I was down in Santa Clara for the Searchnomics event on Wednesday, and since it’s so close to my current topic I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about it. Our panel was on the synergies between PPC and SEO, and as I listened to Andreas Mueller, Bill Hunt and our moderator Chris Boggs it confirmed my own very-strong feeling that despite common practice which silos these disciplines, they each benefit from a unified Search Marketing approach.
Where do the synergies lie?
Let’s start with the effectiveness of your overall program. The very first question out of the gate from Chris was on the relationship between Organic and PPC programs. I was probably the most skeptical (based on our numerous studies of Organic Cannibalization) of the common wisdom here. We’ve seen results that are all over the map – ranging from a PPC program boosting organic traffic to significantly cannibalizing it. And we’ve never been able to nail out a really good set of causal explanations for this variance. So why do I believe that overall effectiveness of Search Marketing will benefit from integrating not siloing PPC and SEM? Partially just for that reason. If you can’t assume a simple relationship between Organic and PPC programs, then you need to manage them both to understand the actual performance of each. In addition, I take it as a given that PPC and SEO often have different optimization points. Some terms are expensive and others are cheap. Some words are nearly impossible to get top position on. Others aren’t. These two axes of decision don’t always match – meaning that sometimes program opportunities exist in PPC or SEO that can make up for difficulties on the other side. If you aren’t managing the two together, you can miss these advantages.
Probably even more important than the actual program benefits are the learnings that can be moved from one discipline to the other. These go both ways, but I think they tend to flow more directly from PPC to SEO.
In fact, you can think of your PPC program as a giant test-bed for SEO. In PPC, you get to test creative approaches constantly – for both click-thru and conversion efficiency. You can translate these learnings into SEO optimization by finding creative that works and working it into the leading textual elements of your page. Bill Hunt emphasized the importance of having your PPC and Organic leads tie together cohesively – so you get double benefit if you move these learnings from your PPC program to your SEO program.
Nearly identical benefits accrue in Keyword Research. PPC is an excellent way to explore the value of various words and concepts. Again, you can track both traffic and conversion efficacy – and then use these learnings to help direct more labor-intensive SEO optimizations.
There are also some methodological learnings that I believe translate from PPC to SEO. One I talked about at the Conference, is understanding the importance of the landing page. In PPC, vast effort is usually expended on the Landing Page. But in SEO, you’re directing traffic into a set of pages on your site that were never intended to be the front door. From a measurement perspective, we’ve seen time and again how sites that are successful driving SEO traffic struggle to make it effective. This is especially true with publishing sites that often get a very long tail SEO effect on older content. But that older content is on pages where the template is very poorly designed to present additional site options. Fixing the template on these pages can dramatically improve SEO engagement rates; it’s a tactic with a huge ROI for many strong SEO sites. A strong SEO program dramatically changes the usage patterns on your site – and should impact the way your design team thinks about every page template.
Equally important, but something I didn’t get a chance to really discuss at the Conference, is the focus on conversion efficiency in PPC. Much of the current SEO practice is heavily focused on traffic. This is pernicious – and the more SEO matures, the worse the practice becomes. In helping company’s optimize PPC, I always explain one very simple concept – bad traffic is cheaper than good traffic. So if you let your buying agency optimize to traffic, you’ll be inundated in garbage. As SEO matures, the same basic principle applies. It will be easier to optimize for bad traffic than good. Similarly, it’s easier to optimize for the position of useless words than useful words. So two of the bellwether KPIs for SEO – traffic and # of terms with high position – are both very misleading.
What about PPC learnings from SEO? The panel discussed Google’s new Page Relevance Rankings for PPC Landing pages – and how SEO learnings can help boost this score. This isn’t my area of expertise, but while that advice appears to me to be sound on a practical level, I can’t say I’m enthused about the direction. Google is using their Content Match algorithms to evaluate Landing Pages. And based on our measurement of Content Match, I can only say "God Help Us." To me, this is an example of Google using a technology to "fix" a problem for which it is not well suited. The problem is the increasing presence of misleading or even fraudulent transitions between Ad Creative and Landing Pages. Unfortunately, I suspect these purveyors of fraud learned most of what they know by fooling Content Match to begin with – since the levels of fraud there vastly outpace what’s on Search. So the solution will simply end up penalizing the companies trying to build rich, marketing oriented landing pages.
One way in which we have been able to use SEO data to help with PPC is in profiling search terms by Engine. This is an analysis I’ll talk about in more detail in the SEM Analytics series, but the basic idea is that by comparing concept traffic by Engine you can get a sense of the different visitor-types using Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL or ASK. This type of information can help buyers do a more intelligent job of allocating resources across engines – and it can also help drive engine-specific creative.
One last thought on the Conference in general – it was good to answer lots of different questions – but hard I suspect for the audience to find a common thread or theme. That’s often the trade-off between presentation style and panel style. I’m hoping that the small discussion group format of X Change will blend the best of both worlds. Allowing real interactivity but permitting the discussion to flow so that deeper themes and connections emerge. After the panel I sat down with Andreas Mueller and we talked about our respective businesses and learnings. I know I got more out of it than I did listening to myself talk (or even listening to Andreas answer a series of questions). It probably wouldn’t make a good movie (‘My Drinks with Andreas’) but I do think it will make for a great Conference experience!