Driving PPC And SEO Synergy In Large Enterprises

I recently had a prospect ask me whether it’s ideal to have one team handle both the SEO and PPC efforts for an enterprise.

To a large degree, that depends on the capabilities of your in-house group or external agency — world-class PPC and SEO advice seldom coincide with each other, and often one can be better off engaging a firm with deep expertise in a particular channel in order to “move the dial” for that channel.

There are some areas where SEO and PPC efforts dovetail nicely; however, this doesn’t mean the same person or the same team needs to manage both in order for an enterprise to benefit from those synergies.

It’s enough to simply coordinate and make sure the right questions are being asked at the right points in the process. Even in a situation where a single team is handling both efforts, the potential synergies are very often overlooked and under-delivered (truth be told)!

Let’s assume your organization has two separate teams — a PPC team and an SEO team. This article runs through the checkpoints you should put in place to make sure valuable information is flowing freely back and forth. You’ll notice that all of the checkpoints are either one-time or just yearly… in fact, a lot of it comes down to simple list-sharing. Still, many of these simple checkpoints are all-too-often ignored in large organizations.

Figure 1 – Enterprise PPC-SEO Checkpoints (click to enlarge)

Figure 1 – Enterprise PPC-SEO Checkpoints (click to enlarge)

A. Goal Setting & Tracking

Obviously, getting alignment on goal setting and tracking is critical; both PPC and SEO teams will likely use Google Analytics, and both are being held to higher-level marketing goals. Making sure that tracking is appropriate and can help drive real business goals is very important.

Checkpoint To Take: Have both the PPC and SEO teams meet and agree on tracking and goal-setting. If tracking is done in Google Analytics, this will make it easier all around, rather than having separate Goal measurements going on with Google Analytics and Google AdWords.

Also, attribution analysis is possible if you use the same tracking and goals. Consider tracking multiple types of goals — bid optimization works better with more data, so often using a goal like visits to a particular page may be a great way to go as it boosts the amount of data you’re working with — but ultimately leads or sales is what you should care about.

When To Do It: At the very beginning of the process of developing PPC campaigns.

B. Keyword Research

Probably the #1 area of synergy between both channels is in the Keyword Research stage. Any effort to exhaustively explore the keyword space can provide dividends for both sides of the house — after all, the users are the same people, and they’re just clicking on an ordered list of titles and descriptions in both cases. Heck, if paid search and organic weren’t so similar, the FTC would not be making noises about it!

Checkpoint To Take: Hand-off of the Keyword List. When paid search keywords are identified and data such as CPC and monthly volumes are collected, the top keywords should be passed from the paid search team to the SEO team, for potential competitive analysis and prioritization.

When To Do It: When the PPC keyword research is complete.

C. Cannibalization Prevention

Often in this industry, one often hears comments being bandied about that sometimes “1 plus 1 can equal 2.4″ when people ask if they should bid on keywords that they already rank for organically.  In other words, that there is some synergy and value to appearing twice.

While this can be the case, I don’t believe it’s the typical situation; in fact, very often the opposite is true.

There have been several studies, some extremely poor ones (in particular, several widely publicized ones put out by a large search engine) that imply that click cannibalization of organic search by paid search is a fairly minor problem.

Some of these studies suffer from what I believe is deliberately poor study design, designed to minimize the perceived impact of cannibalization — and of course, to promote more spending on paid search. Cannibalization between paid and organic is a real thing, and large organizations should make an effort to at least understand and mitigate it.

One of the better studies was presented by Rimm-Kaufmann group at an SMX show 12-18 months ago. (Although I don’t believe they ever published the slides, RKG’s George Michie wrote a piece on this topic a while back.) The presentation’s main message was that whether 1 + 1 = 2, 1 + 1 = 2.4, or 1 + 1= 1.5 depends on the keyword and the competitive situation. My own interpretation of their slides led to a few rules of thumb I’ve found useful:

  1. If no one is bidding on a keyword and you’re ranking #1 for it organically, then there will be some cannibalization if you decide to bid on it (i.e.  there is a good chance that 1+1= 1.5).
  2. If everyone is bidding on a keyword (all 10 positions) and you’re ranking #1 for it organically, then if you advertise on it, you’ll cannibalize your competitors more than yourself (so 1 + 1 = 2, or even 2.4 maybe).
  3. If only a few companies are bidding on a keyword and you’re ranking #1 for it organically, that’s a tough judgment call.

At any rate, Rimm-Kaufmann’s data looked solid enough to me that I believe cannibalization is a real thing, and on a keyword by keyword basis, one should examine the individual situation and make determinations.

Checkpoint To Take: Have both the PPC and SEO teams sit down and review the top keywords in the PPC account, and have that discussion inform whether keywords should be bid on in PPC. For most accounts, the top 20 is all you need to worry about; larger spenders may  find it worthwhile to look at the top 100.

When To Do It: When PPC campaigns are fully developed, and have been running for a few months – then you will know what the  high-running keywords are in terms of impressions, clicks, and conversions.

D. Landing Page Synergy

The ideal SEO landing page has a lot of text on it, is somewhat lengthy, has the keyword repeated the right number of times (sorry, nonbelievers, but there is a right number!) and has lots of related terms on it. The ideal paid search landing page, on the other hand,  usually has *as little as possible* on it, to reduce friction and go for the conversion.

Organic traffic tends to be earlier-funnel, and self-education oriented, while PPC traffic tends to be more action-oriented. As a result, I rarely see a lot of synergy for actual landing page design between the SEO and PPC sides of the house.

Certainly, there are some exceptions — paid search “Squeeze pages” and so on….”long copy sells,” and so forth… but probably 90% of paid search landing pages follow the stock formula of three bullets, a paragraph, happy people, a few fields to fill out and a big fat orange button. Any contrary thoughts on this point appreciated below!

That said, there is *one* area of synergy between PPC and SEO in this regard. A PPC campaign, properly designed and organized, should have many ad groups, ads and numerous different landing pages — to ensure that keywords can be aligned with landing pages based on very tight user intent.

Often, when developing a PPC campaign, a PPC team will come up with an Ad Group idea that requires a particular page to send searchers to, but such a page doesn’t exist on the site yet, anywhere. This is a problem not just for the PPC team to solve — most assuredly, they will as it’s in their best interest — but it’s important not to forget that there are organic visitors to the site as well that would probably like to see that content created.

Checkpoint To Take: The PPC team should give the SEO (or Content Marketing) team a list of missing content pages that would be very desirable to develop from a landing-page perspective. The SEO team should then develop good content around those, and then the PPC team can decide whether it wants to use that content directly as landing pages, or whether it’s preferable to make PPC-oriented, perhaps simplified versions of those pages for campaign use.

E. Compare Creative Messaging

It would be great if you could simply take your best performing paid search ads and use those as a title and meta-description for your organic pages, but since they all need to be unique, and the lengths are different, this often doesn’t occur to people to do.

It’s certainly worthwhile to have both teams review the top creatives, and top ranking pages titles and meta-descriptions, for some cross-pollination ideas. It is also possible, if you’re really ambitious, to run Paid Search tests in order to test the effects of messaging changes on very high-volume organic terms, and even to try targeting new potential organic terms much more rapidly than a content creation process can.

Checkpoint To Take: Both teams should jointly review best performing paid search ads, and meta-descriptions of top performing organic pages, to cross-pollinate messaging ideas.

F. Feeding Back Paid Search Converting Keywords Into The Content Plan

Generally when someone does keyword research for a PPC effort, the organic keyword data (both clicks and conversions) is something they will look at and incorporate. It’s rare for the information to flow in the other direction, however.

One of the simplest things that an organization can do to ensure this is happening is, once a year, review all keywords that have driven conversions in Paid Search, and create content based on those keywords. The SEO team should be screaming for this information, it’s the biggest low-hanging fruit you will ever have lying around!

Checkpoint To Take: The SEO team should get the list of keywords and conversions from the PPC team, then check keyword positions for all of those keywords, and add any keywords that are ranking poorly to the “Forward Schedule” of content that is being maintained for content marketing purposes. If you don’t have a “Forward Schedule” — this checkpoint is a great impetus to create one!

When To Do It: Once a year, after enough conversion data has accumulated to make the exercise worthwhile.

G. Attribution Analysis

Google Analytics has some very sophisticated attribution analysis features in it now, including the ability to view the situation on a first-click basis rather than a last-click basis, and so on. Are there synergies here? Perhaps, but I have found that people running PPC campaigns tend to think all day in terms of the “funnel,” and generally it’s the PPC people doing the attribution analysis — mostly to figure out whether those early-funnel terms they’ve been bidding on are better than people have been thinking.

I have seen in at least one case an account where pausing early funnel terms that didn’t appear to be doing anything conversion-wise almost killed the whole account due to attribution effects — effects that were only possible to ascertain using Google Analytics’ attribution features. I would consider attribution analysis to be similar to item D above — if early-funnel terms are ultimately driving conversions, those should be turned over to the SEO team for consideration.

Checkpoint To Take: Same as Item E.

When To Do It: Yearly.

H. Conversion Path Analysis

Although individual landing pages often don’t translate well between the two disciplines, Conversion Path Analysis a worthwhile exercise for either channel. Conversion Path Analysis is essentially the study of a user’s behavior on a website as they move toward a conversion, usually resulting in recommendations for reduction of friction, elimination of steps, methods of gaining trust and so on. This tends to be a very specialized expertise, and it’s often worth bringing in a third team that focuses only on this area.

Checkpoint To Take: The PPC and SEO teams should meet and discuss initiating some involvement with a conversion path analysis consulting firm, either together or separately — or even ideally, to develop an in-house capability. Working with an external consulting firm can be a great way to learn the ropes in this area. To the degree that both channels share conversion paths, there might be some synergy here — but let subject-matter experts drive the bus in this case.

When To Do It: When the organization is ready to commit to developing a conversion path optimization capability. It should be considered at least yearly.

I. Budgeting

This can be highly controversial within enterprises, but the bottom line is, if you can cut your PPC spend by 20% and use the money to increase spending on your SEO efforts by 200%, it’s often worth it!

You have to look at the PPC spend in terms of its marginal contribution — the first dollar spent on PPC is not as efficient as the last dollar spent — and dollars spent on gaining incremental reach in PPC might result in a better ROI elsewhere in the organization. The key here is the tracking and goal-setting; if the two teams are talking the same language, then when budget discussions roll around, this is a natural question that should come up.

Checkpoint To Take:  PPC team should provide upper management with estimates of spend versus conversions when “budget time” is approaching — essentially a graph or table  with values that go higher or lower — so upper management can decide where the budget is best allocated. SEO team should ideally provide upper management with a similar table, but — warning — that table is going to be a lot tougher to develop! Organic traffic is fickle and difficult to forecast. But both teams should provide what information they can so management can make a rational decision.

When To Do It: Prior to or at “budget allocation time”(i.e., yearly).


While there are synergies to having one group run SEO and PPC activities together, the skills involved differ pretty widely – enough so that for the typical large enterprise, there are usually two teams with separate responsibilities.

Sometimes both teams are “in-house”, sometimes both are agencies, or there is a mixture of the two.  Synergies are real, but in my opinion, a little overrated. What is important is managing the hand-offs and touchpoints between the two groups, most of which are one-time or yearly.

What do you think?  Should other items be added to this checklist?  Or do you think SEO and PPC efforts belong together? Inquiring minds want to know!