Customer engagement is an important predecessor of customer loyalty. Brands today need to build awareness for their product, services, and values as the first step in the customer engagement process. Building awareness for your brand online means you need to have a solid understanding of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Pay-Per-Click (PPC). Many people think these two are competing strategies and nearly mutually exclusive, therefore they typically think of investing in one or the other.
Through an interview with Chris Rodgers, the founder and CEO of Colorado SEO Pros (CSP), we learned that if you invest in both strategies, you can achieve strong synergies and impactful outcomes for your brand, whether brick and mortar, e-commerce or omni-channel.
In this interview, you’ll learn about these key points:
- How PPC Informs SEO Strategy
- Building Keyword Synergies
- How to identify your primary value proposition
- How to achieve Conversion Optimization
- Building Trust and Authority
Wise Marketer (TWM): Even though Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Pay-Per-Click (PPC) are familiar terms, many business people struggle to differentiate the benefits of each when creating a marketing strategy. Can you give us an overview of each, with some pros and cons?
Chris Rodgers (CR): Both channels help to drive traffic from search engines, but do so in different ways. Paid search works well when you need to generate traffic in a shorter timeframe, and works even better if you have a large budget to work with. Paid search can scale up quickly and generate results fast, however you pay a premium for that quick result, and you don’t build any owned value. That means when you stop paying, all benefit stops as well. Paid search is great at targeting customers when they are near the purchase stage of the buyer’s journey, so conversions can be realized quickly when paid campaigns are executed properly.
SEO can deliver significantly larger returns, but it moves slow, and you need to invest a lot of up-front time and money before you see returns. SEO is an iterative process involving ongoing content creation, link-building and technical website work. It can take 3-6 months to see real movement in a typical SEO campaign. Even after a year, it is atypical to see huge returns (at least compared to the big picture potential). However, SEO results compound over time, so as you continue to build, your return can continue to increase over the years. Your costs in SEO also don’t have to increase at the same rate as your results, so your return can become very large.
SEO also builds value into your website. Even though you will see results fade if you don’t continue performing SEO, you will retain much of what you have developed over the short to mid-term. You will also retain true value from your SEO campaign in the form of optimized landing pages and back links.
TWM: These two approaches can be seen as competing strategies. Are they mutually exclusive or can they be blended into one effective strategy? Why or why not?
CR: These two channels work great together and can be aligned to get the most benefit from each other. While many B2C conversions will take place in a single user journey, complex sales that are common in B2B and enterprise SEO will take place after users have visited a website multiple times, often through different channels. These multi-channel conversions commonly involve SEO and paid search working together.
For example, you could have a customer with informational intent at the top of the SEO funnel performing research on their problem/need and discover one of your blogs. The odds of them converting as a customer at that time are very slim, however they have now been exposed to your brand and become a visitor on your site. From there, as they progress through the buyer’s journey and the SEO funnel, you have the opportunity to serve them retargeting ads to remind them of your brand, as well as display and keyword targeted search ads. The likelihood of the conversion increases as you add additional channels to support the buyer’s journey (this holds true for paid social as well).
TWM: Talking about SEO, strong search result positioning can be achieved through "earned" means. Brands who create compelling content that engages with potential clients can earn better search results. Where does this tactic stand among paid options?
CR: While the content a brand might create is technically owned media, the traffic garnered from search engines through the process of SEO is earned, as would be the promotion that might take place on Twitter or other social media channels as a result of the earned SEO exposure. This tactic works well alongside paid search, but would not replace the paid media that is oftentimes being executed at the same time. The earned visibility and traffic happen more organically than paid media and can yield a tremendous ROI, however it should be part of a comprehensive SEO strategy as some content will rank and perform, and other pieces will not or will take longer to yield benefit.
TWM: Google seems to change its methodology for evaluating content often. Can you share a synopsis of how you understand "best practices" in content creation today?
CR: There are certainly some accepted best practices for on-page SEO, however today’s search algorithm relies heavily on machine learning to help connect users with the best and most useful content. The key is to focus on the user, their intent and stage of the buyer’s journey, and endeavor to create better, more useful content that stands out beyond the competition. It’s less about using SEO data to drive content, and instead using SEO tech and data to support and validate marketing useful content to real people.
TWM: What is the role of keywords in driving ROI on SEO today?
CR: Much of the thinking in modern SEO has shifted away from “keywords” and more towards topics and audiences. Keyword data is still very important, but the way to think about keywords and how they are used has changed among market leaders. Keywords should be used to understand audiences and distinct groups of users based on personas, stage of the buyer’s journey, and stage of the SEO intent funnel. If this context informs keyword mapping and content creation it can help support a strong ROI within a comprehensive SEO strategy.
ROI should really be measured at the analytics level, and while there are techniques to try and project ROI based on keyword rankings, this approach is often unreliable because there are just too many variables to account for.
TWM: Tell us a little about your background and about Colorado SEO Pros. Also share what your ideal client would look like and what services you offer?
CR: I founded CSP in 2012 as a boutique SEO agency performing a more advanced and comprehensive flavor of SEO than what was typical at the time. Over the years we have grown in terms of the technology we leverage (and create), the talent we employ and our overall approach to SEO. We take a business-first approach to SEO that is (surprisingly) fairly unique. Instead of using SEO data and tools to create strategy we create strategy based on our clients’ business and revenue goals, and then use technology and data to both validate and expand upon that strategy. Revenue and ROI is our North Star when it comes to success, with things like rankings and traffic being part of the equation, but secondary.
Our ideal client markets nationally in the U.S. (can also serve international markets), can be B2B or B2C, understands the value and potential of SEO, and has the internal infrastructure to support a comprehensive SEO program. We look for clients who are committed to a partnership versus hiring a vendor, this means having an internal content team or willingness to pay for content, having web development resources and are prepared to prioritize SEO (or willing to pay for that development), and overall are serious about making SEO a priority within the organization. We don’t take projects that aren’t a good fit or that we don’t think we can win.
We offer SEO professional services, which includes SEO consulting and project management, SEO content strategy and content production, technical SEO, and link-building. We can make references for other channels, but we live and breathe SEO.
TWM: How do you measure ROI for SEO and PPC? What metrics are important to track?
CR: Conversions, assisted conversions, top conversion paths, page value, and of course revenue if e-commerce is configured. We coordinate closely with PPC teams but typically don’t measure paid search conversions and ROI. If you are tracking conversions within analytics and you know average transaction value (ATV) or lifetime customer value (LCV), you can use internal conversion rate to calculate ROI. There are some nuances with how to calculate, but the approach is fairly straightforward.
TWM: How important is building trust in your content and SEO efforts? How can marketers communicate a message that "sells” or at least "attracts" while building a trustworthy perception of a brand?
CR: It’s extremely important. Google’s EAT factors specifically call out trustworthiness as a core consideration when assessing negative impacts from one of Google’s core algorithm updates, and if you happen to be in the YMYL category, not properly establishing trust can drive even bigger drops in Google.
It’s less about the message and more about helping Google (and users) understand that content is accurate, up to date, and written by an authoritative source. Your message should be directed towards the user based on their stage of the buyer’s journey and SEO intent funnel, so if they have transactional intent feel free to sell away! Just make sure to clearly outline all the facts in a credible and accurate way. If you are serving users looking for more top of funnel content, make sure to clearly show the publish date, an author with real expertise, and external links to authoritative sources to back up what you are saying.
Chris Rodgers is the founder and CEO of Colorado SEO Pros (CSP), a boutique Search Engine Optimization (SEO) agency serving regional, national and enterprise organizations. CSP specializes in delivering a superior SEO experience supported by the most advanced SEO technology, a deep bench of SEO talent and a business-first approach that puts client revenue and campaign ROI as its top priority. CSP has a proven track record of success in competitive verticals and adds value to its clients’ businesses through creativity, dedication, and an unparalleled desire to deliver the best results. Chris founded Colorado SEO Pros in 2012.