Can My SEO Keywords Be My PPC Keywords?

SEO and PPC are two closely aligned channels: they both focus on optimizing for keywords in order to drive traffic and conversions from search engine users. However, the strategies and tactics for each are wildly different. At UpBuild, we know what we’re experts in (technical SEO, web analytics, and digital marketing strategy) and what we’re not (PPC, among many other things). We’re always happy to partner with our clients’ PPC vendors to align on overall marketing strategy, but periodically a client will ask for our help crafting their PPC campaigns, and we’ll have to explain that since it’s not our field of specialty, we can’t really provide the kind of expert guidance that they need.

One question we often get from clients as they’re shopping for PPC consultants, or attempting to build their own in-house PPC campaigns, is “Can’t we just plug our list of targeted SEO keywords into Google Ads and go from there?” We get this question frequently enough that I thought I’d explain our thinking on this topic in more detail.

Can My SEO Keywords Be My PPC Keywords?

The short answer is no.

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Here’s why (i.e. the longer answer):

PPC Isn’t Plug-and-Play

I’d never claim to be a PPC expert, but I have done it in the past. One reason you can’t just plug in your list of SEO keywords and expect to have a successful Google Ads (or Microsoft Ads, or whatever platform you’re using) campaign is that there’s more to PPC than that.

You could, conceivably, take the list of keywords that your SEO team is targeting as part of your organic search strategy and upload it into Google Ads; select the suggested bid for each term; create ad groups, designate landing pages, and write ad copy for each group; and set up conversion tracking; and do OK in PPC for a little while. But you’d likely be paying more per click than you’d need to (i.e. wasting money), and generating a lot of irrelevant, low-converting traffic (i.e. wasting time and money).

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Generating a list of PPC keywords requires PPC-specific research into things like variants, purchase intent, competition, and cost per click. Long-term success in a PPC campaign takes strategic bidding; continual management of costs per click, ad copy, and negative keywords; PPC-specific landing page optimization; and a whole host of other things that I don’t even know about, because I’m not a PPC expert. Keywords are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a successful PPC strategy.

Different Audiences, Different Strategies

If you have a list of keywords you’re targeting for SEO, your PPC vendor would almost certainly love to see it, because there’s likely to be some overlap between the two lists. Our keyword research process involves a lot of conversation with our client about how they do and don’t want to talk about their products, how they want to position themselves in their industry, and the problems their users are typically trying to solve when they visit the client’s site; it’s to everyone’s benefit if not all of those conversations have to be had from square one when a new PPC vendor is brought on. Your list of target terms for organic search will be a great jumping-off point for PPC research, but the two groups of terms will never be one-to-one.

If a business has had moderate success to date without focusing much on SEO, they’re probably already doing well generating traffic and conversions from brand queries and other bottom-of-the-funnel terms. One of the ways in which SEO can generate a great deal of value for a business is by increasing their presence for top-of-funnel and mid-funnel terms — the fabled “long tail” of terms that your target audience might be searching for during their decision-making journey, before they’ve had a chance to become familiar with your brand or product offering. Long-tail terms can be a tremendous driver of traffic and revenue for SEO, but they’re not always the best candidates for a PPC campaign.

Since top-of-funnel traffic is, by its very nature, coming from users who are earlier in their decision-making process, it takes longer to convert, and has a lower conversion rate, than mid-funnel or bottom-of-funnel traffic. That doesn’t mean it’s not valuable! In fact, it’s an important part of building your brand presence online and keeping your sales funnel full. A well-optimized, valuable piece of evergreen content can drive traffic, brand awareness, and revenue for your business for months and even years after being published; the value and ROI of a long-tail SEO campaign only increases over time.

That said, content and target terms that are intended to drive awareness are not always great candidates for a PPC campaign. Since you’re paying for every click that a user makes on a PPC ad, you’re likely going to want to spend that budget on mid-to-low-funnel strategies — focusing on topics and terms that have a clear purchase intent (or conversion intent) and are more likely to convert.

Use PPC to Do What SEO Can’t (or Can’t Yet)

In the SEO keyword research process, it’s pretty common to find keywords that are excellent fits for the client when it comes to user intent, but for which organic competition is so steep that it wouldn’t be worth the time/effort/money it would take to get the client ranking organically for that term. In that case, we usually look for more-specific, lower-competition variants or alternate topics to tackle: ones that will help our clients see better ROI than spending two years clawing for position for one high-competition vanity keyword would.

With PPC, however, you have an opportunity to pay to play. A well-orchestrated PPC campaign can help a business drive traffic from some of those terms whose high level of competition makes them not a worthwhile target for SEO (of course, some of those terms will also be so high-competition in the PPC space that they won’t drive ROI, either — check out the CPCs for “mesothelioma lawyer” sometime). For a newer business or website, a targeted PPC campaign can start driving traffic and sales on the same day you launch it, so it can be an excellent stopgap solution while the site is still gaining traction in organic search, which can take longer.

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All of this is to say, there may be terms that your SEO team has considered, but discarded for various reasons, but that might be terms that would do great for you in a PPC campaign — and vice versa.

Leave Expertise to the Experts

For all their differences, PPC and SEO do have one thing in common: they’re hard to do well, and can be extremely time-consuming. In either case, I strongly recommend bringing in an expert to help you get the most out of your site’s performance. For SEO, I hope that expert is UpBuild, of course, but even if it’s not, consulting a pro is well worth your time. For PPC, use a trusted service like Credo to find the perfect consultant for you. In either case, empowering your SEO and PPC providers to collaborate and communicate with each other will get you the best results — just don’t expect the two strategies to look anything alike.

Written by
Drawing on over a decade of digital marketing experience (both in-house & agency-side), Ruth leads the team to drive client strategy forward.

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