When I first started out in search, it was predominantly working on pay per click campaigns before I gradually started working more and more in SEO before eventually focusing nearly all my time in this area.Â Hence, the name of this blog and why some of you who may remember my posts from 4+ years ago they were mainly about pay per click, now they focus a lot more on SEO (I still do PPC today though). I think that grounding in PPC has been a huge benefit in terms of perspective for SEO and its development over the years.
Historically, the mindset of the two separate approaches of PPC & SEO have not always been quite the same. For example, when targeting high volume (often generic) search phrases pay per click marketeers would approach with caution immediately thinking of return.
What are the average CPCs of the keywords, profit margins or KPIs of the client? Does the site have a strong or wide enough range of products or services to achieve a high enough conversion rate to achieve an acceptable level of return on the spend? How has it performed in the past? What are the average conversion rates? Etc.
From an SEO perspective there would be some caution, but some of the more immediate thoughts were always – Is achieving 1st page rankings achievable? Where are they ranking now? What’s their current link profile like? How many days work each month will it require for link building to achieve this?
So perhaps already far less focus on real KPIs. The cost is somewhat detached, so perhaps accountability aswell. But times have changed.
Accountability & Return
I still believe some in SEO have a distinct lack of understanding or at least, sense of accountability of this most basic principle of search engine marketing. Return.
What I love about PPC is it’s transparency and subsequent accountability it holds. With a high degree of accuracy you can see exactly what you are spending, where it’s been spent and the subsequent impact on conversion and ultimately return. Clients expect to see a positive return. They can see exactly what is working, what is wasting them money and how much they are getting in return.
What struck me immediately when I started in SEO years ago was the difference in expectations and accountability. Agencies didn’t provide much more than ranking reports as a measure of performance. Clients didn’t necessarily expect much more either.
This is quite an amazing thing from a PPC perspective. Imagine running a campaign without tracking or delivering a keyword report with just cost and rank. While not completely the same, is it that different? Regardless of the search marketing discipline (PPC/SEO), clients are paying money to achieve agreed business objectives, which should be based on tangible business KPIs.
Increasing visibility (rank) is the core method to achieve these objectives, but is not the end objective. So it should not be the ultimate judge of performance either.
It has taken sometime for SEO to become more accountable in the same way as PPC. Expectations, analytics and SEO have developed hugely over the last few years. The search engines have also evolved with greater personalisation of results meaning that everyone’s SERPs are not always the same. But this should not be the reason why they are no longer a good measure of SEO success, they never were alone, it’s now just another factor to consider. I have never been a fan of made up visibility scores (Web Position, Advanced Web Ranking etc) much either. The only results that matter are conversion and alongside it, analytics data.
Ranking reports are not dead, just using them as the only measure of SEO performance should finally now be.
The average rankings on the base set of results are still extremely useful (alongside the other key metrics of analytics and conversion data) to guide the campaign. In a similar way to a keyword reports in PPC.
In the past I have seen high rankings and subsequent high visitor volume but very low conversion achieved by SEO judged as a success and that the low conversion was a failure of the site/business rather than the campaign. Something that would just never wash in the world of pay per click. Obviously sites are partly accountable and search marketeers cannot all be conversion rate experts, but the original strategy and implementation for targeting is entirely down to the provider. There is less control in SEO, but the responsibility for targeting and attaining ROI should be the same.
While the disciplines are separate in their approach, the ultimate objectives are the same. The cost might be more detached from the keyword in SEO, but it still costs, either in hiring an agency or time creating content or link building. Some good SEOs have understood this for a long-time, while some are still struggling to evolve from times past and should take heed from some of the grounding PPC can provide.