How to handle PPC landing pages for SEO
Unoptimized webpages can hurt SEO. Here's how to ensure PPC landing pages don't impact your organic search performance.
Every competent SEO knows that “SEO is not an island.” We need to work with different stakeholders to align our marketing efforts.
But one of the most underutilized relationships in marketing teams is between SEO and PPC specialists.
From my experience working with agencies and in-house, collaborating with PPC specialists can bring tremendous value to an SEO strategy and vice versa.
After all, it is not uncommon for an online business to leverage PPC and SEO strategies to grow. Both channels are essential for any online marketing strategy.
While the tactics for PPC are different than SEO techniques, there are a few cases where both channels should collaborate to improve overall business performance.
A look at PPC landing pages
One of the touchpoints between PPC and SEO is landing pages created specifically for PPC campaigns. Creating alternative PPC landing pages is a great way to optimize pages for conversions – and not necessarily for search.
Take a look at this sample landing page used for PPC ads.
The page has very little text and no schema (which isn’t surprising since it’s not an SEO page).
And if you look at the organic keywords this page is attracting in Semrush, it’s only ranking for two keywords, and one of them is branded.
(The actual number of organic keywords may be higher, but it’s expected to be branded, and low rankings on non-branded keywords, if there are more.)
This is an example of a landing page not optimized for search but utilized for PPC purposes. PPC campaigns may require pages with more focus on branding or creative titles, less text, more graphics and clear calls to action.
And because SEOs can get really touchy about their titles, keywords, length of content, and more, PPC pages offer a PPC manager a way out.
Can PPC pages interfere with SEO efforts?
The short answer is yes. Any page that is indexed in search needs to be optimized for search.
Creating PPC pages without taking into consideration the impact they can have on SEO can interfere with organic performance in two ways:
- Cannibalization. When there’s a PPC page version of an existing SEO page, the PPC landing page can potentially jeopardize the performance of its counterpart SEO page.
- Creating PPC landing pages means having pages on your website with low word count and minimal content, which in the time of Google’s helpful content update, can actually impact the overall performance of the website, including pages that are well optimized and provide value to the users.
Why have PPC landing pages?
A landing page can be used for both SEO and PPC purposes, so why would we need to create a PPC landing page?
From a marketing standpoint, PPC pages attract customers from ads. Thus, the content on the page should align with the ads’ messaging. This means that the most prominent text on the page can be the same as the messaging used in the PPC ad.
So, for example, if your PPC ad says something like, “We’re the best in the Canadian market,” your H1 can be the exact same text. Some PPC managers even use the ad title as the H1 and the ad description as the H2 to improve the CRO of their ads.
Another issue with PPC landing pages is that they are built to eliminate distractions. They are focused on getting the user that clicked on the ad to convert. In SEO, the content serves both the users and a search algorithm that decides whether this page brings the best value to the user.
How to handle PPC pages from an SEO standpoint
You can do any of the following tactics to deal with PPC landing pages on your website before they are created.
1. Mark your PPC landing pages as noindex
This is the simplest solution and the noindex tag will not impact the PPC campaign performance.
2. Create your PPC landing pages on a subdomain
Creating PPC landing pages on a subdomain:
- Does not require cross-domain tracking.
- Keeps your website organized.
- Will not impact the organic performance of your main domain as Google treats subdomains as a separate domain.
This solution may not be 100% reliable. Google’s Danny Sullivan answered a question on whether the helpful content update considers subdomains as part of the main domains saying, “We tend to see subdomains apart from root domains but it can also depend on many factors.”
3. Do both
Given all of this information, you may want to do both if you are handling PPC pages before they are created. In short, create the PPC pages on a subdomain and mark them as noindex.
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What if PPC landing pages already exist?
The solution can be a bit more complicated if you just started working on a website and found that PPC landing pages already exist.
First, you'll need to look into the performance data of those pages in Google Search Console and evaluate the impressions and clicks those pages are getting from search.
If the PPC landing page is not performing well
If the page is not performing well in search and there's an alternative SEO page alternative for it, then you can just mark it as noindex and move it to a subdomain.
You can try canonicalizing the PPC page instead of using the noindex tag on its alternative SEO page. However, this may not help resolve duplication or cannibalization issues, as Google can ignore the canonical tag and choose to index both pages.
That said, because this solution requires the least effort, you may want to test it first and try implementing proper canonicals on a few PPC landing pages and see whether Google executes your canonicals.
If the PPC landing page is performing well and there's no alternative SEO page
If the PPC page is performing well in search or has the potential of performing well in search if optimized (something that can be indicated by seeing that the page is getting plenty of impressions in GSC) and there's no corresponding SEO page, you can copy the content of the PPC page to a new SEO page with an optimized URL path.
Then you can redirect the existing PPC page to that newly created SEO page. Finally, you can re-create the PPC page on another URL and mark it as noindex, so the PPC campaign doesn't get interrupted.
Use this approach if you want to have two separate pages for PPC and SEO and want the URL to be optimized, and the PPC page will have fewer content optimizations.
Note: If the PPC page URL is good, and you are allowed to optimize the PPC page for SEO, then definitely go with this much simpler approach.
If the PPC landing page is performing well and there is an alternative SEO page
If the PPC page is performing well and attracting some clicks from search and there's an SEO alternative for it, you can simply redirect the PPC page to the SEO page, create a new PPC page on a different URL and mark it as noindex.
Here's an infographic summarizing the SEO process for handling PPC landing pages.
What to consider before making changes
There's a line between ideal SEO recommendations and what you can actually execute in real life.
It won't always be feasible to noindex every PPC page and move it to a subdomain. We need to consider the following:
- The number of pages: Does the issue occur on 2-3 pages or hundreds of pages? If you're only dealing with a few pages, you should be easily able to implement “noindex then move to subdomain” approach.
- The backend: Does the client have the resources to create and move pages to a subdomain? If that's not the case, you can skip this part and stick to the noindex.
- Impact/effort: It takes resources to create new pages and redirect existing PPC pages. Is it worth the effort? Does the impact of handling the existence of PPC pages vs. just doing minimal SEO tweaks for the PPC page justify the expected outcome?
The approach in practice
For one client, a small ecommerce business, I decided to do minimal SEO tweaks to their existing PPC pages and let them be. I optimized the title tag, didn't change the H1, changed H2s where applicable, and added keywords when needed.
I decided to use this approach because:
- The client's website was small. The effort will not justify the impact with only a few PPC pages.
- The existing PPC pages were not jeopardizing or cannibalizing any important pages on the website.
Before rushing to execute SEO recommendations for handling PPC pages, evaluate the situation first. Look at the data and the expected outcome/impact before deciding.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.