Lori Kirk

If you are a business owner looking to increase traffic to your website, you have two main options: SEO (search engine optimization) or PPC (pay-per-click). Using SEO can help boost organic traffic through search results and PPC will attract new visitors through paid ads. The question is, to pay or not to pay?

As a Content Marketing Strategist at Brafton, I help companies of all sizes with SEO consultancy and content marketing strategies. Without a doubt, my clients’ most common objectives are increasing their keyword rankings, traffic flows and website conversions. The majority of my new clients already have a loose strategy to achieve these goals that is split among two channels: organic search and paid search. The problem is they don’t know how to determine which medium has the best ROI.

From a consultancy standpoint, what separates the amateurs from the professionals is the ability to identify qualified keywords and traffic. Whether your company focuses on organic or paid search, don’t be fooled by soaring numbers when looking at high-level metrics; just because a particular keyword or campaign brought in a tremendous amount of traffic, it doesn’t mean the visitors are the right people for your brand.

Where is your qualified traffic coming from? Qualified traffic is looking for the information your site provides – not landing on your site in search of information irrelevant to your business. You’ll know these visitors through their interaction metrics, because they’re more likely to click around and convert: They’re actually interested in what you offer. If you owned a brick-and-mortar retail location, wouldn’t you prefer 10 patrons who browsed your shop for an hour and purchased your products rather than 1,000 patrons who popped in for a few seconds and left without breaking open their wallets? The same concept applies to your brand in the digital space – and it’s essential to understand which strategies and content attract qualified visitors.

Whether you focus on organic search results or invest in Pay-Per-Click or display campaigns, you have to dig deeper into your analytics and identify the relationship between the new traffic these channels bring in and the actual conversion rates.

More traffic doesn’t always mean higher profit margins

Executive Recruitment traffic example.Heightened traffic volumes can be a great sign that your business is gaining more industry cred, but increased traffic doesn’t always result in increased conversions. It’s important to understand which channels support more traffic, and which ones supply the most meaningful metrics to ensure you’ve got a balanced strategy. One of my clients in the Executive Recruitment space is a prime example of this. When I first started working with this client, the company highlighted its annual spend for both organic and paid campaigns. Paid search was bringing in a tremendous amount of traffic, and the business augmented its budget to funnel more resource toward the channel. As I began to dig deeper into my client’s Google Analytics, I saw that paid search was bringing in more recent traffic (approximately 20 percent more than organic) but it was not nearly as qualified. On average, users who entered the site via organic search versus paid results spent more than double the time on the site, visited twice as many pages, had a bounce rate that was almost 50 percent lower and, most importantly, converted twice as often as those who entered via paid results. Identifying the direct correlation between traffic sources and conversion rates is an excellent way to determine how search marketing budgets should be allocated!

SEOmoz heat mapIn some cases, traffic volume and value won’t be at odds. There are arguments and case studies that suggest PPC brings less clicks and heat map studies have shown that users typically click far less on the paid results on the right side of the SERP and primarily focus on the main top middle of the SERP for both organic and paid. According to a study based on a sample of 1.4 billion searches conducted by 28 million UK citizens in June 2011, GroupM UK and Nielsen concluded that search engine users overwhelmingly click on organic results on Google and Bing by a margin of 94 percent to 6 percent. For some users, paid is seen as more of an advertisement than a trusted search result, which causes a lower clickthrough rate. Nonetheless, know which channel brings the higher volume and higher valued visitors.

Content for users: Don’t let AdWords dictate keywords

Whether you are using an organic or paid-search strategy, the language (or keywords) you focus on plays a huge role in bringing in relevant search traffic. There are many elements like targeted long tail keywords and optimized search landing pages you absolutely must incorporate in order to lock in those highly sought-after conversions. When using the AdWords Keyword tool for paid search keyword research, it’s easy to become obsessed with what the AdWords data says and to forget how an actual human in your target audience searches. Another client of mine in the Medical Imaging space proves my point.

This client utilized both organic and paid search strategies with the same keywords. We focused our organic keyword strategy around one main term, and because the client operates in a niche space, it had trouble reconciling the data displayed by paid with its knowledge of its customer base.

In-depth keyword consultation with the client resulted in opportunities that may have otherwise been missed if we solely based our decision on Google AdWords keyword research tools.

During consultation, the client explained how people in its industry often referred to its main offering “vendor neutral archive” as VNA. After a quick Google search and a bit of paid keyword research, it was clear that this keyword alone was not going to be a good fit. Due to lack of specificity (Virginia Nurses Association often showed up in results for “VNA”) and low search volume, we decided to expand the keyword “VNA” into a long tail key phrase. Together we developed VNA vendor, VNA supplier, and a range of other complementary long tail keywords even though all of my resources and data were telling me they were not qualified terms. In-depth keyword consultation with the client resulted in opportunities that may have otherwise been missed if we solely based our decision on Google AdWords keyword research tools.

Although there are white hat practices that we should all adhere to, SEO is by no means a one-size-fits-all, right-or-wrong process. When it comes to keywords, whether you are focusing on organic or paid, the first step is to determine search volume and competition to gauge effectiveness. However, be careful with paid search research tools as the parameters to determine the value of various keywords can mislead your strategy. Just because Google says few people are searching for your intended keyword doesn’t always mean it’s not fit to bring qualified traffic. For this particular client, knowing the target audience and understanding their search needs made all the difference.

There are many factors that can influence your decision regarding whether to use SEO or PPC but it isn’t always an “either-or” choice.  When properly combined, SEO and PPC can complement one another.  If your website is brand new, lacks authority and can’t compete with high ranking competitors, it could be beneficial to spend a large portion of your budget to rank high for PPC campaigns.  But if you’re an established business, focus on growing your online presence with content for SEO. Keyword-rich landing pages will help your site rank higher in SERPs and convert your visitors. Whichever strategy you choose, make sure it is designed to best achieve your specific goals and objectives that will maximize your brand’s available resources.  Nothing about SEO or PPC is a “set it and forget it” process so don’t be afraid to A/B test a few different strategies until you find the best one that works for you!