Using pay-per-click guinea pigs: How to leverage PPC for more successful SEO campaigns

by Hamlet Batista | May 27, 2008 | 11 Comments

It happens to the best of us. You work on an SEO campaign with a few carefully chosen keywords for months. But when you finally get to the top of the search engine results…nothing. The traffic you expected doesn’t come in or, even worse, neither does the money. You start to wonder, “What went wrong? Is it that people don’t like the search snippet? Are they finding what they want on the website?”
It’s perhaps the most frustrating thing that can happen to an SEO. But it’s also something you can often avoid completely with a little planning. In this post I’m going to talk about a technique I like for using pay-per-click first to test out my SEO game plan. This way the next time you make it to the top of the search rankings, the traffic and money will start pouring in!
Using the PPC guinea pigs
An important point before we start is to disable the Google “content network” and set up conversion tracking—that’s how we’ll ultimately identify the best keywords. Remember, the best keywords aren’t the ones with the highest number of searches or even the most clicks. They are the ones that bring in the most conversions at the lowest possible cost. Our PPC strategy is simple:

  1. Start with a large list of relevant keywords using Google AdWords keyword tool.
  2. Create very specific ad groups and landing pages you want to test.
  3. Split test everything: ad copy, keyword matching options, and landing pages.

Spend money to make money
Start with a large list of as many relevant keywords as possible. Divide your keywords into small groups so that each can be sent to an appropriate landing page. Set a low budget per day in AdWords so that you don’t spend anymore than necessary. Even if it turns out to be an expensive campaign, you can run it for a limited amount of time just for testing purposes. I think in the vast majority of cases, the ultimate payoff is worth the small investment.
There are some other points worth noting as you go about your testing. Keep in mind that you are finding the best candidates in multiple categories: keywords, ad text, and landing pages. Ad variations will eventually help you title your SEO landing pages and offer meta descriptions that appear in the search results and cause searchers to click on your link. You have to think of an ad as an offer. The searcher is always in the “What’s in it for me?” frame of mind. Your ad text must offer a promise of something specific to the searcher. Your landing page will have to deliver on that promise; if it doesn’t, you’re not going to get a conversion. You can also test the efficacy of different landing pages with Google’s Website Optimizer
Another often-overlooked point is to test variations on the same keyword phrase. AdWords offers you flexibility in terms of a broad match, exact match or phrase match. These are explained here in Google’s documentation. AdWords also has an advanced matching option called embedded match that I can use to help make my split testing more effective. It’s just as important to test these keyword matching variations as it is to test different ads.
You’ve seen the future, now go after it
With Google Analytics, you’ll be able to do a detailed assessment of your campaign when it’s over. You’ll see clearly the exact words people typed into the search that led to conversions. This will allow you to hone your keyword list even more. Based on your PPC conversions, you’ll also be able to estimate how much revenue you can potentially earn and whether your SEO efforts are going to be worth it for these keywords.
Before I leave you, I want to mention that this post was inspired by an answer I read in the LinkedIn forums written by Laura Alter from notebookforums.com. I want to thank her for that, and I hope you’ll let me know what you think of this strategy in the comments.

Hamlet Batista

Chief Executive Officer

“We kept putting more energy into getting SEO audits done to understand why we started to lose positions to smaller, newer companies, but we kept losing ground. We kept trying to SEO audit recommendations, but our programmers couldn’t go fast enough.

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