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SEO before PPC?

Posted by: In: Online Marketing, PPC, SEO 13 Sep 2013 Comments: 0 Tags: , ,

This is the final article in a set of three looking at the relationship between PPC and SEO. The first article examined the convergence of SEO & PPC whilst the second looked at ways PPC can positively impact on your the organic profile of your keywords with regards to SEO. In this final article we are going to try and answer the question – when constructing your search strategy what comes first – SEO or PPC?


So, when it comes to increasing the traffic to your website visa the major search engines you have two options to consider – Pay Per Click (PPC) or Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

1. PPC (Pay Per Click)

is the process where you pay for the traffic using the advertising programmes presented by Google, Yahoo and Bing. Simply put you pay for ads that are placed in the sponsored ads section of the search engine results. You are then charged a fee for each ad – this is dependent upon how competitive the selected keyword is – whenever a viewer clicks on your ad and goes to your website.

2. SEO (Search engine optimisation)

is the process of optimising your website to so that chosen keywords are indexed and appear in a high position on the search engines. The search engine results for these organic or natural keywords are ‘free’. NB. However before you consider the traffic as free you need to factor in the time/ effort put in to achieve the results by yourself or a 3rd party. Whereas PPC can achieve page 1 positions the same day with SEO there is no certainty how long it will take to achieve results – weeks, months or in some cases never.

So which of the two approaches is better and the most cost effective/ achievable? Well it first of all depends on your budget and also the urgency i.e. the time scale you need the traffic delivered by.

If you need more traffic quickly and you are happy to pay for it then PPC is the most logical route. If, however you have no or little budget then your options are limited and your time may be better spent trying to obtain organic keyword rankings.

Other key factors you need to consider are:

What is the average cost of CPCs within your sector?

Are your keywords targets affordable with relation to your return on investment ratio or are they far too expensive. In some industries CPC’s can be as high as £50-60 e.g. ‘car insurance’ or ‘SEO’. If you are targeting these terms it makes it almost impossible for new advertisers or entrants to the market place to generate a profit from this PPC traffic.

How competitive are the SERPs within you sector?

Before embarking on SEO you need to know how ‘achievable’ are your goals? One way to estimate this is to enter your keywords into the Google Keyword Planner Tool. This clever tool will give an indication of your estimated competition level along with the number of other advertisers bidding on your keywords as well as the average CPCs.

In competitive sectors you can find that the organic results for your targeted keywords can be dominated by authority websites. If this is the case they are practically impossible to displace without a very significant investment of money and time.

For example using the ‘car insurance’ example again is your work going to dislodge heavy weight competition websites such as the AA, Compare the market, Tesco, Confused, Go Compare, RAC? In such instances it makes more sense to acquire your traffic via PPC campaigns.

Never underestimate the importance of data

It is amazing how many businesses still prefer to launch straight into an organic search campaign bypassing the PPC route. But if you do this, aren’t you going in blind?

As we have established the SEO process can be long and protracted, so you need to be 100% certain you are targeting the right keywords for your business/ products. This means identifying keywords can deliver worthwhile traffic volumes (what’s the point of achieving organic page 1 results for a keywords that in the real word no-one searches for?) and also to ensure that you are setting achievable goals and not chasing the end of a rainbow.

If you take a step back and re-evaluate your needs you’ll soon appreciate the key benefit of being in possession of targeted data which provides you firm ground upon which to make a decision.

The importance of getting enough data or ‘information’ to enable us to make an informed decision affects everyone the world over.The Department Of Applied Mathematics at Hong Kong University put it far better than we ever could….

Data is the basis for all scientific research – PPC and SEO are no different. Collecting good quality data plays a vital role in supplying objective information so that analytical understanding of a problem and hence solution can be obtained.

Making decisions on the basis of poor quality data is risky and may lead to disastrous results, as the situation may be distorted and hence all subsequent analyses and decision making will rest on a shaky ground.

A focused PPC campaign can provide an efficient set of performance data that can be extracted and analysed within a Keyword Insight Report which can in turn be used to formulate your SEO strategy.

Onsite analytics can also be used to determine how your website is performing and which pages need work from a user/ search engine point of view. Again this onsite analysis can be used to drive an SEO keyword strategy that can be implemented across keyword specific landing pages.


Google’s AdWords platform for analysing data now allows both paid and search traffic to be pulled into one report highlighting the strong links between SEO and PPC marketing. This valuable insight will help improve overall marketing performance.

Here’s what Google says:

Previously, most search reports showed paid and organic performance separately, without any insights on user behaviour when they overlap. The new paid & organic report is the first to let you see and compare your performance for a query when you have either an ad, an organic listing, or both appearing on the search results page.

This new reporting process provides a number of useful options:

  • Discover additional keywords. Use the report to discover potential keywords to add to your AdWords accounts by looking for queries where you only appear in organic search with no associated ads.
  • Optimize presence on high value queries. Use the report to improve your presence in paid results and monitor your high value queries for organic results.
  • Measure changes holistically. As you test website improvements or AdWords changes to bids, budgets, or keywords, you can more easily report the impact across paid, organic, and combined traffic.

This greater transparency within AdWords should allow online marketing to be optimised for maximum conversions across both SEO and PPC.

A logical progression

Whilst Organic (SEO) and paid search strategies rely on similar best practices as demanded by Google and other major search engines, in our opinion a well constructed and managed PPC campaign will always have an immediate and positive knock on effect by dripping down into SEO. This doesn’t necessarily translate back the other way.

We consider that there is a logical progression from PPC leading down to SEO. By rolling out PPC first some key benefits will be:

  • Speedier testing – PPC delivers immediate results enabling speedier capture of valuable data. If you flip this in its head and try and optimise your site for certain keywords organically you will need to wait for the search engines to index your page and attain a page one position before you can garner any useful data. A process which we have seen is very drawn out.
  • Identify Potential Profit Areas – This is probably one of the best by-products of a PPC first approach as the data generated from the PPC process can help identify keywords with the best potential ROI. This means you get a ‘feel’ for every keyword for the volume and type of traffic, and the return that can be expected it. So when you generate an SEO strategy and content development plan you already know the volume of traffic and an estimate of how well it will convert when you rank for it.
  • Return on Investment (ROI) led process – The PPC process will gather useful data whilst at the same time covering its costs with new business. Running the process from an SEO angle leaves it open ended with no guarantee when you can start to recover your investment
  • PPC is protected from SEO algorithm updates – A key weakness of SEO is that the numerous algorithms (Penguin, Panda etc.) change on a regular basis. What this means is a website that has been optimised to cover the latest best practice can fall foul of a algorithm update. The fall out is a loss of SERP’s rankings leading to a loss in profits literally over night. Paying for traffic via PPC assures you of a steady stream of traffic, regardless of algorithm changes.

It is important to understand it isn’t always a question of one or the other. By combining the two (PPC and SEO) you can achieve powerful results. You need to ask yourself some of the questions listed above to pin down the optimal mixture of PPC and SEO for your business.

Hopefully the points raised will go some way to improving your understanding of natural and paid search strategies and how combined they can help each other to improve your visibility on the search engines and ultimately your visibility to potential clients.

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