When developing a digital marketing strategy, there is a constant tug of war between SEO and paid search. Whether to use search engine optimization (SEO) or paid search is the ultimate question in determining how to drive an audience to your website. SEO and pay per click campaigns (in reference to paid search) are two very distinct marketing strategies, each with their own pros and cons. In simple terms, SEO is a long term approach and may take several months to generate results, while pay per click campaigns are a quick way to capture high intent search traffic.
One factor to keep in mind is that there are two types of search engine users. There are users who click on ads, and there are users who never click on ads. When combining both paid search and SEO efforts, you’ll ultimately be able to have better coverage on search engines for your most important keywords.
So what exactly do you need to know in deciding which strategy is best for you? Here’s the short answer, there is no “best” strategy. Whether you should use SEO, paid search, or both, completely depends on your company’s current goals and time frames needing results.
Today, I will share with you knowledge of both SEO and paid search, to help you determine which strategy will be most useful for your business’ current situation.
Search Engine Optimization
Your goal with search engine optimization is to rank high on search engines (SERPs) for your most valuable, relevant, keywords. Despite this long process, it is worth investing your effort into SEO because of its many benefits.
First and foremost, performing SEO is one of the best ways to capture high quality search traffic that carries high intent. When website visitors find your website through organic search engine listings, they typically carry a high amount of interest which means they may be further down the funnel in terms of the buying process.
They may have a question about a particular subject or are in search of specific products or services in their local area. In this scenario, assuming the pages on your website deliver a top-notch user experience, you will most likely convert a decent percentage of this traffic in sales, leads, or any other desired action you seek from your website visitors.
To further dive into SEO, we will break it down into two parts; On-page SEO and Off-page SEO.
On-page SEO is the process of optimizing your own webpage to fully communicate to search engines and users, who you are and what you do.
By making sure you complete all on-page SEO optimizations throughout your website, you are organizing the pages and content on your website in a manner that guides search engines and users through understanding your topic and subtopics thoroughly. Whether you conduct this internally or you hire an SEO agency, this is one step that is crucial and cannot be skipped.
Though there are several aspects of completing all on-site SEO tasks, below are a few of the most important factors.
Title Tags are one of the most important elements of both the content on your website as well as the SEO value. It’s the first thing people see when looking at your website on Google’s SERPS. For each page of your website, make sure you have title tags that accurately describe the content on each specific page.
Aside from content purposes, title tags offer a serious amount of SEO value. Google uses title tags as one of the main descriptors so that they know how to rank you in their SERPs. This is why it’s so important to not only accurately describe your web page, but also insert the main keyword you want to rank for.
Here’s what it looks like in the source code on your page.
And here’s how it shows up as on Google’s search engine results pages.
Google also cuts off title tags over 70 characters, so make sure you keep it 70 or under as a general practice.
Users always have different motives for visiting a webpage, varying from an anticipated purchase to gaining knowledge on a topic. Search engines understand that it’s important for users to read through up-to-date, relevant content that pertains to their search query.
One of the best ways to keep website content up-to-date is by writing blog posts and updating current pages to ensure that you are always delivering the most relevant, high quality content to users who visit your webpage.
In addition, it is important to ensure that your content is written with your SEO strategy in mind. Your blog posts and pages should be written with a main goal in mind, such as answering a specific customer pain point, or educating them on your product or service.
Throughout the creation of the blog post or page, it is crucial to ensure that you are targeting your specific audience by utilizing keywords that are inline with the search interest of your target audience.
Site speed is crucial to keeping users on your website to consume your content. You need your website to load fast so users can navigate through the site quickly and easily, without losing interest.
This in turn, will help keep your bounce rate low; meaning that users will be more likely to engage with your content and will not immediately exit your page without taking some sort of action.
As an increasing amount of web browsing is being done on a mobile browser, it is important to make sure your site speed is optimized for mobile users. In order to ensure that your web page is rendering content as quickly as possible on a mobile device, it is important to be sure that the server response time is kept at a minimum, and that the number of additional HTTP redirects are minimized, as these can increase loading time.
Mobile users are more likely to engage and return to your site if its speed is optimized. One of the best ways to improve page speed on mobile is through AMP pages. Google AMP is a service provided by Google to help load pages almost instantaneously.
If you’re unsure about how fast your website loads, head on over to Google’s Page Speed Insights. This is a free tool that allows you to get into the nitty gritty of your page loading speeds.
Finally, the use of keywords is essential in making your on-page SEO efforts successful.The best way to think about keywords, is to think in terms of keyword “themes”.
Search engines are incredibly smart in understanding user “intent”, and instead of being focused on specific keywords, you should become focused on keyword “themes” and utilize all keywords that pertain to a specific theme or topic.
A great tool to use for expanding your keyword list for a specific keyword theme is Ubersuggest.
When developing keywords themes, it’s important to take your competition into consideration. For certain keyword topics that are extremely competitive, it is smart to optimize your website for long-tail keywords that are very specific.
Finding long tail keywords with low competition can be accomplished by using tools such as Google’s Keyword Planner.
Another method for keyword research is using customer personas to discover the keywords that your target audience is searching for on search engines. Being creative with your keywords to identify specific, long tail terms, will allow you to diversify yourself and attract even more customers that are further down the funnel in terms of converting into a lead or a sale. For more information about keywords, check out this video.
Off-page SEO is an ongoing process of building your website’s authority by receiving validation from external, relevant websites. Think of this as “Digital PR” for your website and brand.
This aspect of SEO is one area that can be easily overlooked by many, but is absolutely necessary for top rankings on search engines, especially in competitive markets.
One major aspect of off-page SEO is link building, or backlinks. This is the process of acquiring links from other external websites that are relevant to your website’s topic.
Although it takes a lot of time, resources, and effort to acquire natural links, it can make a huge impact in the positioning of your webpage in search results. When you acquire links from well-known, authoritative web pages that are relevant to your topic, your rankings can achieve a major boost over time.
This is because your website’s “authority” is being increased due to the number of high quality websites who have links on their pages that point to your website. If you do not have an active off-site SEO strategy that includes backlink acquisition, your chances of ranking for your most valuable keywords are pretty low.
Guest posting is another off-page SEO strategy that can help drive traffic to your webpage. By writing articles as a guest author on popular websites that are relevant to your topic, you can gain interest for your own name and brand, resulting in an increase of traffic to your website over time, whether it be through a backlink on your guest post, or through users simply searching your brand name.
Writing guest posts for other websites is a great way to reach your target audience in order to introduce them to your brand and demonstrate your expertise. This is another play on “digital PR”.
When to Use SEO
I always recommend SEO if you are in a position to invest into long term brand and authority building. SEO takes time and can take a decent marketing budget to execute properly, however the benefits are endless and it’s efforts carries over into several areas of your business as a whole when it comes to your online presence.
If you want to become an authoritative player in your industry and capture users who are further down the funnel in the buying cycle, SEO is a great way to begin to make strides to do so.
Paid Search, AKA Pay per click (PPC) campaigns, is an online advertising channel in which you “bid” on keywords in order for your ad to appear at the top of the search engine results page. This is a great approach to attaining sales or leads quickly, because you have the opportunity to place your offer in front of users who are actively searching for your product or service.
Paid search is a much quicker process than SEO in terms of attaining top positions on the SERPs, however, it requires proper strategy and constant fine tuning to work well.
Paid search marketing can be conducted in-house if your company is heavily active in this channel, however if you are a small business, it is more cost effective to hire a PPC agency instead of paying a salary.
In order to be successful with paid search, you must make sure that you have the following three factors in 100% alignment:
- Keyword Targeting
- Ad Copy
- Landing Page Messaging and Experience
Keyword Targeting & Ad Copy
In order to attract an audience with high intent who are actively in search of your product or service, you must be certain that you are bidding on the right keywords. Performing keyword research to build out a keyword list of terms that your target audience is searching for, is crucial to your ad appearing in front of the right persona.
Once you have your keyword targeting set as well as other targeting factors such as location, make sure your ad copy is completely relevant to the keywords you are bidding on. Place special attention into the creation of your ad. It is critical that the copy of the ad includes a call to action, in order to lead your audience into making a conversion, along with benefits and value points.
Knowing which Key performance indicators (KPIs) to be reviewing continuously is a sure way to measure the success of a paid search campaign. By monitoring PPC-specific KPIs, including clicks, click through rate, quality score and conversion rate, you can see how your paid search campaign is performing in relation to your company’s goals.
Be sure to set up goals in Google Analytics as well as conversion actions in Google Ads or Microsoft Advertising to measure which campaigns are generating leads, sales, or any desired action.
When to Use Paid Search
Paid search should be used when you are short on time or need traffic to your website now in order to generate leads or sales. Especially if your business is time sensitive or you have time sensitive offers, paid search is a great way to capture high intent traffic in a timely manner.
By developing a strategic campaign and using KPIs to measure performance, paid search can be used to help you gain leads and sales quickly.
So, SEO or PPC?
Both SEO and paid search can be extremely beneficial for generating capturing prospects online. Each of these channels (SEO and paid search) allow you to attract a highly targeted audience to your website and increase conversions.
So which channel should your business use today; SEO or paid search? As a general rule, paid search is best to be used in the short-term when you have the funds available to spend on advertising, while SEO is a long-term strategy that requires constant attention. It is also important to note that you do not necessarily have to pick a side. SEO and paid search are both great strategies individually, but they can be even more powerful when used together.