What’s the difference between organic SEO and PPC?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Pay-Per Click (PPC) advertising are two different but powerful search engine marketing strategies that work better together when it comes to gaining visibility in Google.
If you frequently use Google, then you likely see both paid and organic search results on a daily basis. The paid search ads appear in the first four spots at the top of the page, and the organic search results appear below them. With paid search ads, or PPC ads, you pay every time somebody clicks on the result. With organic results, you do not pay when someone clicks.
PPC is a quick solution if you’re looking to gain visibility in Google fast. That’s because SEO is a much more long-game strategy. It’s an investment in your website, and as such can take months to gain traction. That being said, it has a long-term payoff. Once your site is optimized, it theoretically keeps working for you at no cost (unless there is a drastic change to Google’s ranking algorithm.)
At Carnegie Dartlet, we get keyword ranking data from Google on a quarterly basis that is specific to higher education. Google’s data indicates that there has been a steady increase in searches for specific programs or degrees. That’s why program pages are often the best to optimize. That, in conjunction with PPC ads bidding on those same program keywords, gives you the best chance for a strong visibility in Google.
How does Google rank paid search PPC ads?
There are many factors that go into how Google ranks paid search ads including your bid, historical data from your campaigns, use of ad extensions, and much more. However, one of the biggest pieces is the quality of the ads and their corresponding landing pages.
Google gives you a quality score based on the relevancy between the keywords you’re bidding on, the ones in your search ad, and the ones on your landing page. This is why it’s so important to make sure you are optimizing your landing pages (more on this below) and including the right keywords, as Google will ultimately rank your ads based on that connection. With a higher quality score and a higher ad rank, there is a higher chance of your ads showing up not only above the organic results, but in one of the first two spots, which will also result in a lower cost-per-click.
How does Google rank organic SEO listings?
Google’s organic search algorithm is highly confidential and always changing. SEO professionals and teams, like ours here at Carnegie Dartlet, are constantly keeping an eye on new trends and testing new strategies. That being said, it’s well known that content is the biggest ranking factor. Having quality content on your website that is optimized for targeted search terms is essential for search engine visibility.
There’s endless possibilities when it comes to SEO, with thousands and thousands of possible keywords to optimize for without the worry of how “costly” they are. Did you know that the term “MBA degree” costs, on average, $46 per click on Google? Some institutions simply can’t afford to have their budget eaten up by that. However, you can optimize for this keyword organically at no cost to Google.
When you optimize pages for SEO, you can also increase your PPC quality score. If you are sending a PPC ad to a landing page on your website, Google will use that webpage as a factor for determining your quality score. The search engine looks to see if the content on the page is relevant to the copy in the ad, as well as the keyword you are bidding on, and also assesses the quality of the content on the page. The better written that page is, the better your PPC quality score will be, which will lower your overall cost-per-click (CPC.)
Beyond content, there are hundreds of other factors that go into ranking ability though, many of them technical in nature. Your entire site health, title tags, meta descriptions, redirects, links, and page speed are all crucial as well. Even local directories, such as Google My Business, can affect your overall rankings.
How you get free branding when you do SEO and PPC together
When it comes to strengthening brand through SEO, utilizing local search directories, mainly Google My Business, is key. Your Google My Business property should show up in the right hand side of the Google Search Engine Results Page (SERP) whenever someone searches on your name. This gives you the ability to control a prime spot in the SERP real estate. Learn more about how optimizing your Google My Business property and utilizing its post feature can increase your visibility. Even better, Google recently added a feature where you can connect your PPC ads to your Google My Business property for even better engagement!
Industry testing (and our own personal experience) has shown that users are more likely to click on an organic search engine result over a paid one. However, users are even more likely to click on that organic result if they first see the paid result at the top of the page. What does this mean? Well, for starters—that you’re getting free branding! That’s because, you only pay for a PPC ad when somebody clicks on it.
So, if people are seeing your brand in a paid spot at the top of the results, yet scrolling down to click on your organic listing, then you just got your brand at the top of Google’s results without having to pay for it. The key to a user scrolling down and clicking on your organic result, however, is dependent on you doing good SEO so that the organic result actually shows up on page one!
It’s important to note that you should always bid on your own brand name. If you’re not bidding on your brand then there is a good chance that a competitor could be. Similarly, competitors could match searches for your school’s name if they are bidding on terms that are similar to your name, or even bidding on keywords such as “university” or “college.” The same goes for bids that include a location name. Moral of the story? If someone searches specifically for your institution’s name, you want to show up in those paid search results.
Google’s latest data shows that most brand searches are happening on desktop and tablets, which are also the devices that prospective students are more likely to take action on. While they may interact with your site on mobile first, when it comes to actually filling out a form, they are more likely to do so on their computer or tablet. So if you’re not there when they search your brand name, you could be losing out on potential conversions from users that are further in the funnel and ready to take the next step. For this reason, your branded PPC ads could have a stronger call-to-action, such as “visit” or “apply,” since users searching for your name are already familiar with your institution and further down the funnel.
How You Can Integrate Google tools for better search insights to strengthen your SEO and PPC strategies
Aside from Google Analytics, Google Search Console is probably the most value SEO tool offered by Google. It allows you to see a sampling of the keywords that your site has appeared for, along with the number of clicks and impressions per keyword. It also lets you see this data for rich snippets. Google Search Console also allows you to fetch pages, which essentially means that you can alert Google whenever you make any changes on your website so that the search engine will recrawl it more quickly.
You can integrate your Google Search Console and Google Ads accounts in order to compare and contrast paid vs. organic keywords and identify opportunities for improvement. For example, you may find that you are appearing a lot for a certain keyword, but that users tend to click on the paid result rather than the organic result. You can alter the title tag and meta description on the organic result to make it more enticing. You can also use the search term reports in Google Ads to inform your organic SEO strategy. In other words, if there are certain keywords your PPC ads are showing up for but that you do not have any organic visibility for, you can optimize for those keywords on your website.
When it comes to SEO and PPC, it’s not one or the other, it’s both!
SEO and PPC work better when there is a strategy in place to utilize both at the same time. This will give you the best visibility in Google. If you want to learn more about about SEO and PPC, you can contact us today.
You can follow Rebecca on Twitter @beccablanchette for more search engine marketing insights.