads and thoroughly optimizing your site for your top terms, you can reach more searchers overall.

Final Thoughts

Remember that sponsored listings appear not only all over the place within the search engine results on key search engines such as Google and Yahoo, but also on partner sites. Your paid listing will appear in places that a regular organic search engine listing can never touch. These include news sites such as NYtimes.com and Washingtonpost.com, Internet Service Provider portals such as Earthlink.com and many more. Here is a link to a partial list of Google’s advertising partners, to give you an idea of the reach a Google PPC ad can have: http://google.indicateur.com/index.php3?cat_id=67. And here is a link to a list of Overture distribution partners: http://www.content.overture.com/d/USm/ays/ays_affpartners.jhtml.

Once your PPC campaign is live and you’ve completed your SEO, you’re not done. You’ll need to evaluate the performance of your keywords and determine which ones are bringing in the most qualified visitors and generating the most sales and leads. It’s entirely possible and probable that you’ll need to move terms from SEO to PPC and vice versa, but that’s a topic for another article!

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