SEO and PPC: A Love-Hate Relationship

Alex Cohen yesterday wrote about how paid results are increasingly getting clicks at the expense of organic results in “PPC vs. SEO: Paid Search as Your Organic Competitor.”

Today, we’ll look at some of the changes in how we attribute value in SEO, and how we’re increasingly turning to tactics that were previously considered to be the realm of paid search professionals in order to meet client expectations.

Three trends have led this charge:

  1. A clear and continuing drop in the value of major generic keywords in natural search (historic data, Google products, use of search).
  2. Renewed interest in exactly how the “halo” effect of optimization works and how ROI can be attributed.
  3. Speed of results from good optimization.

Drop in Generic Keywords in Natural Search

This has been driven partly by people and partly by the search engines. Check Google Trends for any number of “high volume” generic keywords (car insurance, televisions, loans, dishwashers, handbags, etc.) and you’ll see a consistent trend over the last five years.

While I wouldn’t necessarily put 100 percent faith in the figures, they would reflect a degree of reality from what I see in client campaigns.

Look at searches for [televisions”:


Aside from drop in volumes, the space attributed to natural search results has been quite drastically cut in a number of areas.

Paid search results consistently give three listings at the top of the page now, with sitelinks and product feed results too. They can even push natural search listings below the fold on some screens.

To further complicate matters, there are now many more “products” (e.g., local business results, shopping feed listings) to compete against. In a world where rankings used to really matter, position three is no longer position three.

Renewed Focus on ‘Halo’ Search Traffic

Anyone who has ever optimized their own website will tell you that building links for a certain keyword (e.g., “hamster cage”) will improve your ranking. But these links, as well as URL and branded links, will also improve the overall authority of your site after you get your first number one ranking, making it easier for your site to rank more easily for other keywords.

Attributing this value, however, is actually quite hard unless you’re starting from scratch.

The upshot has been that keyword ranking reports are getting bigger and bigger in order to more clearly show traffic increases as direct results of specific keyword ranking improvements. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as other metrics like the total number of keywords driving traffic are also considered.

This is in turn moving us toward reports that include so much keyword data that merging PPC and SEO reports at keyword level could become much easier.

It has also meant that the keywords being targeted for SEO are bigger in number. Consider making bigger lists of categorized keywords for SEO a part of your strategy.

SEO Techniques Work Much Quicker Than Ever Before

This can be attributed to a number of factors and developments. But the sheer speed of indexing from Google in particular has undoubtedly been a factor.

On the plus side: small keywords can be targeted more easily, as the results of your activities are that much quicker and more transparent than ever before.

All in all, the keyword research and granular focus of PPC is becoming ever more a part of SEO — and this is no bad thing!

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