One of the most obvious way that PPC can support SEO is with helping your brand show up in the SERPs for the most competitive searches. Now, I’m saying “show up” rather than “rank” because there is nothing PPC can do to directly increase your organic rankings.
What PPC can do, however, is offer you an opportunity to at least have your (branded) listing appear alongside the organic SERPs for keywords that you don’t yet rank on.
Bidding on What You Don’t Rank On (Yet)
For example, let’s say you’re trying to rank for one (or some) of the most competitive keywords in your industry. If you’re not already on the first page, even with solid linkbuilding and content strategies in place, you’re probably looking at 6-12 months (or more) before you get there. Then once you get to the first page, it can take just as long again to make it to the top 5 (above the fold), and even longer to get to #1.
Spending 6-24 months without appearing anywhere on the first page of SERPs for certain keywords isn’t always an option for some business/brands. So PPC can be used to make sure that you have some kind of representation on page one while your SEO strategy catches up.
Adjust Your SEO Keyword Priorities
As you go through the process of bidding on PPC keywords that are SEO priorities (perhaps at different times and in different regions), you’re going to get performance data on how some of those keywords convert. In this way, PPC can be invaluable in optimizing your SEO efforts toward ranking on the first page.
For example, it might take you 12 months to rank well on all 5 of you target organic keywords. But during the first 1-3 months of bidding on them through PPC, you might find that 2 of them don’t convert. From here, you might decide to drop those 2 keywords from your SEO efforts, and divert those extra resources in ranking the other 3 sooner – say in 9 months instead of 12.
The Catch with Bidding to the Top Position
Of course, the biggest problem with bidding on the most competitive keywords while you build organic equity is that they’re the most competitive keywords. Their average CPC, in other words, will likely be very high. Depending on your PPC budget (and campaign goals), then, bidding on the most competitive keywords may or may not be an option. There are a few ways, however, that you can mitigate the costs of this strategy.
Choose Your Keywords Carefully
If your budget is limited and/or you’re sensitive to return-on-ad-spend (ROAS) — and you should be — then you can’t just bid on every high volume keyword that you don’t rank on organically. What you can do, however, is pick a few that convert well. This would involve running a test campaign on each of the highest volume keywords, and then selecting the ones that convert the highest.
That being said, you might have to adjust your conversion expectation. After all, the advantage of ranking organically on high volume keywords is that you get such high volume of traffic off of them. So even if the conversion rate is lower than your expected average, the overall transactions/revenue generated from that organic ranking still out-paces other lower volume keywords that have much higher conversion rates.
This approach, of course, can get really expensive with PPC. Indeed, the conversion you get from those many clicks might not be able to justify what you’re spending on them. So you’ll want to test each high volume keyword and see which ones can generate a conversion rate that justifies the cost of a first page placement.
Target by Time, Day, and Region
If you’re going to paying a high CPC on high volume keywords to make up for your lack of organic rankings, you might want to choose when and where these ads appear. Not only will this reduce the overall spend you’re investing into these keywords, but it will help protect your Quality Score.
Essentially, if your ads are appearing to users or at times when no one is clicking on them, your Quality Score will suffer and your overall CPC will go up. Similarly, if you’re paying for a high volume of clicks at a certain time or from a certain region that aren’t converting, then you might want to reconsider investing in that keyword at that time or in that region.
The Long-Tail Trade-Off
The main advantage that SEO offers PPC is that it allows you to build equity so that you don’t have to pay for each and every click. In fact, the long-tail ROI of SEO means that your pseudo-CPC continues to fall overtime.
That being said, however, SEO is more of a long-term strategy. Depending on how competitive your niche is, it can take anywhere from months to make it onto the first page, and possibly much longer into the top 3-5 positions.
That kind of timeframe might be unacceptable to your bottom line – i.e. your company can’t compete unless it’s represented somewhere on the first page. PPC offers a short- to medium-term solution to offset that wait, but it can also get expensive. There are, however, strategies that you can employ to ensure that your company/product is represented on the first page of SERPs at least some of the time and in some places.
And in the meantime, while you’re building up that organic search equity, your PPC data will give you insight into what keywords actually convert. Then, in turn, you can adjust your SEO priorities and focus on organic rankings for keywords that you know actually convert (rather than just send traffic).