There’s so much fretful emphasis put on search engine optimization that some website owners might think about going straight for pay-per-click – i.e. buying their way into optimization. After all, search engine optimization costs money. A professional search engine marketer is going to charge for the service. If you control SEM yourself, this is going to cost you time that could be devoted to other profitable pursuits.
So why not just spend the money on pay per click? The answer is pretty simple: search engine optimization is generally cheaper than a high-quality PPC campaign. High-value keywords are most likely out of the price range of your average website owner, but you can write content and metatags to your heart’s content using the most high-valued keywords in your industry.
Combining PPC and SEO
Basically, you need to combine both PPC and search engine optimization, as each tactic has different uses and can attract a different customer base. One method for using PPC is to engineer a PPC campaign first and see what sort of traction certain keywords get in search engines. You can then design your search engine optimization campaign around the most successful keywords in a PPC campaign. You’ll get some sense of the most vital keywords doing basic keyword research, but until you match those keywords against your own site’s content, you won’t have a full estimation of how those keywords will perform.
What this means is that you need to test out-clicks as much as you need to test in-clicks. New marketers make the mistake of only testing how a site performs in a search engine, without fully testing how a keyphrase performs once a surfer is on the website. This is why just researching popular keyphrases is only half the battle, if that. You need to see how and why people are staying on the site.
Writing quality content is an important part of this equation. While pay per click can guarantee high placement in search engines, it can’t guarantee how that traffic will perform. Good web content, then, has two uses: to help natural ranking and to further solidify a website’s authority on a given topic. If someone clicks on a PPC link and comes to a site devoid of information, he or she is not going to take the site seriously. Conversions will not follow.
Monitoring PPC and SEO
Consider PPC as a form of market research – one that will continue well after the first day that you initiate a campaign. If you’re not (obsessively) checking your analytics to see how both PPC and SEO campaigns are performing, you’re plainly not a very good businessperson. If you’re spending excessively on a PPC campaign that is not converting, don’t be surprised if your first quarter earnings are nil.
But the first quarter is what you should be looking at – I mean the very first quarter. PPC is especially effective for start-up businesses. Though I recommend starting an SEO campaign from day one, it can take time to build link exchanges and rank naturally with your content. A PPC campaign can get you off the ground. It can be a significant investment, however, so be prepared for it. People can pay thousands of dollars a month without necessarily bringing in thousands of dollars of profit. But you need some way to provide visibility that will increase profits, which will then allow you to be more aggressive with your PPC campaign and possibly outsource a comprehensive SEM campaign. It takes money to make money.
Keep in mind too that if you have a high-energy PPC campaign this can help you with a core part of search engine optimization: getting backlinks. If you’re site is highly visible, you’ll have a better chance not only to bring in new customers, but new link partners. An aggressive PPC campaign is a selling point to anyone who is running a high PR site. A one-tier SEO campaign is not enough because veteran site owners know that it’s difficult to get a site to rank high very quickly – unless you’re selling within a very niche market.
Increasing Site Visibility
Meanwhile, you should be doing all you can to get your site into high PR directories, such as DMOZ, which is free, or Yahoo, which costs a fee. As I’ve mentioned before, you should only link back to sites with a similar purpose or demographic, or else this could risk your site getting labeled a link farm. You should also be preparing content on dozens, if not hundreds, of possible keyphrases – both enhancing a current PPC campaign as well as writing content that does not have, or need, a for-pay listing campaign.
What it comes down to is the need to diversify. PPC, if used incorrectly, is the lazy web-owner’s route. If I was going to rely on one or the other, I’d go with SEO over PPC. Why? Because SEO is generally cheaper than PPC and it will expand the quality of the website overall, rather than just where a website ranks. Overall, though, a smart web owner will do both and measure how each campaign is performing against the other.