The key to any successful SEO and SEM campaign is utilising data to make the right decisions. The focus here isn’t to pit SEO against PPC, but rather to establish when and where the two can (and should) be used in partnership with each other.

By using data from both of these traffic sources, you will be able to fill information gaps, creating a broader picture of the factors that affect your website’s visibility in the search engine results page (SERP). And now that Google is limiting data more and more, providing it to only paying advertisers, using both these disciplines has become critical to our digital strategies.

How can SEO and SEM work together on a click-through-rate basis?

In a recent AdWords ‘paid and organic’ dimension report, the data suggests that CTR substantially increases when both paid and organic ads are shown together. SEER Interactive recently implemented this report for six of their clients and found that when paid ads were shown alone, they achieved a CTR of 5.66% and similarly, organic results shown alone got 6.15%. Now here’s the kicker — when paid and organic listing were shown together the CTR for paid results increased to 18.06% and organic results to a whopping 38.26%! This impressive data strongly indicates that SEO and PPC support each other, and having both on the SERPs is going to generate synergy and make a bigger impression on the searcher.

Run AdWords first

First, properly set up an optimised AdWords account with clearly defined campaigns, ad groups that are tightly knit to keywords and relevant ads that direct to relevant landing pages. A well thought out and implemented AdWords campaign will be strongly beneficial in the beginning because:

Budget: Small to medium sized businesses probably don’t have the budget to smash out on something like SEO. In today’s world, optimising your site properly can be very costly, not to mention results can take up to three months to start realising — that’s a whole three months with potentially no gain on your company’s targets! By running a PPC campaign, you’ll bring visitors to your site and you only pay when someone clicks through. This way, you will be getting some kind of return and, if it produces any mount of profit, it can be put towards your future SEO campaign.

Awareness & CRO: Don’t stress if your AdWords campaign isn’t producing the profits you were hoping for in the beginning, the value is still there. You continue to bring visitors to your site, which not only increases awareness to your searchers, but provides you with extremely important data. You’ll learn how visitors interact with your site, which pages convert better and the keywords that perform best on each individual page.

SEO Learnings: Google AdWords provides a wealth of knowledge when it comes to how search engines appraise your website. Not only will you be able to see how Google judges your page, but how your visitors do too (i.e. bounce rates, exit rates, time on page). You’ll also be able to see which pages and keywords have better quality scores.

Once you’ve gathered enough data through AdWords, you can start focusing on your SEO. Two metrics that are especially useful are quality score (QS) and cost-per-click (CPC). By looking at the QS and CPC for inbound keywords on specific pages, we can gather important information that Google themselves use when decision making. Based on this data we can build a fairly decent idea of:

  1. How relevant Google deems a keyword to a landing page (QS)
  2. How competitive a specific keyword is to target (CPC)

Once you have this keyword information you can actively decide which keywords to target.

So in the end, SEO and SEM are two traffic sources cut from the same cloth. They complement each other in SERP and cooperate to provide you a better overall CTR, and by employing AdWords in the beginning, you’ll be able to retrieve data that, when later applied will give you a winning SEO strategy.