The recent infographic from WordStream depicting the most expensive keywords in Google AdWords  got me thinking about the true ROI of SEM. If Google is making $50 per click, what kind of value is that keyword producing for your company? If your business goes after keywords outside of the top 20 most expensive, how does that impact your ROI? Big brands can afford to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on a PPC campaign, not really worrying about the cost per click  and how that impacts their bottom line, but what about the rest of us?
One of the biggest advantages of running a PPC campaign is that it is relatively quick to launch and easy to test. If the final cost per conversion is too high, than you simply drop that particular keyword and target a variation that is less competitive. PPC campaigns can be turned on a dime to deal with trends, consumer behavior, market changes and so forth. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for your SEO.
Should the Keywords that Fuel Your PPC Campaign Also Form the Core of Your SEO?
Should your SEO keywords mirror your PPC keywords? Well, it depends. The organic listings created by SEO have an element of trust that PPC ads just don’t have. Most people can spot the difference between a paid ad and an organic listing, making it hard for a PPC ad to “blend” with the other results. It’s also undeniable that the vast majority of clicks to a site happen from the organic results.
When I started my SEO company in 2005, PPC was the best way I had of promoting my new business. I had just launched the company blog (on a separate domain), so it had zero trust with the search engines and couldn’t be relied on as a viable traffic source. My email list was nonexistent, so there was little chance of promotion there. But I did have PPC. In the early years, I found that I could get targeted keywords for about $1 per click, and the conversion rate was incredible. They may not have been the best clients I’ve had in my career, but they were clients and that was enough for me. Fast forward to 2011 and I’m now paying $6 or $7 dollars per click for those same keywords! Granted, $6 isn't anything like the $54.91 companies are shelling out for “insurance,” but that is a huge increase in cost for my small business.
It took me years of testing to really figure out what keywords I needed to target in my PPC campaigns to get the best conversion rate, and without careful monitoring I could have wasted a lot of money I didn’t have to spend. Luckily, it was relatively easy to switch gears with my PPC campaigns. Now, for the most part I use PPC as a way to support the organic listings and limit them to brand searches. If someone were to search for my company by name, as opposed to “Boston SEO,” then I can be fairly confident they will convert. “Boston SEO” is a critical keyword in my SEO campaign, but it has pretty much dropped off my PPC radar.
I’ve known companies that would bid on common misspellings of their target keywords to round out their PPC campaigns, but if you follow a strict white hat SEO  approach, then targeting misspellings is a definite no. In that case, using the same keywords for both your PPC and SEO actual devalues your site’s organic listings.
PPC VS. SEO: Which Converts Better?
Is someone who clicks on your PPC ad more likely to become a client than someone who clicks on your organic listing? It depends on what they are looking for. Someone searching for “Boston SEO” could be looking for a number of things – an SEO firm, an SEO consultant, an SEO class or program or something else. Someone who searches for “Brick Marketing” is probably looking for me, making that PPC ad incredibly relevant. PPC is great for branded searches, but I would be hesitant to throw all my online marketing eggs into the PPC basket. $6 or $7 per click may not be much now, but what if it takes 100, 1,000 or 10,000 clicks before I get one client?
On the other hand, you can’t put all your faith and hopes for success in the hands of SEO. It can take months if not years to rank well for targeted keywords. What if a few well-targeted PPC ads could help increase my online visibility now? I might even gain some ground on more competitive keywords.
I would argue that you need a blended approach to SEM (what could be a constantly evolving mixture of SEO and PPC) in order to bet the most value for your brand. You can’t hope to succeed online by targeting just one keyword, and you can’t hope to be found if you rely on one source for your traffic. A great SEM campaign needs to find a balance between SEO and PPC in order to help build your online presence, increase your click-through and conversion rates, grow your business and help keep down the costs of doing so.