It’s Complicated: The Relationship Between SEO & SEM

April 13, 2017

Digital Marketing Joey Shoop By Joey Shoop

As an SEO professional, I often encounter many clients who claim to be looking for an aggressive and successful campaign, only to eventually find out that their only interest was in improving their paid search performance. The popular idea is that if they can make their pages rank better, they can pay less for ad space and conversions.  

While this can sometimes be true, there are far too many factors that influence PPC, and therefore, relying on SEO to save the day may not yield the desired effect. And what’s worse is that the client has no real goal in regard to their organic traffic, they simply want it all to “be better.”

Optimizing for search engines usually means improving statistics like impressions and average ranking, not necessarily helping the paid advertisement opportunities. Let’s take a look at some of the factors that can help, and then look at some of the ways SEO can fail you.

How SEO Can Help

The primary way that an effective SEO campaign can help Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is through the overall improvement of your landing pages. Start with a thorough technical audit, which will kick off the process of fixing the nagging issues with your site, refine its performance in speed and conversion, and help gain more traffic and conversions to your site.  

Additionally, a good SEO campaign should be able to help garner more (and better) links to the site, disavow any poor-quality links, correct and improve code and schema, and highlight any other areas of potential improvement to the site.  

All of this should work together to help raise your site’s domain and page authority on the web. Ideally, this will help raise your profile on your paid campaigns as well, helping you acquire clicks inexpensively and get cheaper conversions.  It’s not unusual for a client who is undergoing an SEO campaign to see better results in their paid ads, but it is far from a guarantee that they will.  

How SEO Can’t Help

There are a host of variables that go into PPC that SEO cannot help.  One of the biggest ones is ad spend. Unfortunately, some categories, industries and keywords are just more competitive than others, and no amount of SEO will change that.  Legal services, ‘water damage’ terms and phone service keywords are some of the most popular and expensive terms in SEM, and even the most optimized sites won’t have much impact on these terms.

In addition, poorly selected landing pages will stifle an ad’s performance. A great website that garners great organic traffic won’t do well if you send people to a poorly-chosen landing page from an ad. Imagine that you’re looking to purchase a new tent for your upcoming camping trip and you come across an ad from a sporting goods store offering 20% all outdoor gear. You click the link, and you’re taken to a page for baseball equipment. You may be inclined to click around the site to find the deal in question, but most people won’t. This will cause your ad to fail catastrophically, despite having a strong SEO performance.

Finally, ad composition can kill any ad’s performance despite the best SEO results. If the ad copy is unappealing, or the visuals you’re using are fuzzy and unprofessional, your SEO-optimized site won’t save it from bad results. You can’t rely on your site to salvage a badly-thought-out advertising campaign; you must make sure that the copy and images you use represent your company and products well in order to draw in potential clients.

Coming Together

Ultimately, you have to bear in mind that SEO and SEM are two different things, and while they can overlap, there are factors that influence paid ads that even the best SEO campaigns can’t affect. While a good SEO campaign can have wonderful effects on your ads’ performance, there’s a good chance that you may not see significant changes in how many clicks and conversions you get from your paid efforts.  

The best advice that I can give in this regard is to focus on the area that you need the most — if you want better performance for your paid ads, work with a professional PPC advisor to help craft the best ads possible. If you’re thinking of signing up for SEO help, have goals in mind for organic search instead of paid ads. Here at ChannelAdvisor, our SEO team works hand-in-hand with Managed Services Campaign Managers to help clients drive superior ROI from their digital marketing campaigns. Contact us today to see how we can help!