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PPC vs. SEO: what's the optimum mix?

Alex Vlasto
PPC vs. SEO: what's the optimum mix? Alex Vlasto

We're often asked here at MIVA how much resource and spend brands should devote to SEO versus PPC. It seems to be one of those perennial questions that never get a straight answer.


By now, most companies that are serious about online marketing are actively using both techniques, but what is the right mix? Well, the honest answer is it depends, but two things are key: as an online marketer, you need to clearly understand the benefits of each discipline and then closely integrate them if you want to extract their maximum value.


One of the first issues to consider when it comes to planning integrated campaigns is that of timing. The nature of PPC makes it a far more agile tool than SEO, which can be particularly important when it comes to running reactive or tactical campaigns. Getting exposure against new keyword sets will always be quicker via PPC. This degree of immediacy is even starting to get PPC on the radar with PR agencies, which are increasingly adding the channel to their crisis management tool kit.


While PPC may be a quicker route to market, results and insights gleaned from campaigns can and should then be used to underpin longer-term SEO strategies. Analyze the ad copy and specific keywords that delivered results through your PPC and then use those insights to inform your SEO.


On a similar note, you should consider using PPC as a tool for pre-testing keywords, copy and landing pages before you embark on SEO campaigns. Real-time campaign data can provide a far more accurate barometer of what will work for your specific brand than simply relying on keyword tools and gut feel.


Another way the two techniques should work hand-in-hand is to help plug any gaps. While in an ideal world, you'd be listed in the No. 1 spot for both natural and paid listings, the nuances of algorithms and quality scores mean that more often than not, that isn't the case.


Ensure that you closely monitor how you stack up against your competition and, where necessary, redress any negative balances with adjustments to your campaigns. For your top keywords, and particularly in aggressive industry sectors or at key times of the year, you may even choose to run your PPC campaigns as a loss-leader until your SEO has time to catch up.


Another often overlooked but important reason to integrate SEO with PPC is that of messaging. When the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, it can often result in vastly mixed messaging between natural and paid listings. This can have disastrous results, with consumers becoming confused and ignoring your brand in favor of your opposition. In a stroke, all your hard work is undone.


A final important point to remember in this debate is that PPC also exists in the space beyond the search and meta-search engines. Running PPC ads on the content networks can reach parts of the web that SEO can't, further extending your online reach. Of course, when it comes to running contextual PPC campaigns, you need to start thinking about how your campaigns integrate with your PR strategy. But that's another topic for another day.


Alex Vlasto is marketing and communications director for MIVA. Read full bio.

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