Search engine optimization (SEO), is the best way to bring traffic to your website. In short, SEO is about optimizing your website in order to maximize the quantity (and quality) of visitors. It’s unlike PPC in that you don’t pay for traffic, but instead generate it organically. And SEO success relies less on your budget and more on how relevant your material appears to Google—in other words, how well you understand the algorithms at play.
But the most effective marketing strategies will use both PPC and SEO. In order to find the right balance of the two, it’s necessary to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each, as well as how they complement one another.
SEO is a bit like PPC’s prettier-but-slower cousin. Internet users are more trusting of organic search results. (In fact, “ad blindness” is a real thing; some web users don’t even notice PPC ads anymore.) PPC is still great for immediate results. SEO involves long-term strategizing; it takes time to build up the kind of page authority that generates organic traffic.
With SEO, you aren’t able to control the demographics visiting your website, but PPC allows you to target very specific audiences with ads; furthermore, anyone with a keyboard and some fingers can access your website.
PPC not only hyper-targets audiences but tends to catch users who are further down the funnel—making it particularly effective for new businesses or businesses with limited-time-only offers. SEO caters to users that are searching for information, i.e., at the beginning of their Buyer’s Journey.
That’s not to say that SEO can’t lead to conversions—in fact, if you can land your content high on the search engine results page (SERP, because everything needs an acronym) you’ve established your site as a credible source and visitors will be more likely to purchase from you.
And while achieving a high rank on the SERPs is no easy feat, investing in SEO will increase ROI over time. After that initial gestation period, you’ll begin to see a consistent stream of traffic that doesn’t run out when your budget does.
PPC and SEO have their strengths and weaknesses. Used together, they’re an extremely powerful duo. As previously mentioned, PPC allows you to track keyword data and incorporate that knowledge into your SEO strategy.
If you have specific keywords you want to rank for, you can test those words for immediate results via PPC, determine which has the highest CVR, and be able to make informed decisions regarding your organic traffic strategy. Similarly, you can take note of what visitors are searching for on your website and use those insights to inform your PPC strategy.
Using the two together also helps establish your presence and credibility within a market. If you have PPC ads and rank well on the SERPs, users will be more aware of your brand and you’ll have more traffic overall.
We previously addressed the importance of keywords under the section about paid traffic. We’ll continue to build on that here because when it comes to keywords, many of the same principles can be applied to both SEO and PPC strategies.
It all begins with keyword analysis, or keyword research. In order to increase your CVR, you’ll need to understand what phrases bring qualified leads to your website. What is it that users are searching in order to arrive at your product? Accurately answering this question not only improves conversion, but it also might help you uncover new markets.
The most basic form of keyword research can be conducted by running a Google search. You can start by searching for terms relevant to your business and not hitting enter. Google will automatically fill in possible phrases based on what people frequently search for. This is a great way of doing free research, although it’s not as thorough as keyword tools.
Once you have an idea of the specific keywords you’d like to rank for, running a Google search allows you to determine what websites already rank for it. Additionally, if there are a lot of paid results alongside the organic results, you can infer it’s a more coveted word. Both of these observations will give you an idea of how difficult it will be to rank for the specified keyword.
You can also conduct a PPC campaign based around a keyword, or series of keywords, in order to determine which work best. Set your ad to “exact match” and track CVR over the course of 300+ clicks. This will help you gain valuable insight into which keywords are the most lucrative. Your findings can be applied to your SEO strategy.
These basic forms of research can only take you so far, however; in order to outperform your keyword competition, many hours of analysis are required, and many businesses lack the bandwidth to dedicate adequate time to the pursuit. A scalable SEO strategy requires not just expertise but a degree of automation.
This is where partnering with digital growth experts can make a massive difference in your ROI. These experts will have a thorough understanding of SEO best practices, as well as mastery over the third-party software that allows them to effectively analyze massive amounts of data.
Oftentimes, businesses overlook keyword research because it’s redundant and eats up precious time. Without adequate and accurate research, however, your keyword strategy is bound to fall flat.
A well-defined search campaign optimizes your budget and your time, which allows you to cut through the clutter and prioritize the keywords that have a true effect on your bottom line. More often than not, these will be long-tail keywords, but an optimal SEO strategy will include both long-tail and short-tail keywords.
Typically, the longer a query phrase is, the less it appears in searches. For example, more people enter “coffee” into a search bar than “Kopi luwak coffee,” and more people search “Kopi luwak coffee” than “authentic kopi luwak coffee beans.”
It’s not always the case that shorter keywords have a higher search volume, but it is usually the case. For that reason, keywords are often divided into “short”, “medium”, and “(long) tail”, or head/body/tail. On a graph it looks like this:
Long-tail keywords are phrases of four or more words. They’re typically specific, and specificity is linked to intent. For instance, “vitamins” is a general search that may be conducted by someone looking for general information on vitamins. A phrase like “buy magnesium supplements online” is likely to be conducted by someone looking to make a purchase. It’s true that the latter phrase won’t get a lot of search volume, but it is more likely to lead to a conversion.
The downside to long-tail keywords is that they receive relatively few searches per month. If you’re going to attract a high number of visitors to your site, you’ll need to put out a ton of content. And while publishing a lot of original content is great, pushing out hundreds of pages in order to cover enough long-tail keywords is not. The content is bound to be low-quality and even recycled. This is a great way to get hit by Google Panda, a penalty that’s meant to keep content farms from rising to the top of SERPs.
Short-tail keywords are single words with a high search volume. They’re highly competitive, almost impossible to rank for, and not great for conversion. In the event that you can rank for a short-tail keyword, the reward is high; the result is an immense amount of organic traffic.
Using short-tail keywords for PPC, on the other hand, is almost never a good idea. The intense competition makes it expensive and the conversion rate is low because the broadness of the word will bring few qualified leads.
That’s not to say that short-tail words aren’t helpful. Sometimes, a keyword can be highly relevant for a given business (e.g., “L.A. optometrist”). Including a mix of short-tail and long-tail keywords is one way to get the best of both worlds. Additionally, you can look for a sweet spot with “medium-tail” keywords. If you focus on medium or “body” keywords, you’ll often unintentionally incorporate long-tail keywords—simply as a result of writing sentences that include those medium-tail keywords.
Also keep in mind that you need a balance between keyword usage and the readability of a piece; between speaking Google and speaking human. Stuffing your content with keywords won’t necessarily make it rank well if the piece isn’t engaging or if it reads unnaturally (e.g., your keyword appears in every sentence).
We also see Google algorithms trending toward topical themes. In other words, Google is getting better and better at mitigating the power of individual keywords. Websites with an interrelated, cohesive body of keywords (topic clusters) will continue to perform better—yet another reason to include a healthy mix of long-tail and short-tail keywords.
When it comes to ranking well, this mix of keywords is your starting point, but it’s just the beginning. Google ranks website according to a not-so-secret secret algorithm. Technically, only Google knows the exact algorithm.
If it was public information, it would be easy for other search engines to create competing platforms. However, Google is fairly transparent about what the algorithm is meant to do and has actually published an extensive guide on SEO best practices. This is great for webmasters, because we know what we have to do in order to rank well.
First, if people like your website, Google will too. CTR, dwell time, and bounce rate all play a role in how well your site ranks. You want searchers to click on your website. This means not overlooking the “snippet”, the little blurb from your website that appears on the SERP. If it entices users, they’ll click on your site. If it doesn’t, Google will know and penalize you accordingly.
In order to increase dwell time (how long searchers stay on your site) and minimize bounce rate (leaving your site), you must optimize your website. This means ensuring your site is as secure and fast as possible.
A website that is unsafe or has a slow loading time will lose visitors. The key to keeping them is making the website as accessible and captivating as possible. Design should appeal to users both aesthetically and technically, making it easy for them to navigate regardless of what device a search is being made from (i.e., computer, tablet, or phone).
Good site structure will also make the Google spiders happy. These spiders, also called web crawlers or Googlebots, are computers that analyze billions of websites in order to index them. What these spiders determine about your website affects how your website ranks, and it’s much easier for Google spiders to parse and index your site if has a strong organizational structure.
In order to create such a structure, ensure your website is “shallow”; every page on your entire website is easily accessible from the homepage and can be reached through two or three clicks. Good site structure isn’t just good for the spiders—it makes for a better user experience, too.
A nice-looking, easy-to-navigate website is second only to the quality of the site’s content. As previously mentioned, SEO is a balance of Google-speak and human-speak, although these modes of communication often overlap.
For instance, a primary keyword affects your ranking and helps Google lead the right kind of visitors to your website. But if you stuff your text full of that word, the content will seem clunky and contrived. People can tell when you aren’t writing for people. The result is that searchers will spend less time on your site, which in turn affects your ranking.
For that reason, creating high-quality, original content with users taking in mind is a critical part of your website’s success. Visitors will remain on your site longer, which means Google will perceive your website as being more useful and bump you up in the rankings.
In other words, you need enough keyword density to appear relevant, but not so much that the page loses value. Rather than jamming text full of a single keyword, the right sprinkling of keywords can further your page authority.
In addition to primary keywords for each page, you’ll need a collection of secondary keywords, all of which revolve around a searcher’s intent. This goes back to having a topical theme; a body of interrelated keywords makes your website appear more relevant (because it probably is).
Which words you include are important. Equally important is where you include them. The header is one of the most important places to include your keywords. That includes the visible title tag, which shows up on the SERP, as well as the meta tags and meta keywords that only search engines can see. Incorporating your keyword into alt image text, breadcrumbs, and inbound links will also bolster your site’s SEO.
Backlinking—when users or other sites link to your pages—can also have a significant effect on your SEO. This is again why it’s important to create valuable, shareable content. And it’s a reason to have the most credible person write the content, or at least contribute to content. Readers are more likely to share it.
You’ve hit your stride on social media, your PPC campaign is on point and you have your keyword analysis strategy boiled down to a science. What’s next? Identifying and fixing errors on the backend. Businesses pour a lot of time and energy into their sites, only to have a few common SEO errors undo their hard work.
We’ve addressed a few of these—slow page speed, weak site structure, overlooking meta tags, and overusing keywords. But wait, there’s more! Here are a few ways your strategy could not be working like it should:
Titles, Tags, Descriptions. If you’re making SEO mistakes, there’s a good change you’re making them here. Be sure that the copy for all titles, tags, and descriptions is neither too long nor too short. And be sure that copy is present in the first place. If you don’t add descriptions for each page, Google will truncate a bit of text from that page that includes the keywords, and the result is less than enticing:
Duplicate Content. Remember that Google wants to promote content that is valuable and relevant. Any content that goes against that overarching theme goes against you. That’s why duplicate content will affect your search rankings, and not in a good way.
If you have recycled content on similar pages, not only does your audience suffer (from boredom), but the pages’ visibility suffers, too. Search engines will have a difficult time determining which of the pages to display on the SERPs.
There is a wide array of tools that can help you identify which keywords your competitors are using—SEMrush, SpyFu, BuzzSumo etc. If you have a Google Ads account, that’s a great place to start. You can input your competitor’s website into a keyword tool that allows you to see what keywords Google thinks they’re targeting.
Picking out long- and short-tail keywords that are similar (or identical) to those found on your site gives you a starting point. Input each one into your search engine, and see what comes up. The number of paid ads can provide insight into how competitive the keyword is, but what you really want to hone in on are the organic results that rise up to the top of the page. You can quickly identify what keywords you’re being outranked for, but how do you know which ones to go after?
There are a few different strategies you can implement. If your goal is to increase raw traffic (because, for example, you can capture more buyers through remarketing), target keywords that correlate with CTR. More commonly, businesses will want to target keywords that correlate with conversion.
Next, within those words, you might consider targeting competitors whose audience most overlaps with your own. And finally, prioritize keywords with low difficulty, moderate to high volume and high organic CTR.
Keyword research can be overwhelming. It takes an SEO strategy about a year of consistent work before it takes off. The last thing you want to do is spend 365 days working in the wrong direction. If you’re not sure that your SEO strategy is bulletproof, feel free to reach out to our growth experts at Orogamis: We use market insights rooted in data to craft optimal strategies (keyword and otherwise) for your brand.