Both search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine advertising (SEA) basically serve the same purpose: to improve your visibility in search engines and acquire traffic based on keywords, or more accurately, user intent. But the practical aspects of working with SEO and SEA are quite different.
For example, no matter how exceptional your SEO strategy might be, it takes time to implement and you never know the exact results in advance. This is no reason to avoid investing in optimizing for organic search, as it is easily one of the most cost-effective marketing channels. But since you have to rely on incomplete data, SEO estimates are always educated guesses to a certain degree.
By contrast, pay-per-click search engine advertising (SEA) campaigns can be up and running on short notice. And once launched, you have endless opportunities for tracking, A/B split testing and otherwise fine-tuning your campaigns down to the smallest detail. However, in the most competitive verticals, clicks tend to be very expensive and the costs will always add up.
So, while the methods are different – both with their distinctive pros and cons – there are good reasons not to silo the SEO and SEA roles and initiatives in your organization. By having them work together, you will not only improve your visibility in search engines but do so more cost-effectively. What it mostly boils down to is sharing data and streamlining the strategies. A few examples:
1. Use SEA data to ”decrypt” organic keywords
Google is now encrypting searches, meaning that the originating keywords from your incoming organic traffic are ”not provided” in your analytics tool. This leaves SEOs in the dark about what users search for before clicking through to your pages, making it difficult to gauge user intent. You get access to additional keyword data by syncing your Google Search Console and Analytics accounts (or using third-party tools), but some pieces of the puzzle will still be missing.
This is not an issue with search engine ads. You will know precisely what users click on before they arrive on your site, the click-through rate of your ads, to what extent users convert and how. Use this information to tweak your landing pages, metadata, or to find the best-converting keywords to target with your SEO initiatives.
2. Use remarketing campaigns to reach past visitors
In the context of Google’s network, the term remarketing specifically refers to strategically displaying ads to an audience that has previously interacted with your website in some way. The targeting can be broad (e.g. all users who have shown interest in your brand/website) or rather specific (e.g. based on interest in a specific product or service).
Remarketing audiences can be set up in Google Analytics and used in Google Ads and Display & Video 360. Create audience segments in Google Analytics to, for example, reconnect with organic visitors who abandoned their shopping cart without completing the purchase. These users where at the final stage of your marketing funnel and may be likely to return if reminded.
3. Use PPC (Pay-Per-Click) ad copy to improve organic CTR
One of the advantages of SEA over SEO is the ability to continuously tweak your search engine ads to perfection. For example, A/B testing of ad copy will eventually lead to actionable insights into what gives you the best possible click-through rate (CTR). Put these insights to use in your SEO strategy by balancing your HTML titles for improved CTRs.
4. Find new ad keywords using site search data
Your site’s internal search engine is usually considered an SEO domain, but the analytics data from site search could be as relevant for keyword advertising. Keyword research is an ongoing effort in both channels and site search data may give you a competitive edge.
This data will show the exact keywords and phrases that your customers are using to find products on your website. It also tells you what the best-converting searches are, which may be worth including in your paid search campaigns.
Side note: The proportion of visitors using site search will vary greatly by your type of website and industry. However, if your site search volume is much larger than expected, you may want to rethink your navigation.
5. Leverage ads to promote your best content
To stay ahead in SEO, there is no substitute for great content. It will encourage social sharing and attract natural links, both of which are important ranking factors. The catch-22 is that, unless your domain is already strong and your site well-established, you are unlikely to acquire much organic traffic before those social shares and links are already in place.
Content marketing via search engine advertising (and other PPC channels such as social media ads) is a solution to this problem. It might, for example, be a very cost-effective strategy to target informational, low-cost keywords at the top of the funnel.
6. Better visibility and more cost-effective traffic overall
Last but not least, the main benefit of SEO and SEA working together is acquiring more traffic in general.
When done right, SEO clearly has the potential to be the most cost-effective method to drive traffic but compared to SEA it is a blunt instrument. SEO is a long-term strategy, where you rarely see quick results, whereas search engine advertising can accomplish short-term goals and test for new opportunities.
Striking a good balance between the two – and having them work together – will serve you well in the long term.