Why PPC Should Be a Part of Your Online Marketing Strategy

If you’re an SEO, it’s easy to discount the role of PPC in overall online marketing strategy. When most other types of online marketing succeed, they improve search engine optimization: content increases backlinks, usability increases conversion rate and makes our search traffic more profitable, and social media and email marketing both increase user engagement. But if PPC succeeds, you had to pay Google to send visitors to your site, which feels like an SEO failure.

After working for months to secure a top spot on a search engine results page and losing the click to the PPC team’s ad they wrote and targeted in under an hour, SEOs can feel like the straight-laced athletes losing the race to the herculean competitor that we know is doping. “They might be winning now,” we think jealously, “but SEO is long term. SEO will win in the end.”

And that’s true, to an extent. SEO is long term: you’re never going to get immediate results. With PPC, you absolutely can. But that’s what makes them great together: they have opposing strengths and can fill in for each other.

At Distilled, we started as SEOs, but we’re moving towards becoming all around online marketing consultants. Often, PPC is a part of the optimal online marketing strategy for our clients.

When to Recommend PPC:

Quick Wins

SEO can be a big black box to some marketing managers, so you may find someone coming to you asking for dramatic traffic increases within a couple of months from SEO alone. The overachiever inside of you will think that with some good content and lucky outreach, it’s possible, but let’s be honest: PPC will give you a reliable flow of traffic for a predicable amount of money. Don’t get me wrong, every website needs a good SEO strategy as well, but be realistic and admit that sometimes you need to pay for qualified traffic.

You can also get PPC quick wins in response to timely events. If you’re an online retailer who sells fans, you probably won’t spend the time to target “Seattle heat” for SEO. When a heat wave hits the rainy city, you won’t have time to build the page, get backlinks, wait for Google to realize its value and organically rank it well. The only way you can get traffic for a new keyword quickly is to pay for it.

Target Keywords You Can’t Rank Organically For

On that same note, if there are keywords that you’ll never be able to rank for, PPC can get you there. At my previous job, we were marketing the University of Washington’s online Master of Aerospace Engineering. We could rank well for “online aerospace engineering” or “professional master’s in aerospace engineering,” but we could never rank above the entrenched main department websites of UW and other schools. With Google AdWords, we could run our ad for the search query “aerospace engineering” – a term so broad that it increased awareness for our program. We would never have gotten that traffic through any other form of online marketing.

Retargeting (Display Ads Only)

Sales campaigns targeted to existing customers are often far more successful than broad campaigns – they can have conversion rates up to 70%. If someone visits your site, you already know they’re interested in your product, so proactively reaching out to them will usually yield a greater return on investment than passively waiting for them to search for your site.

For those of you who cringe at the thought of retargeting: you don’t have to smack your previous visitors over the head with your products the way some businesses do. Google AdWords lets you cap the number of times someone sees your ads each day. In your retargeting campaign, go to Settings, and towards the bottom, under Advanced Settings, open Ad Delivery:

How to limit the number of times AdWords runs your display ads.

You can change frequency capping to a certain number of ad views per day, week, or month. If you know the majority of your traffic converts within 5 days from first setting foot on your site, you can set retargeting banners to show for only 5 days.

Plus, with new retargeting options, you can specifically target visitors who haven’t converted yet. AdWords allows you to exclude these people from seeing your retargeting ads if they’ve been to a certain part of your site, like the /thank-you page. That will ensure that your marketing budget isn’t wasted on visitors who already found what they were looking for.

Double the Search Engine Results Page Space

Let’s be honest, how much real estate would you rather own, just the top result once:

Or would you rather own the top result twice?

If you or your client have a lot of budget available, PPC is the most reliable return on investment of any online marketing strategy. You won’t be charged unless you get traffic, period. And if you run a clear advertisement to a relevant audience, there’s a good chance that traffic will be legitimately interested in converting.

SEO Suggestions

That’s right – used strategically, PPC can actually help your SEO strategy. Google AdWords has an amazing number of tools that help you come up with new keywords to try. You’re probably already using Google AdWords Search Keyword Tool, but if you’re actively running PPC campaigns, you can see what specific search terms are getting clicks and conversions through the Keyword Tab and the Keyword Details (select SEARCH TERMS: All). You can find the same data in Google Analytics under Advertising > AdWords > Matched Search Queries. If you’re running broad or phrase match keywords, you’ll be surprised at how many variations of the keywords you chose are bringing in valuable traffic.

Once you’ve found a keyword you’re interested in targeting, whether it’s through AdWords tools or your own research, it’s also much less resource-intensive to test a keyword’s opportunity traffic and conversion rate through PPC than SEO. Just run the ad with the page title you’d use for the natural search result, send visitors to a landing page that is either an existing page on the site or a simple landing page. Collect data for a month, or until that keyword brings in 100 visits, whichever comes first. If a month passes and you don’t have 100 visits, the keyword probably isn’t popular enough for you to target organically. If it has, compare the profit from conversions to the cost to organically target that keyword. Now you have much more solid research to convince your client or boss whether you should spend the time and effort to organically target that keyword.

Just Remember: PPC Takes Time

The trick with PPC is that it’s insanely easy to set up but fairly difficult to get a good ROI. I can’t tell you how many clients have told us, “We tried Google AdWords, but it didn’t work for us.” When we look at their history, we see they set up a poorly configured campaign, ran it for a month, and shut it down. You’re not going to get good results in a month – even for experts, it takes some time to respond to AdWords’ results, tweak settings, and get traffic up and cost down.

Pro Tip: Run your campaigns for at least 3-6 months before you throw in the towel.

PPC is an Integral Part of Online Marketing

It offers options that you simply can’t get from any other method of online marketing. Next time you’re writing up an online marketing plan, ask yourself if PPC can help.

For you PPC’ers out there, what would you add to this list? What else have you been able to do with PPC that you can’t do with any other marketing strategy?

Kristina Kledzik

Kristina Kledzik

Kristina joined Distilled as an SEO after working as an SEO/SEM/Web Analytics Specialist for the University of Washington. Kristinah264 // Kristina always knew she wanted to work with computers, but avoided computer science classes in college...   read more

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31 Comments

  1. Nice way to conceptualize and talk about two things that are very significant and true but not much considered by people- "When to Recommend PPC". You have given very targeted inputs in this section. Usually people just go off the block that they do not need any prior thinking when going for PPC advertisement, but, believe me, that can backfire very harshly, for your campaigning and finances.

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  2. The last part of your blog post is the most critical. You have to give PPC at least 3 months before you can make any informed decisions on the campaign.

    With that said, with the constant changes on Google, you simply have to have some sort of PPC campaign. For an SEO campaign to be successful, you have to incorporate PPC.

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    • Kristina Kledzik

      Yes, Google AdWords is tricky because it gives you data too soon: think of other advertising campaigns, they have to put a significant amount of time into it before they hear about its success or failure. I think that a lot of managers think that they can make informed decisions as soon as they have data, but I can't think of any other type of marketing that you could deem a success or failure in a month.

      I'm not sure that I agree with you that you have to encorporate PPC into your marketing campaign, though. The constant changes from Google are usually targeting low quality sites, so if you build a clean site with unique content, you probably won't see your rankings change much without your involvement (although your competitors' sites could get devalued and push your ranking up). PPC is the same as any other marketing strategy - it has its pros and cons, and after a few months of using it, you should have an idea of its return on investment. If the return is better than other marketing channels, put your money into PPC, if it isn't, don't.

  3. Nicely Said. Post can be good for Sales team as well. Problem is small business owners are seeing it as spending not investment. They should know it is business investment like other marketing spending and it might be a tax deductible.

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  4. You got my brain humming this morning to use PPC on a short term trend or event and reminded me that converting PPC keywords make fantastic organic keyword targets.

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    • Kristina Kledzik

      Always glad to get people's brains humming! I'm not sure if you meant to, but saying "event" reminded me that you can use PPC to advertise internal timely events as well. I had a client who put on concerts, and they were able to use PPC to get the word about their show out when people searched for the specific songs that would be in the concert.

  5. The core of PPC advertising is negatives. Know your / your client's market and you can exclude unwanted clicks. If you sell still bottled water, you can exclude your advert showing for 'sparkling bottled water' (and even 'distilled water' used for scientific experiments). So when you click on "Matched Search Queries" you are looking at the queries targeted to your offering - I would say you can't buy that info but you can; and it's cheap as mince. Love PPC. A revolution in marketing that can make BIG gains in SEO.

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    • Kristina Kledzik

      Yep, understanding and using negative keywords are huge parts of running a good PPC campaign. Unfortunately, there's no way to use negative keywords in SEO if you're showing up for slightly incorrect results - you just have to change the content on the page and hope that'll fix the problem.

      Actually, now that we're talking about it, I wish that we could have a negative meta keywords tag so SEO could get the same benefits as PPC!

  6. We have been using PPC for years on our site and were pretty happy with the results spending the same amount per month. We got to a crossroads and needed to decide between paying for a PPC consultant or increasing the budget. We bit the bullet and paid for a consultant (recommended by Distilled) and within 4 months they had made enough changes to get about an 80% increase in conversions. I will say that for 2 of the middle months we did notice a slight decrease while tweaks were tested and measured, it made me nervous to think oh no I lost conversions this month but the returns recently have more than made up for it and have now allowed us to afford a further increase in our SEO campaign.

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    • Wow. 80%. Amazing. What were the changes in Click Through Rates and Cost Per Conversions for non-brand keywords in that 4 month period?

    • Kristina Kledzik

      Nice! That's another good point to make: Google AdWords tweaks often lead to a decrease in conversions for a little while, even if the tweaks are great. It takes a little while for Google's system to reoptimize the targeting they do internally after you've made the change.

  7. I agree with you, it's easy to setup PPC but to get real results it takes time, industry knowledge and the right skills.

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  8. Great post Kristina, thanks for confirming that we're not crazy. You hit so many great points like your image of all the above the fold real estate taken with combo of top organic and ppc placement. And you're right each has it's strengths and weaknesses, but together. People often do say things like, "I've tried that before..." in regards to SEO or PPC. We are just getting our feet wet with basic & simple remarketing for our Clients, but i have to follow your link on "conversions up to 70%" after this comment... almost had a heart attack ; )

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  9. Of late we started recommending Adwords Express to our local clients (mostly small businesses) and the results have been good. Clients started getting more leads though the average increase in leads was around 24%. What started out as an experiment is now a part of our web strategy for small businesses. However, there are so many limitations in Adwords Express. How can you optimize a campaign on Adwords Express? Should we do Google Adwords as opposed to Adwords Express. One of the reasons we recommended Adwords Express was that costs were lower and small businesses can afford them. I know there are many questions but a response will be much appreciated.

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    • Kristina Kledzik

      I think your optimization options on an AdWords Express campaign are fairly limited. I've never used it before, but it looks like Google places your ads for you (rather than you choosing the location of your ads with keywords) but you write the ad. Can you run multiple ads and see which one does better? It seems like that's your only optimization option.

      Like I said, I've never used AdWords Express, but it looks like the only two advantages it has over AdWords are: you don't need to have a website, and you don't need to write keywords to place your ads. The only lower cost is the extra time needed to set up an AdWords campaign.

      If I were you, I would choose a client that has a website and is doing well on AdWords Express and take the time to create a full AdWords account. Use the ads you've already written and use some fairly simple broad match keywords to start. After you have some data, you can start to play around with new keywords and new ads.

      The full version of AdWords has a lot of options, so it'll take some time for you to get used to everything you can do to optimize a campaign, but once you learn your way around the system, I think you'll find you can offer a lot more value to your clients with full AdWords.

      Good luck!

  10. Great Post, Kristina! In general, i think that if you can acquire leads or sales via PPC that meet or exceed your target CPA (which i think is generally possible of any business - it's just a matter of finding a targeted keyword list and ads/offers that resonate) then i see no reason why wouldn't you do PPC! I'm confused by the omission of PPC from a lot of inbound marketing rhetoric. I'm glad that you said that PPC takes a bit of tweaking over time to get right, as i have definitely seen the "we tried Google AdWords, but it didn’t work for us" excuse being used prematurely.

    So while I think you don't need a specifically reason to use PPC other than to drive profitable business to your site (because it's my view is that PPC can be made to work for pretty much any business if you execute it right), a couple of other more specific ideas for when to consider PPC would include:

    a) If you do too much SEO: if the business relies disproportionately on organic search for sales/lead flow, do PPC. Why? to diversify marketing channels and reduce dependency/risk of changes such as major algo updates that we've seen in the last 2 years.
    b) When everyone else is doing it:if you're in a niche where ads occupy most or all of the above-the-fold space in the SERP (due to say, product listing ads, etc.)
    c) when SEO is too expensive: If when you add up all the costs associated with organic search (the blogging, content marketing, link building, link clean-up, etc.) and find that the cost per action is too high or not profitable.
    d) when SEO is too hard:if an organization lacks the technical and creative ability to do all of the increasingly difficult tasks required to be successful in organic search.

    -Larry

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    • Kristina Kledzik

      All great points, thanks for adding them, Larry!

    • Hi Larry,
      I think your points are extremely valid - any business that solely relies on one source of traffic in terms of inquiries whether that be online or offline is potentially on very rocky ground. It is all about the marketing mix, seo natural listings can play apart, ppc can play apart, brochures, quality sales people on the phones etc. this way you are not totally reliant on one source. Google changes its algo and it can screw any business up no matter how clean they thougth they were, as often they were playing by the rules at any one particular time, Google changes these at will and no one can really forsee which direction they will opt for. Whatever way you market your business the key is to ensure you monitor and ensure you are getting a good return for your ROI. If I had to walk down the high street with a billboard on my back to promote my business and found this was the best way to garner new opportunities then forget Google or brochures etc that is what I would do.

  11. PPC used can be a fantastic way of increasing leads, however it takes a considerable amount of time and expertise to master and garner the best ROI. It can be very tempting to dive into this perceived 'golden bullet' to your marketing answers but it can also become your worst possible nightmare as you see your cash going down the pan. My personal opinion would be research, dip your toe in gently and see this as just merely part of your marketing mix. Once you find a PPC formula that works for you then you can steadily increase your spend, plus clearly analyise everything, which keywords deliver, what times of day works for best. Don't just setup a campaign without setting goals and funnels otherwise you are merely throwing money into the air and hoping something will land good. Also ensure you check out how to setup exact match, phrase match and broad match phrases. So many people do not realise that when using the google tool to examine how many people search for your dedicated keywords often the results are not exact match - this makes a big difference.

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    • Kristina Kledzik

      All great points, thanks Gareth! I think the key is that if you start an AdWords campaign, do some research so you know what you're doing first. This post originally included some tips, but I realized that would make up an entire other post (or another five)!

  12. Several of my friends are entrepreneurs, and I don't think it's really an option not to use PPC when you are just starting out - at least if you are going to be relying on your website as your only base of business. I noticed that you didn't mention anything about split-testing, but I've always thought that was crucial to getting the results you needed from a PPC campaign. It can surprise you how much more effective some terms are than others.

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    • Kristina Kledzik

      You're right, testing is an absolute must in PPC, and it often brings surprising results. I think that's a big strength of an external PPC consultant: often, when you're in house, you're tied to certain terms that you think describe your business best, or what you've seen working over the past five years. It's always good to find some fresh keywords, and what's awesome about PPC is, within a month, you'll probably know if they're a good match!

  13. Hi there Kristina,

    Nice post, I enjoyed reading this with my Monday morning coffee :)

    As you say it's possible to use PPC to compliment what you'd be doing as an SEO naturally and it's a useful tool for helping to drive some traffic towards your site ffairly quickly.

    Whenever my clients have a big sale on I use PPC to help drive some traffic towards that and it usually pays off!

    Good stuff!

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    • Kristina Kledzik

      Good point - sales are another timely event that PPC can be really helpful for. Thanks for sharing!

  14. I think the key point made here is with PPC you can target keywords you would struggle to rank highly with organically. Like the author I think orgainic SEO and PPC can sit very nicely together to compliment your SEM

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  15. The important factor is a good research before you start an PPC campaign or you'll end up wasting a lot of money and effort.

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  16. Thank you so much for this - I keep telling clients that you can't just build a website any more and expect people to show up! You have to pay to get a slice of that internet-traffic pie, and choosing an experienced Adwords professional is the most important part!

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  17. If we compare the cost of PPC vs SEO i think both shall be at par.However, thinking about the effectiveness then the data shows that SEO is more effective in terms of bringing long term benefits through the website .But, its possible only when the Google is stable and you are among the top of the listing for among the most popular search terms.

    Wonderful insight..incredible write up.

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