One often-mentioned best practice for SEO is to use a test PPC campaign to “get some initial data” about a query space, and people frequently make reference to the fact that you can get valuable insights for your organic optimization efforts by looking at pay-per-click data.
But Google AdWords offers users a ton of data (some would say that for small businesses there are actually too many options and data points), and many people who aren’t PPC practitioners don’t know where some of the most useful gems are hidden. Beyond that: while there’s frequently a lot of overlap between PPC and SEO data, not all of the information in an AdWords account is actually useful for someone looking to improve SEO results (and some of it can be downright misleading when applied to SEO efforts!).
In this post, I’ll walk through 25 specific things within an AdWords account that SEOs and inbound marketers can leverage in optimizing for organic search marketing.
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Segments are a way to add a couple of additional rows of data to a view within AdWords. A couple of interesting segments for SEO are:
- Search Terms Match Type – Find out how different match types for different keywords perform. Depending on how a campaign is structured, this might tell you a lot about head terms vs. the tail for a specific term. For example if a high-traffic keyword converts and drives traffic for the exact match but not the broad and phrase matched versions, it might not have much of a “tail,” which could have a big impact on your overall strategy.
- Devices – You might have some overall idea of how much traffic comes from mobile devices by looking at analytics, but by applying a device segment you can quickly see how many of your PPC conversions come from mobile and whether that segment converts cost-efficiently. Maybe you see that mobile converts really well on PPC because the pay-per-click folks have created a unique mobile landing page experience that you aren’t (but could be) using for SEO.
Similar to the way you can in Excel, AdWords allows you to create a quick filter to bubble up interesting pieces of information. For instance you might create a filter for high-traffic, high-cost keywords that don’t convert. Some of those keywords that came back as winners in your SEO research might be popular terms that don’t actually convert for your/your client’s site. By creating a filter for keywords with no conversions and sorting by cost you can see the duds quickly and leave them out of your SEO strategy.
3. Click-Through Rate (CTR) on Ads
You can look at your click-through rates on specific ads to get a sense of which headlines and descriptions work the best in getting searchers to click, then you can apply that messaging to your title tags , on-page headlines, and meta descriptions.
4. Click-Through Rate (CTR) on Keywords
Similarly, looking at the click-through rates of certain keywords within your accounts will tell you which terms have the best relationship between the search term and the ad text. You can use this to help better map the messaging of title tags and meta descriptions to specific keywords you’re targeting on specific pages.
5. Keywords with High Average Cost Per Click (CPC)
By looking at the average cost per click  (note: this is different from the Max CPC) for keywords, and specifically by identifying the keywords that have the highest average CPC, you’re seeing terms that are expensive (and likely competitive) and that whomever is managing your AdWords account is willing to pay top dollar for. This probably means they’re valuable! Try to find out why the PPC folks are paying so much for those terms. You might see right in the cost/conversion column that they’re driving lots of cost-efficient conversions, or you might learn from talking to the account manager that while the conversions cost a little more, those tend to be the highest quality leads.
6. Keywords with a Large Number of Impressions
If you’re seeing that a specific term has a ton of impressions, it might be worth digging into a bit deeper. Obviously if the impressions are high, the clicks are high, and there are lots of conversions too, that’s probably a good term to try to rank for. But what if the impression total is high but clicks are low? Take a look at the SERP and see why that is. Maybe it’s something that doesn’t work well for PPC but that you could target with an informational piece of content for SEO. Or maybe it’s just a good idea for a link bait (lots of people are searching for the term, so maybe there’s a problem your content can solve).
7. High Quality Score, High Volume Keywords
In AdWords, Quality Scores  are primarily a function of click-through rate, but the relevance of a keyword to the ad copy and landing page it’s associated with are also factors. This means that keywords with high Quality Scores that drive large numbers of visitors and conversions are worth examining more closely. You can see the ad text > keyword > landing page relationships that produce the highest Quality Scores and get a sense for what they’re doing right.
8. Text Ad Copy
Once you look at click-through rates and Quality Scores, you can start to get insights into the specific ad headlines that have and haven’t worked well. This can obviously inform your title tags, but it also gives you insight into the things that resonate with your searchers (and the things that don’t) which can help inform messaging within your pages’ headlines, copy, and even offers and calls to action  (CTAs). Are the “Try it Free Today” CTAs working a lot better than the “Learn More” CTAs? Use that language for the offers on your pages!
9. Banner Ad Performance
Similarly, looking at the ad creative that has and hasn’t worked within your display network  campaigns can give you some insight into the type of messaging your prospects respond to (or don’t).
10. Destination URLs
The Google AdWords destination URL report  can show you which specific URLs (and subsequently landing pages) are converting the best. This can be extremely valuable information – you can look at the things these better converting pages are doing well and use some of the same elements in your SEO pages (tweaking the templates of those pages to match the high-converting PPC pages).
11. Conversion Value
As you look at AdWords account data it’s important to understand what the different conversion metrics mean so that you can quickly see which keywords, ads, and landing pages are generating the most leads and sales. Conversion value is exactly what it sounds like: it’s the result of a specific value that the PPC manager has placed on each of conversions within the account (this might be sales for an e-commerce site, or it might be a dollar value placed on different types of leads for a B2B company). This is an important metric because often the value derived from conversions is different than the raw conversion totals (if you have sales and newsletter sign-ups listed as conversions, those two conversions have very different revenue and business values to you).
12. Conversion (1-Per-Click)
Again understanding the different conversion metrics and terminology within the AdWords account is very helpful in gaining insights into what is and isn’t working: Conversion 1-per-click basically refers to unique conversions from a given campaign, ad group, keyword, etc. So for instance if someone clicks on your ad in response to a search for “cat food” and then signs up for your pet store’s newsletter, then eventually buys some cat food from you, that counts as one conversion in the “1-per-click” column even though they took two actions.
13. Conversion (Many-Per-Click)
Conversely the Conversion Many-Per-Click data point refers to the total number of conversions from a campaign, ad group, keyword, etc. So in the example above, you’d see 2 many-per-click conversions because the searcher signed up for a newsletter and then bought cat food, effectively converting twice.
14. Conversion Value / Click
Looking at the conversion value / click can help you get a sense of what the most valuable traffic is. The keywords sending the highest value per click may be worth exploring even if they send relatively little overall traffic (or clicks).
15. Conversion Value / Cost
Seeing conversion value / cost can help you identify opportunities for high-value conversions that are expensive with PPC. A high value/cost ratio may mean that you have some high-quality traffic in a keyword vertical that isn’t that competitive (frequently, but certainly not always, relative competition for commercial terms is similar in PPC and SEO).
Looking at an AdWords account’s placement data can be extremely valuable for SEOs – you can find outreach/link building  targets, and by looking at the “managed placements” (placements that are being managed and bid individually), the performance of the automatic placements, and even the exclusions and seeing how they perform you can get a good idea of what types of sites are actually converting and sending quality traffic, which you can factor into your content marketing strategies. Here again talking to the PPC manager to get a sense of what types of sites have and haven’t worked can be extremely valuable as well.
Search retargeting  can help you make your SEO efforts work harder for you, and sharing data here can be invaluable.
18. Interest / Demographic Data
Within the display tab is a sub-section called “Interests & Remarketing” and a subsection for “Topics”:
In these areas you can learn about the performance of certain content categories, remarketing segments (which might be things like people who made a purchase 7 days ago, shopping cart abandoners, trialers who didn’t buy, etc.), and interest categories (which are based on the types of content a specific visitor typically visits). The performance of different interest categories, content categories, and even remarketing segments can really help you to better understand the types of prospects who will be the most likely to convert (so that you can create content for and target keywords those visitors are likely to search on).
19. Keyword Tool
As an SEO you’re probably already familiar with the AdWords keyword tool, but by being logged into your AdWords account you can get customized results related to your site and your AdWords account, which might unearth slightly different and better ideas.
20. Traffic Estimator
This lets you see estimated click, impression, and cost metrics for a given keyword. Your own AdWords data is more accurate than any of Google’s tools, and in many ways this is similar to looking at volume and competition in the keyword tool, but these estimates can give you an idea of competition (higher costs are partly driven by advertisers competition) and relative volume.
21. Placement Tool
Even if you’re not running an extensive display campaign (or any display campaign at all) the AdWords placement tool  can be a really interesting link prospecting option. It works very similarly to the Google keyword tool, and allows you to put in a term, URL, or category and get back relevant sites. Sites that are closely related and are running ads through AdSense might be great link partners.
22. Contextual Targeting Tool
The contextual targeting tool  is also designed for the display network, but gives you ideas for groups of keywords to create for display campaigns. Since the tool is designed for the display network you want to proceed cautiously in analyzing the suggestions, but you can often come up with some good ideas for themes – either buckets of keywords to target on a single page or a collection of content to create.
23. Opportunities Tab
The opportunities tab  isn’t always full of great opportunities for your AdWords campaign, but it can show you some interesting keyword ideas that aren’t currently being targeted by your AdWords campaign. This might be because they’re expensive, not overly relevant, etc. – but they might be good content ideas, or they might be less expensive to rank for organically than they are to buy traffic for via PPC, so it’s worth taking a look.
24. Time & Geographic Performance Data
Within the AdWords dimensions tab, you can quickly get performance data on time metrics (day of the week, hour of the day, etc.) as well as data about how different geographies perform. This might inform your content strategy by giving you some information on the best time to launch a content campaign that’s designed to drive leads (you can see the days/times of day your prospects are most likely to convert) and it can also give you ideas for local search terms or content campaigns you might want to create. If your SEO software is generating tons of sales from Dallas, you might want to incorporate Dallas SEO and some variations as something to target as a term worth ranking for, and/or if your ice cream is selling like hot cakes (or like really good ice cream, I guess) in Topeka maybe you come up with a custom link bait aimed at getting some links and attention from local pubs in Topeka.
25. Keyword Detail / Search Query Data
Obviously with Google obfuscating search query data from SEO , understanding how to drill down and get search query data (different than AdWords keywords!) can provide some very valuable (and now harder to come by) insights.
Ultimately, you’ll have to apply some logic and creative thinking to any of the insights you gain from AdWords data to have it work for you in your SEO and content marketing  efforts, but knowing your way around an AdWords account and connecting with whomever is running things on the PPC side of the house can elicit some great insights and can definitely enhance your SEO efforts.