Why bother with SEO if your PPC is doing great?

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How SEO can enhance your search marketing ROI, improve your PPC results and capture leads you won’t get with paid advertising.

If your PPC strategy is converting visitors into paying customers and generating quick returns, you may wonder why you need to invest in search engine optimisation. After all, effective PPC campaigns can generate almost-instant results so why dedicate resources to the slow returns of SEO?

That’s a good question but it ignores the fact that SEO and PPC generate different types of leads – and the fact that you need both to maximise business growth. Without an SEO strategy, you’re seriously limiting the size of your target audience and your long-term growth potential.

SEO & PPC generate different leads

While SEO and PPC both generate leads from search engines, they capture prospects at different stages of the customer journey. So, even if your paid advertising strategy is getting great results, you can’t maximise search visibility or lead generation without SEO.

There are several ways the leads you capture from PPC and SEO are different, including:

  • Top vs bottom of the funnel: SEO tends to capture leads at the top of the marketing funnel while PPC is (generally speaking) more suitable for capturing prospects at the bottom.
  • High-intent vs low-intent: As a result, PPC leads typically demonstrate a higher purchase intent than SEO leads.
  • Shorter vs longer time to convert: The gap between PPC CTRs and conversions is generally shorter than SEO CTRs.
  • Transactional vs informational: PPC search queries are often more transactional while SEO queries are more informational.
  • Quick vs long-term results: PPC is capable of getting quick results but SEO should deliver a higher long-term ROI.

NOTE: Keep in mind, the characteristics above are generalisations about the differences between SEO and PPC leads. This doesn’t mean you can’t capture high-intent leads from organic traffic or that paid visitors are never interested in finding out more information.

That being said, the differences above are true more often than not and it’s important to understand these characteristics to see the distinct roles SEO and PPC plan in your search marketing strategy.

Top vs bottom of the funnel leads

In our guide to optimising marketing funnels, we explain the importance of capturing leads at every stage of the funnel and nurturing them towards the next conversion goal. The funnel visualisation below shows the various stages of the consumer journey and how awareness gradually turns into purchase intent and action at the final stages of the funnel.

Sales funnel

Google normally shows ads to users who type in search queries demonstrating some kind of purchase intent. So most of the people who see your ads in Google Search are already in the latter stages of the funnel, even if the awareness and interest is in your products/services more than your specific brand at this point.

Meanwhile, organic content is more prominent for informational searches that cover the earlier stages of the funnel. We’ll discuss what this means in more detail later but, for now, the key difference here is that PPC leads typically demonstrate a higher purchase intent than SEO leads.

High-intent vs low-intent leads

Aside from the fact that users demonstrating purchase intent are more likely to see ads, you can target high-intent keywords specifically in Google Ads to capture prospects ready to make the purchase.

This is the big strength of PPC and you might be wondering why you can’t simply put all of your budget into high-intent traffic to maximise sales.

There are two problems with this: cost and scale. Sooner or later, your advertising budget is going to max out and you’ll hit a point of diminishing returns followed by a decline as keywords become more competitive, CPCs increase and you’re winning fewer customers for your money.

With PPC, you’re constantly paying for each individual lead but a functioning SEO strategy continues to capture leads over time. And, more importantly, if you continue to invest in your SEO strategy, the returns increase over time as your search presence keeps growing.

The other issue with scale is that a very small percentage of your potential future customers are in the latter stages of the funnel at any given time. In fact, most of them aren’t in the funnel at all yet so you’re dramatically limiting your growth prospects by only targeting high-intent PPC leads.

The vast majority of your future growth and revenue is in organic search.

Shorter vs longer time-to-convert

Another characteristic of this purchase intent difference is the time-to-convert of SEO and PPC leads. This describes the time it takes from the first interaction (click) for the same user to complete the first conversion goal (eg: purchase). Generally speaking, the time-to-convert is shorter with PPC leads, especially when you’re targeting high-intent keywords.

Likewise, the time-to-convert tends to be longer for SEO leads, particularly when they are in the early awareness stage of the funnel. Later, in this article, we’ll explain how you can use PPC and SEO together to nurture leads at the top end of the funnel into high-intent, bottom-of-the-funnel prospects.

Transactional vs informational

Even for searches that demonstrate purchase intent, informational queries suggest users are looking for key details to inform a future purchase. For example, someone who types in “best shoes for running on concrete” is less likely to click on a product listing than an organic result addressing their concern.

Google search results for best shoes for running on concrete

Meanwhile, informed buyers are more likely to type in specific product types or features they require.

Google search results for Hoka One Bondi7

In this scenario, the chance of them clicking on product listings and completing the purchase are both higher.

Quick vs long-term results

Irrespective of marketing funnels and purchase intent, SEO and PPC deliver leads on a very different timescale. With Google Ads, you can set up a campaign within a few hours and start paying for high-quality traffic often quite quickly but you’re not going to get fast results from SEO.

It can take months to build up momentum from an SEO campaign but the momentum will continue to build as you optimise your search presence. With PPC, the traffic stops coming in as soon as you stop spending budget but mature SEO campaigns continue to bring in business opportunities for months with little intervention (at some point though, your competitors will start to pull ahead of you without ongoing optimisation).

What does SEO do that PPC can’t?

Given the inherent differences between SEO and PPC, there are certain things you can achieve with organic search that you either can’t or do with paid advertising or can’t do as effectively.

  • Brand awareness: SEO is generally more effective at building brand awareness than PPC alone.
  • Brand authority: With high-ranking organic content, you can build a brand with authority and influence in your industry.
  • Thought leadership: Establish your brand as an innovator in your industry.
  • Differentiation: It’s always difficult to differentiate with PPC but SEO provides more of a voice to stand out.
  • Educate & inform: You can help your target audiences learn valuable lessons from your content.
  • Top of the funnel: SEO is more effective at capturing top-of-the-funnel leads.
  • Influence purchase decisions: Top-of-the-funnel leads have made fewer purchase decisions, making them more open to influence.
  • Address specific needs: SEO allows you to target niche keywords
  • Long-tail keywords: Target lower-volume, higher-relevance (and, possibly, purchase intent) keyword opportunities your rivals may be missing.
  • Maximise search visibility: You can’t maximise search visibility without SEO – no matter how good your PPC strategy is.

The message here is that you can’t rely on PPC to do everything in your search marketing strategy. Paid advertising is great for generating fast, high-intent leads but this isn’t a sustainable or cost-effective model by itself.

Instead, you want to find the right mix of SEO and PPC to maximise your search presence across the entire funnel.

How do SEO & PPC work together?

With an integrated SEO and PPC strategy, the two channels enhance each other’s results, which is why we recommend getting both from the same agency.

Related reading: SEO and PPC: 7 reasons to use the same agency

Here’s a summary of some of the most important ways SEO and PPC achieve bigger things by working together:

  • Maximise search visibility: Get your message seen at every stage of the consumer journey.
  • Cover the whole funnel: Capture leads at every stage of the marketing funnel.
  • Double impressions: Combine organic and paid impressions to dominate the results page.
  • Increase brand recall: Make your brand and messages more memorable with double impressions.
  • Capture with SEO, nurture with PPC: Capture top-of-the-funnel leads with SEO and nurture them along the funnel with PPC.

Now, let’s take a quick look at how you can apply these to your search marketing strategy to get the best from SEO and PPC.

Maximise search visibility with SEO & PPC

Last year, we ran an interview with Vertical Leap’s Managing Director, Chris Pitt, on the topic of search marketing data. One of the key takeaways from the interview was the relationship between share of search and market share.

Here’s a reminder of what Chris had to say at the time:

“One thing people in the industry are talking about a lot at the moment is share of search as an indicator of your overall market share. And this concept is gaining a lot of traction as if it’s a new idea – and I’m not disagreeing with it – but the search industry has been saying this kind of thing for years.” – Chris Pitt, Vertical Leap Managing Director

In fact, Chris goes on to argue that share of search is more than representative of market share.

“It goes back to separating that online and offline activity again where people are saying search volume is representative of the market share when, actually, it is your market share.”

You can’t maximise your share of search without, first, maximising search visibility across all of the platforms that matter to you and your customers – whether this includes Google, Bing, Amazon and more.

Cover the entire marketing funnel

We’ve discussed how SEO and PPC capture different leads across the marketing funnel so the obvious benefit of running these two channels alongside each other is that you can cover the whole funnel with your search marketing strategy.

Sales funnel

As stated earlier in this article, the vast majority of your leads at any one time will come from the top of the funnel – ie: they’re not ready to buy yet. These leads require nurturing through the following stages of the funnel with interactions that keep them engaged with your brand so you’re in pole position when the time comes to make the purchase.

Double impressions by combining organic & paid placements

We discuss this exact point in our article explaining why you need PPC, even if your SEO strategy is doing great. It’s an extension of maximising search visibility but we’re specifically looking at cases where you show PPC and SEO listings on the same results page.

Google search results for Samsung QE75QN900A

In this scenario, we’ve got a query demonstrating high purchase intent by specifying a precise product number, which suggests the user is looking for the best deal available. Here, we can see Samsung doubling up its chances of winning the click with placements in the feed of product listing ads and the second spot in organic results.

Google data shows that ranking in the top organic spots and the top pack of ads on the same results page can significantly increase your share of clicks.

Google data shows that ranking in the top organic spots and the top pack of ads on the same results page can significantly increase your share of clicks.

With double impressions, you’re not only taking up more space on the results page and making yourself more visible, but also reducing the space available for competitors to capture leads from your most important queries.

Increase brand recall with double impressions

Another benefit of double impressions is they increase brand recall – the strength of memory users retain about your brand and/or message. Google calls this “double brand exposure” and the search giant finds users retain more information about brands and their messages when they rank in both paid and organic top positions for the same query.

Google finds users retain more information about brands and their messages when they rank in both paid and organic top positions for the same query. This is called double brand exposure

Add this to the benefits of double impressions discussed in the previous section and the gains are compelling:

  • Dominate the first view of results pages
  • Reduce space for competitors
  • Increase your share of clicks
  • Improve brand recall
  • Reduce the memorability of your rivals

By taking up more space on the results page and capturing more user attention, you can systematically increase brand recall and reduce the comparative memorability of your competitors.

Capture leads with SEO, nurture with PPC

With remarketing in Google Ads, you can target organic visitors to deliver messages after they leave your website. You can show them display ads on third-party websites or use remarketing lists for search ads (RSLAs) to adapt your search campaigns for previous visitors – eg: increase bids for people who visited your site in the past 30 days or show a different ad with a tailored message.

Remarketing campaigns close the gap between SEO leads at the top of the funnel and higher-intent PPC leads at the latter stages of the customer journey. You can keep your SEO leads engaged, maintain their interest and target them with messages to incentivise action.

By integrating this with your content marketing, social media and email marketing strategies, you can create a cross-channel system for keeping audiences engaged with your brand and nurture them along each stage of the funnel.

For example, you can target website visitors with remarketing ads for downloadable content, capture their email addresses and use this contact information to add them to targeting lists on social media campaigns – just make sure you follow GDPR guidelines.

Also, keep in mind that remarketing currently relies on cookies, which Google is phasing out over the coming years. It’s not yet 100% clear what system will replace the current technology but advertisers will have to adapt their targeting methods in the near future.

More on SEO & PPC

Is it time to invest more in your SEO strategy?

With an integrated SEO and PPC strategy, you can capture leads at every stage of the consumer journey and nurture prospects towards the purchase. If you need help implementing SEO into your search marketing strategy, contact our specialists on 023 9283 0281 or fill out the contact form below.

Ben Jayston profile picture
Ben Jayston

While working as a consultant for the 85 Broads Network in New York City in 2004 (now Ellevate), Ben was asked to ‘look into’ SEO for the company website. Ben then formed his own company, Pebble SEO, to offer SEO and adjunct digital services to the US market, expanding into PPC, design and content writing services. Arriving back in the UK in 2010, Ben joined a small company on the Isle of Wight as a business development manager, getting closer to the web development and design side of things, before partnering with Vectis Holdings as the MD of we3create, a full-service digital agency, serving the Isle of Wight. Later, as the owner of Digital IOW and partner in Isle of Wight SEO, he used a broad range of skills, from web and graphic design to video production, and, of course, SEO. Ben is now Head of SEO for small and medium businesses at Vertical Leap. He enjoys cycling, photography, making sourdough and short films.

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