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.
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.
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.