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Combining PPC and SEO

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By Tom Dahm

Monday, October 04, 2004; 3:00am EST

There are two ways to get to the top of the search engine listings: using search engine optimization (SEO) to boost your rankings, and buying your way to the top with pay per click (PPC) listings. Which method should you use to promote your web site?

Instant Gratification With PPC

PPC advertising programs such as Google Adwords and Yahoo's Overture place a small text ad for your web site in the Sponsored Links section of the search results. Each time someone clicks on your PPC listing, you pay a certain amount of money. Prices are set by competitive bidding and can range from surprisingly cheap ($0.33 for "java book") to insanely expensive ($12.98 for "web hosting").

The search engine optimization process is much slower. You have to work your way to the top of the free search results by tuning your web pages so the search engines can better understand them. Services like NetMechanic's Search Engine Power Pack can guide you in optimizing your site by analyzing pages for problems and telling you how to properly emphasize keywords.

PPC and SEO have very different flavors. The biggest advantage of PPC listings is that you can immediately reach the top of the search engine result listing. In contrast, it can take 3 months before you get the full benefit of your SEO campaign. Compared to that time, a PPC campaign feels like instant gratification.

But be prepared to pay for that leap to the top. You have to pay cold, hard cash for your listing, and your listing disappears as soon as you stop paying. Running an effective PPC campaign can cost you thousands of dollars each month. Compared to that, the $99 a year price for Search Engine Power Pack looks like a bargain.

1 + 1 = 4. Really!

So PPC is quick and relatively easy, but can cost significant money. SEO is inexpensive, but requires you to invest time and effort in tuning your web pages. Which approach should you be using to promote your Web site?

For most people the answer is to use both. Consider PPC as a short-term solution and SEO for the long term.

Some of the advantages of this combined approach are obvious. If it can take 3 months for SEO to show maximum results, why not run a PPC campaign during that time?

But there are other, surprising synergies you can get by combining both methods. In particular, a PPC campaign is the best way to find the keywords you should be targeting in your SEO campaign.

Finding the Right Words

Wouldn't it be a shame if you put a lot of effort into your SEO campaign, only to find you chose the wrong keywords?

For example, suppose we run the web site for a Colorado ski lodge. In our SEO campaign we decide to target the keyword "ski resort." Search Engine Power Pack's keyword popularity tool shows 24,804 monthly searches for that keyword, and that certainly looks attractive. You spend weeks optimizing your pages and working your way to the top of the free listings, but then something funny happens - you get lots of visitors, but very few sales.

Why? There are many reasons why a keyword can fail:

Perhaps your lodge is rustic and people are looking for an all-inclusive luxury resort. Maybe you should be including "Colorado" in your keyword phrase. Maybe people using this phrase are in the early stages of their research and aren't ready to book a room yet.

The important thing is that you just spent 3 months fighting your way to the top for a keyword that doesn't work. All your effort was wasted.

A PPC campaign lets you experiment with a wide range of keywords. Since it takes only a few minutes to create a listing for a keyword, it's easy to experiment with many of different words. It's common for a PPC campaign to target 100 or more keywords. Both Overture and Google include conversion-tracking tools that help you understand which keywords are generating sales. Once you've seen which words are working, you can target them for search engine optimization.

My preferred approach to running a search engine marketing campaign is to start with a small scale PPC campaign. Your PPC budget doesn't have to be large, since you aren't trying to buy all the clicks available for all your keywords. You want just enough traffic to let you learn which keywords are working. Within a month, you should have enough data to start your SEO campaign. Once that starts to show results, you can lower your keyword bids or drop them entirely.

There is one other advantage to this combined approach: it helps you quantify the value of your SEO work. If your company spends $5,000 a month for PPC listings, then an optimization campaign that cuts that spending has clear, tangible value. Suddenly your boss can see why SEO is worth the time you are spending on it!

Source of Article The author of this article is Tom Dahm, writes for NetMechanic, Inc. NetMechanic is an online service specializing in html code checking, search engine optimization and web site maintenance and promotion. For more information visit http://www. netmechanic. com/.

 

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