How PPC Can Improve Organic Search Conversions

When formulating strategies and tactics for organic search, some of the most difficult questions that arise are related to conversion of organic search traffic.

Are you targeting keywords that will bring not only traffic, but converting traffic, to your site? Is your page meta data optimized not only for high rankings, but for high clickthrough rates when your site’s snippets do appear highly in organic search results? How can the target page for any given keyword be manipulated to improve conversions from organic search?

Data from paid search campaigns can help answer all these questions.  PPC data can be invaluable both in initial SEO planning and for optimizing existing pages for improved conversion, largely because paid search can provide information on keywords for which a site does not currently rank.

Keyword Targeting

One of the most difficult things to assess in organic search is which keywords to target for optimal conversion. Or, more precisely, trying to determine which keywords will deliver a reasonable amount of traffic at a reasonably high conversion rate.

All keyword tools provide an estimate of the number of searches a keyword is likely to receive in a given period, but this says nothing about the conversion potential of those queries.

On one hand, a presumably high-traffic keyword may not actually deliver large numbers of visitors, because your site is a poor match for the intent behind the query. If you were to successfully optimize for that keyword, your site would appear in many search results, but few users would click through to your site from them.

On the other hand, a high-traffic keyword may actually drive large numbers of visitors to your site, but upon arrival those visitors fail to purchase an item, fill out a form, signup or otherwise complete a website goal. If you were successful in your optimization efforts for that keyword, you would drive large numbers of visitors to your site, but few users would end up converting (and as a result would be less likely to return).

Paid search can help define or refine your organic keyword targeting by providing data on both issues. The clickthrough rate on paid ad impressions can help you determine which keywords have a good organic traffic potential. This in itself can be extremely helpful for informational sites where ingestion of a single page is a valid conversion goal, and where other engagement metrics like time on site or pages per visit may not come into play.

Keyword Targeting - Traffic and Conversion Rates
Effective keyword targeting for SEO entails finding the sweet spot of relatively high traffic & a relatively high conversion rate – here, Keyword B


More obviously, the actual conversion rate of paid search keywords can provide an important data-based clue for organic keyword targeting. At a page level, trying to decide which of a number of topically similar, but semantically different keywords to target is made immeasurably easier when PPC data is available: focus on what paid search has revealed as the highest-converting keywords.

While this sounds simple in theory, it may be more difficult to accomplish in practice, particularly in the not uncommon situation where SEO is managed in-house, but PPC by an agency. And a certain amount of guess work and extrapolation is going to be involved in prying search terms from broad and phrase matched keywords in different ad groups. But this is effort well taken. Otherwise, you may only discover after months of effort that your ranking success for “blue widgets” hasn’t resulted in the sale of many blue widgets.

Even in the absence of a paid search program, paid search in the form of estimated cost-per-click (as reported by the Google AdWords Keyword Tool) may help inform your organic keyword targeting. It stands to reason that if an advertiser is willing to pay $2.00 for “widget killer” but only $1.00 for “widget zapper” then it is likely that the former has been demonstrated to convert better.

Estimated CPC is an extremely blunt instrument and should be used with caution for SEO, but it can be helpful when trying to set optimization priorities among a number of similar, high-traffic keywords.

The Perfect Snippet

The snippet for a page in your site in the search engine results pages is comprised of the linked page <title>, its URL and, in most cases, the <meta> description for that page. This is roughly analogous to the elements of a PPC ad:  the linked ad headline, the display URL, and the ad text.

A knowledge of which ads have resulted in the highest conversion rate for a keyword or ad group can help you craft meta data that will be more successful in driving clickthroughs from search engine results pages to your site.

While the longest allowable Google AdWords ad headline is shorter than the maximum title tag that will appear in Google without an ellipses (25 characters versus 70), and the ad text shorter than a fully-displayed meta description (70 characters versus 156), successful ads can give you an excellent idea of what sort of copy resonates with searchers. Using ad copy to help fine-tune page titles and descriptions is especially helpful because there’s no straightforward way of testing the effectiveness of different snippets in organic search.

In some situations, successful ad copy can also be leveraged to craft messages on the page that will result in higher conversions from organic search. While a successful ad headline might not be exactly appropriate for a page title tag, it might be an excellent candidate for the on-page title or subtitle. Similarly, the messaging in the PPC ad might be used to improve the wording of a call-to-action on a page.

Leveraging PPC Landing Pages For SEO

In the happy event that your company uses landing pages as paid search targets, you can use these landing pages to help build permanent pages that will do a better job of converting organic search traffic, and may even improve the ability of those pages to rank for their target keywords.

This is really an extension carrying over snippet messaging to your organic target page to improve conversions, but on a bigger scale. Aside from using ad messaging that’s proven successful in paid search, you can also carry over other aspects of a PPC landing page that have proven successful through testing, such as the content of text blocks and visual page design.

The beauty of using PPC landing pages to improve your organic search performance – rather than landing pages in general – is that there is a relationship between query keywords and the effectiveness of the landing page in paid search that can be carried over in the organic realm. Where the traffic source for a landing page is not search, such as display advertising or a television commercial, then the same parallels may not exist.

Manipulating your site pages in this manner may not, of course, be possible. A PPC landing page for an ad with the headline “Buy 2 Leather Chairs, Get 1 Free” may not be altogether helpful in manipulating your standing ecommerce category page for leather chairs, even though both target the keyword “leather chairs.” Even in this situation, however, lessons derived from testing elements of PPC landing pages aside from messaging can help improve the organic search performance of indexed site pages.

Google AdWords Quality Score data from PPC landing pages can also be brought into play when trying to improve the performance of a page optimized for similar keywords. Landing pages with a high Quality Score are likely to better models for an organic search target page than those with a lower score, as Quality Score takes into landing page quality into consideration. Information from the AdWords keyword diagnosis report can also be helpful in building better organic search target pages.

Whether you are using data from PPC landing pages and paid search ads to improve on-page SEO or better define organic search keyword targets, paid search can be a great help in your SEO efforts. The biggest challenge to using paid search data effectively for SEO may be uncovering that data in the first place, so don’t be shy in approaching your in-house or external provider of PPC services for the information that can be used to improve the performance of your optimization efforts.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Search & Conversion


About The Author: is an SEO consultant specializing in organic search, and writes on search issues at his blog SEO Skeptic. He has worked in SEO since 2005, following ten years as a website designer.

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  • Valerie DiCarlo

    GREAT article Aaron, thank you for your insights! I have also experimented / tested and had success with the placement and postioning of paid ads on the SERPs page – to achieve a higher ORGANIC listing click thru…

    For example, with keyword phrases that have an organic ranking on, let’s say, 5-10, I strategically list the paid ad close to the organic listing and have noticed that the organic listing inevitably gets a higher click thru rate.

    Users see the two listings (organic and paid), perhaps maybe assess brand authority / trust / reputation because of the two listings and then seem to click on the organic listing.

    I have noticed that the numbers are higher when the organic listings and ads are positioned further down the SERPs (i.e. 5-10)… but have seen decent results on 11-13 as well.

    At some point, I plan to put all my findings together in a report – but who has the time?!? :) If this is something you have tested as well, I’d love to hear about your results!

    Thanks again for your article,

    Valerie DiCarlo

  • Shannon Smith

    Excellent article. We manage both TV and Online media for our DR clients. As consumer response to commercials increasingly moves online (vs. a call center) we have started to really look at this as one media campaign rather than TV vs. Online. We have been experimenting with attribution modeling by testing PPC keywords from the features and benefits mentioned in the commercial that will drive response. Rather than just focusing on the product or brand name that may have limited search volume. Generic category keywords that have high volume but are very competitive with high CPCs (Education, Insurance, etc) don’t provide the ROI we need. By focusing on the benefits and features that the product delivers to the consumer we are effectively finding our SEO keywords. Your article is a great roadmap for how we can link the TV commercial to SEM to SEO.

    Thank you,
    Shannon Smith

  • Aaron Bradley

    Valerie – I’ve heard about this paid search carry-over conversion effect before, but I don’t think I’ve seen supporting data until now – thanks! I think you’re right about the dual listings probably positively impacting how the user views the organic listing. Have you observed a decline in PPC CTRs when those ads were adjacent to organic listings, especially compared to SERPs where an organic listing was altogether absent (c’mon, do your report – it’s just a little more work than answering the question:)?

    Shannon – Fascinating stuff, thanks for your comment. I love the PPC experiment you’re undertaking with the benefits/features keywords: have you also noticed any relationship between on-air benefits/features keywords and their occurrence in referred search traffic (even in compound query terms, like “acme light bulb lasts longer”)? A campaign that could successfully coordinate TV, online advertising, SEO and the advertiser’s web presence to work together would be killer: good luck with your efforts.

  • http://webliquidgroup Paul Burani

    Amen Aaron! It’s amazing how frequently these channels are still being siloed. In 2009, we wrote on this topic as well, taking an ROI-centric position like Shannon alluded to in the comment above. This strategic application of data will blaze a quicker path to ROI; we even put out an instructional video on this:

  • Valerie DiCarlo

    Hey Aaron,

    >>Have you observed a decline in PPC CTRs when those ads were adjacent to organic listings, especially compared to SERPs where an organic listing was altogether absent?

    Actually, yes, the PPC CTRs were lower when ads was positioned adjacent to organic listings – compared to SERPs where there were no organic listings… Ironically, however, the test campaign was originally set up to see if we could lower the overall PPC spend and we succeeded. :)

    Love this conversation! Wish more folks had added their comments!! :)
    Valerie DiCarlo


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