Mike Volpe, VP of marketing at Hubspot recently wrote a blog post in which he describes PPC as a “marketing addiction”. Incidentally if you haven't read the Hubspot blog you should check it out; they post a lot of interesting and informative stuff, and even craft some pretty good link-baits (as evidenced by the first sentence of this post).
In the post Mike makes the argument that SEO and social media are asset-based marketing channels that offer greater leverage than perpetually paying for clicks. I don't think this is a ridiculous point to make. SEO efforts often offer streams of “passive traffic income” and when done right SEO and social media activities provide compounding benefits.
SEO and social media are excellent marketing mediums. We love them. We use them. We sell software that helps optimize for organic search. They are certainly critical pieces of any comprehensive online marketing effort. The portion of the post I take issue with is that it presumes that PPC is not asset-driven marketing.
A well-optimized PPC account is an enormously valuable, sustainable, and leveraged marketing asset.
The problem with the post is that Mike talks about paid search as though there is no operator input in creating and managing an AdWords account:
To double in size, you need to double your marketing spend (if not even more). Nothing you are doing helps you generate more leads next month, or the month after, with less effort. You will always be working just as hard and spending just as much money, just to stay afloat.
While that may be the experience for some, it doesn’t have to be.
How to Make Your PPC Campaign an Asset
There are three central ways to make your PPC campaign an asset:
- Develop Good Click-Through Rates & High Quality Scores – AdWords has built self-reinforcing rewards (or penalties) for creating well-structured campaigns and for achieving high click-through rates. They’ve also baked an ignorance tax into the system. This means that accounts with strong historical click-through rates and intelligent structure and content are often hard-won, but more importantly it means that a well-optimized AdWords account has a tangible value and offers hard-cost pricing advantages.
- Leverage Your Historical Data – Paid search is a very data-driven channel. By looking at ad text performance, keyword performance, and landing page performance, you can make tremendous gains. Each of these enhancements represents a piece of proprietary data about your account. Every time you learn something about the way ad text performs or about which keywords convert or about the types of landing pages your prospects respond to, you have acquired a piece of information that can be applied to various mediums within your business. Using PPC to inform SEO  is a great strategy, and learning about the messaging that does and doesn’t work can bleed into every single marketing message you craft. Best of all: PPC feedback is immediate and measurable.
- Don’t Give Away Your Account Structure – Sort of an easy one, as far as action points go. The point is: you own your AdWords account. You own not only the account history, but the campaign structure. You know how your account performs at various times of day, how certain keywords perform with certain ad text, and you know which landing pages are most likely to bring you leads and sales. An account that is properly structured, contains thousands of time-tested and high-performance keywords, and all of the data points associated with it are exceptionally valuable marketing assets.
So clearly a successful paid search campaign is an asset. That brings us to leverage…
Defining “Leverage” in a Search or Social Campaign
One of the most important misconceptions about SEO is that it is “free” or that the gains from it are entirely “passive” (Mike doesn’t make either of these points in the post, but I hear this often). While you’re not paying for every click, SEO requires continual maintenance and attention. Even after you publish a piece of content, you may have to build links to it, interlink it from other pages, monitor its performance, etc. Additionally, in social media, you don’t just build a relationship with someone and move on to the next person; you have to continuously dedicate time and attention to your accounts and constantly offer value in the relationships you’ve built.
And pay-per click is no different; it requires maintenance and a continued investment in both management and in the price you pay for clicks. The exciting thing is that all three mediums offer points of leverage and some passive residual benefits for initial work done.
Mike talks a bit about this as it regards SEO and social media in the post, but how can PPC offer what I call “passive residual benefits”?
- Quality Score – As noted above, good Quality Scores and strong keyword histories offer ongoing pricing benefits.
- Knowledge Assets – Having more information leads to improved account performance and, over time, less expensive leads and sales. You can use PPC for keyword discovery  and every time a searcher clicks on an ad (or doesn't), interacts with a landing page (or bounces), or offers you any piece of information whatsoever, another data point is revealed and you're offered an opportunity to improve your paid search performance.
Does pay-per click offer as much leverage as SEO? I don’t think so, but both offer a degree of leverage, and both require continual maintenance and investments.
So What am I Saying, Here?
Ultimately I think that Mike and I would agree on the larger point that PPC, SEO, and social media are all viable and valuable marketing tactics. I think we’d also agree that by and large the “passive residual benefits” for SEO will be greater than those for PPC, and I think he'd be hard-pressed to argue that PPC isn't a much more immediate and measurable marketing vehicle. So all three are valuable, and all three have important strengths, weaknesses, and defining characteristics.
One of the things we believe  and try to stress at WordStream is that your Web history; your data and the way that you structure your keywords, campaigns, and site architecture are, in fact, valuable and proprietary assets. Additionally, a properly managed PPC campaign can offer tremendous points of leverage. The trick in SEO, social media, and PPC alike is to properly manage your assets.