What are the key things that SEOs need to know about PPC?
That's what we're going to be covering today with a lady who hosts a monthly PPC advice column for Search Engine Journal. In the past 15 years, she's worked in-house, for agencies, and with software companies, and is the current president of Nava Hopkins LLC. A warm welcome to the In Search SEO podcast, Navah Hopkins.
In this episode, Navah shares five things SEOs need to know about PPC, including:
How to use Quality Scores to improve your SEO
Audiences versus keywords
Auction prices of different channels
What SEOs can learn from PPC tools
Five rules of engagement for landing pages and conversion tracking
Navah: Thank you so much for having me. It's an absolute delight to be here and an absolute delight to share what really should be the ethos across all digital marketing. Empathy and collaboration across all silos.
D: Sounds absolutely wonderful. You can find Navah over at navahhopkins.com. So Nava, why is it important for SEOs to learn from PPC?
N: The way I look at it, SEO and PPC are really part of that same process, which is understanding user desire and intent, and providing them with the best possible solution. So what's really fascinating is that the principles that go into good SEO, keyword research, making sure that the site is laid out in a way that is easy to convert, easy to understand, all of that can be summed up in easy-to-test for variable modules within PPC. Whether it's our landing page tests or whether it's our creative tests, before you invest quite a lot of time into technical SEO or content SEO, you're able to see those ideas proven out and get that conversion data.
On the flip side, PPCs do need to learn from SEOs as well, really thinking about what is that user journey from an intent to purchase to retention standpoint, thinking about the technical side of the landing page. It's not just about sending traffic there and hoping and praying. There are a lot of lessons that can be learned across the aisle.
D: So today you're sharing five specific things that SEOs need to know about PPC. Starting off with number one how to use and think about quality score.
1. How to use Quality Score to improve your SEO
N: For those of you that know me, you know that I actually don't like quality scores very much, mostly because it's a health indicator, not a KPI (key performance indicator). However, SEOs can get a ton of value out of quality score, mostly from the landing page component, but also from the keyword to add to a landing page piece, i.e. that relevancy. So if the landing page or site that you're using is the same for paid and organic and the quality score is low, that is a good indication that you haven't ranked well. The idea is that you're paying good money to serve traffic to. And if that's the case, you’re likely not ranking for the queries that you would want to.
In addition, one of the interesting things about quality score is that it's a volume game. If there's low search volume, you can sometimes end up with either a super low or super high-quality score. So if you're starting to see that your quality score is hanging around a six or a seven, what am I doing wrong, that actually might be a good thing, because it means that the ideas that you're optimizing for are high-volume ideas. Whereas if your quality score is always a 10 or always a 1, you might be going after ideas that are not quite right.
The final thing I'll mention, because quality score does require the ad bot to crawl the page, some folks will decide to use a subdomain and separate the experiences entirely, simply so that they don't have to account for that crawl budget. If you are going to however, merge the experiences, you definitely want to make sure that you allow it to crawl because a) your pay team needs it. But also, you'll be sacrificing so much of that intelligence by not having that quality score data. So definitely keep an eagle eye on quality score for health indication as opposed to it being KPI. But yeah, it's definitely a lot of really good insights.
D: That's interesting. I didn't know about the fact that SEOs shouldn't be going for a quality score of 10 all the time, because as you're saying, if you did that, then perhaps your targeting two longtail keyword phrases all the time.
N: Yeah, there's just no volume.
D: And that brings us up to number two, that PPC focus on audiences versus keywords.
2. Audiences Versus Keywords
N: One of the beautiful things about SEO and PPC is that PPC used to be just SEM, search engine marketing, and that was it. And we were kind of lumped together, SEM and PPC are both into all we are is search. Specifically, all we are is Google search. What's really interesting about the SERP is that it's evolving quite a bit to pull in video, images, social networks. And what's really meaningful about that, in terms of how the PPC campaigns have evolved, is that keyword importance has depreciated quite a bit. There are campaigns now where we don't even know what the search terms are that came through, or we have to make our best guesses, e.g. Performance Max. Sometimes they perform well, and sometimes they don't, but the fact that there are valuable leads coming through and it's not grounded in a keyword, it's grounded in a person or a group of people is a major shift. And as we start to think about the implications for SEO, the fixation on semantic search and ranking for a very specific term needs to go away because the search engine result pages are so dynamic and the ability to answer a question with text is just no longer that one-to-one piece. We want to think about that more visual and dynamic content.
Take a page out of the PPC book of let's get comfortable with audiences being our guiding star and thinking about our personas. What kind of content are we crafting? Is it being served in the way that our best person wants to consume that content? That is going to serve us so much better than the fixation on what keywords I have.
And to be fair to SEOs, we PPC are having a really tough time letting go of our keywords. There are some folks that are holding on tooth and nail. The account structures are still super segmented with all the different match types. That's just not nearly as important anymore. It's far more important to know your audiences, your creative, and your message correctly.
D: I guess some more experienced PPC and SEOs will be tied to keywords a little bit because there will be perceiving audiences as a little bit more fluffy, and harder to pin down. Is that valid criticism?
N: Not at all. It's actually really interesting. Audiences are far more technical in their execution and setup than keywords. With audiences, you need to make sure that you have your modeling set up correctly with GA4. You want to make sure that you have all of the infrastructure setup to use Customer Match, or the lists of emails, phone numbers, and addresses across all networks. And what's really interesting with audiences is that it's the people who were doing the searches, as opposed to targeting the specific searches themselves. So rather than guessing what might my best person search and trying to rank or bid for all these various things, instead, we can focus on caring about you, the person who is going to buy my things or is interested in my services. What you search is interesting, but not nearly as interesting as the core of who you are, and why you want what I have. And if you don't want what I have, I have to understand why you don't want it and overcoming those objections with creative or excluding you entirely. So it's definitely not fluff. It's the more technical speaking to your desired prospect.
D: And the third thing that SEOs need to be aware of thanks to PPC is the auction prices of different channels.
3. Auction Prices of Different Channels
N: One thing that I always find very amusing when it comes to PPC and SEOs talking together, is there will be a discussion that you can just buy the traffic and it'll be a couple of cents per click, and you'll you'll be fine. There are some channels where, yes, that is true. But by and large, we want to be very mindful that just as different verticals or industries have different auction prices, so to do different channels. If you're going after a paid search, you need to be prepared to pay for transactional intent. If you're going after display, you want to be mindful whether you're going for brand awareness or whether you're going for cheaper engagements.
If you're going for video, whether you're going for brand awareness or whether you're teaching your folks on how to think about you, or whether you're going for the sale, there's a new campaign type called P Max. Well, it's not that new. It came out about a year and a half ago and it combines all of the various Google channels. Some folks that maybe are not sure what channel will serve them best, will lean into P Max, and you get access to all of them. You just need to be able to supply the creative, the audiences, and so on so forth.
But for folks that still want to have individual silos, know that if you budget say $10,000 a month, and your auction prices are maybe $500 a click, the odds of you seeing success off of that $10,000 a month budget are low. If, however, you budget that $10,000, and you have super cheap clicks, but they're not the right clicks, that's also going to be a problem. So you want to be mindful what channel will serve you best and if you have enough budget to make it work. And if you're not sure, there are campaign types that will enable you.
Now, a lot of times we PPCs will actually say, "Hey, auction prices don't work. Let's look at a content play. Let's let's look at SEO and see how can we collaborate and shift that over.” So if you're getting pushback from your pain teams, it might actually be that they know that the search volume isn't there or the auction prices are prohibitive. And the SEO route will be the better route to acquire that traffic. So if you ever get pushback from any of us, it’s not that we don't want to do it. It's either we know that there's not enough fuel, or there just isn't enough search volume. And we would have to create interest with a more visual campaign.
D: Don't take it personally, dear SEO. Think about things from a PPC perspective and understand their metrics and what they're trying to achieve as well and we will work more effectively together. That takes us up to number four PPC tools, specifically dynamic search, ads, ad preview and diagnosis, and Keyword Planner.
4. What SEOs can learn from PPC tools
N: One of my absolute favorite things, as a former SEO turned PPC, is the Dynamic Search Ads. And the reason why I love it so much is that it will actually teach you what you're ranking for and what the search volume is for your site. You don't have to run any campaigns, feel free to set up a Google Ads account and not spend a dime, but create the Dynamic Search Ads campaign and see what the dynamic targets are and what Google naturally comes back with. Because sometimes what it comes back with is perfect and spot on. And sometimes it's horrendously incorrect. What you'll also be able to see with their preview is what headlines Google think will serve well. And that will tell you, organically, have I optimized this correctly? Is this an inviting bit of content or not quite.
The other piece about Dynamic Search Ads, if you have to get a campaign stood up quickly, and you don't want to fuss about learning all the mechanics and all those pieces, Dynamic Search Ads will let you leverage your amazing SEO work. Just bear in mind, you will still need to apply negatives. And you will want to apply negative targets with the dynamic content, just to make sure that you don't pay a whole bunch of money to send traffic to the homepage, your blog, and the Contact page, because those are not going to make sense. You'll want to send them specifically to product pages or service-oriented pages.
Next, with ad preview diagnosis, my absolute favorite tool. What's great about it is that you get to actually see SERPs without creating impressions in the wild. And what's beautiful about that is that you're able to get that intel and show your client or boss what the searches look like without that negative impact of impressions that don't lead to clicks so you stop seeing your spot. This works for both paid and organic.
Finally, with the keyword planner, if you are looking just to see trend-wise how your terms are going, this is a very powerful tool. And it will also give you a sense of how much my terms actually cost. So if I'm going to invest $50,000 into this content roadmap for this idea, will I have an easier time achieving that through paid or no, and organic is going to be the best road to toe there. And by seeing those auction prices you'll then be able to report back honestly, that yes, SEO is the best road to go for this bit of content, that PPC might be better, or we do both. Just bear in mind we’ll want to be more conservative on one or the other. So all of them will give you really useful information so that you can do your job better.
One last thing I will point out, yes, the search terms report from the paid side is starting to be a little bit more subdued. But it absolutely is still a goldmine of data. So definitely make sure that you're sharing that data between your paid and your organic teams, seeing what terms are converting, seeing what terms are not, seeing how much branded traffic is sinking into your non-branded, and vice versa. That's all really useful information. Again, with keywords being not as important anymore, it’s not as prevalent as it used to be, but it's definitely still important.
D: And that takes us up to number five, PPC rules of engagement for landing pages and conversion tracking.
5. Five rules of engagement for landing pages and conversion tracking
N: Yes. One of the reasons why I think paid and organic folks butt heads is that we have conflicting rules of engagement. Paid, we'd like to test every single variable. We want to make sure that we've distilled our tests down to a science. Not that SEOs don't. But SEOs have the constraint of worrying about duplicate content, of worrying about the richness of content, and of worrying about how easy is a page to crawl. There are a number of technical pieces that go into it. Whereas on paid, we're far more concerned about testing our variables and getiing the conversions. So the landing page fight can typically be solved with a subdomain where you just make that noindex, nofollow and you're fine. But if you do need to share your domain, just bear in mind that when paid brings up that they can't have this here, otherwise, their ads will get disapproved. It's not that they don't want to provide the richest of content to the user. It's that this particular product might skirt the line around what is allowed to be advertised on Google and what is not. And the way to fully be in the clear is not making a health claim. Or if you have your services page, and you're sharing that information, maybe have a conversation about what calls to action do you genuinely convert better on and maybe reducing down to just those. Because if you have too many means to convert you’re going to have a harder time converting at all. Bear in mind that paid folks are not trying to hurt SEO when we make CRO requests. It's very much focused on how can we best abide by our rules of engagement and how can we work with you, SEOs, to abide by your rules of engagement.
The final thing I'll mention with conversion tracking, we no longer use last click. Or if your paid person is using last click, have a conversation with them about it. And the reason for that is Google has moved fully to data driven attribution as the default. That used to require 600 conversions in a 30-day period, it used to have very high thresholds, and it no longer does. So bear in mind that when we are reporting, we are reporting based off of either Google ads or GA4 analytics. It'll be one of one or the other. And you'll want to have a conversation with your paid team if it matters more that we're reporting from the same source of truth, but there are conversions just left off entirely that aren't reported on because Google's enhanced conversion tracking only will work with the ad platform. Or do you want to have different numbers and just build in the expectation that you'll have as part of your report the numbers from Google and part of it the numbers from GA4. Here's why there's a discrepancy, i.e. conversion modeling, and just bear that in mind. Nine times out of ten, using the attribution modeling tool will help reconcile those differences.
It's also very important to note that when setting up your conversion tracking, if you do not trust your conversion tracking, it is okay to use other metrics to guide success. But that tends to be the main sticking point of whether you're going to use Google Ads or whether you're going to use a GA4 for your conversion tracking. And it all comes down to how flexible your client, your boss, or yourself are on that cognitive dissonance on different numbers.
D: That sounds like we need to try and set up a part two of this at some point because it certainly sounds like you can teach SEOs a whole lot more about what they can learn from PPC.
N: I'm always happy to help. But again, it's not about PPC teaching SEOs. We're all building empathy together and we're understanding the troubles and triumphs in each other's days, and how we can unlock more profit and victory together.
D: Yeah, this one was based upon what SEO is gonna learn from PPC. So maybe the next one is what PPC can learn from SEO.
The Pareto Pickle - SERP Analysis
Let's finish off with the Pareto Pickle. Pareto says you can get 80% of your results from 20% of your efforts. What's one SEO activity that you would recommend that provides incredible results for modest levels of effort?
N: SERP analysis, check out that ad preview diagnosis or if you don't feel comfortable, go to the wild SERP yourself and just do some searches. See what the different types of SERPs are. And if you like what they are, for the terms that you're ranking for, amazing, keep going after it. If you're seeing that they're not quite the transactional intent, or it's a lot of fluff, maybe shift to different ones. And by doing that analysis, you'll also be able to see how your content renders and what kind of content renders on the SERP so you know where to invest your content efforts.
D: I’ve been your host, David Bain. You can find Navah over at navahhopkins.com. Navah, thanks so much for being on the In Search SEO podcast.
N: Thank you so much for having me.
D: And thank you for listening. Check out all the previous episodes and sign up for a free trial of the Rank Ranger platform over at rankranger.com.