Search Engine Optimization (SEO) vs Paid Search (PPC). Which is Better?
I think most B2B marketers would agree that achieving top organic rankings on Google on a consistent basis is an objective worthy of the journey that’s needed to get there. The challenge is knowing the best way to go about it – SEO or PPC — and what you have to do en route to ensure success.
First Time Around
Surprisingly few of the small to mid-sized technology companies that I talk to have done much in the way of cohesive online marketing. Those that have dipped their toes in the water have, in general, been disappointed. Some have tried PPC, but, nine times out of ten, the program wasn’t executed particularly well, so they got a lot of clicks, but few, if any, identifiable sales leads. Some may even have managed to rank well organically for a few keywords – but more often than not, they turn out to be keywords with low search volumes, so they don’t drive a lot of site traffic, or sales leads.
Think Sales Leads
So what do B2B organizations need to do to be more successful with online marketing?
First, you have to understand that, for most B2B companies, the web site is a selling tool not a point of sale. Its primary use is to engage and inform prospects about your product or service. Selling happen offline, typically face to face. But your web presence can be a great source of sales leads for these offline selling activities.
To generate sales leads on your web site, you need to have mechanisms in place that help web site visitors to self-identify. The problem is the majority of B2B web sites are not set-up with this in mind, so starting a PPC program or implementing SEO isn’t going to do a lot for your lead generation if all the traffic you drive to your site remains anonymous.
It doesn’t have to be like this though. Overcoming these obstacles is more than achievable with a little focus, fortitude and long-term vision.
Here’s a seven point plan to successful online lead generation that outlines a practical and logical approach to leveraging both paid and organic search activities for B2B online lead generation.
1. Start with PPC
Paid search is quick and easy to set up and delivers immediate results. It is also the very best way to test a whole bunch of keywords to see which ones are most relevant to your business and drive the most traffic. Why is this important? Because once you are ready to optimize your site content you can only optimize for a few key phrases – typically between 10 and 15 for the average B2B web site – which means you have to be absolutely sure that you select the right ones. On top of this, SEO typically takes several months to bear fruit, so you simply can’t afford to select the wrong key word phrases to optimize.
2. Use Landing Pages
Don’t just point your paid search visitors to your site. If you have no conversion mechanisms in place they will remain anonymous and you won’t get any sales leads. And while “request a demo” and “contact me” are good conversion point, they won’t work for all visitors. Most searchers are in the early stage of their purchasing cycle and they won’t be ready to engage on specifics like a demo or a call from a sales rep.
By using a landing page (with some suitable incentive content like a whitepaper) you can manage the visitors informational needs by providing them with the educational content that they are searching for and at the same time start to generate a steady stream of sales leads for your sales force.
3. Start to Think about Onsite Conversion Too
While you’re getting the paid search program up and running and honing your keyword list to identify the best performing phrases, think about how you can incent direct site visitors to self-identify. Because your long-term aim is to increase your organic site traffic and you will need to help these visitors to convert when they come.
Start to develop a library of incentive content that will be of interest to them (whitepapers, ROI calculators, free needs assessments, self-running demos, competitive comparisons, case studies etc.) Don’t worry, this doesn’t have to happen overnight, but you’ll be amazed at how much useful stuff you can amass over a period of 12 or so months by simply setting yourself the goal to do it and taking the first step.
4. Build Conversion Mechanisms
Once you have some content to offer to site visitors, make sure that have quick and easy access to it from anywhere on the site. A simple way to do this is to have a next steps box on each page that takes them to the incentive content you have created. And make sure your conversion forms only ask for the information you need to engage them. The more form fields you have the less likely people are to identify themselves.
5. Identify Your Top Keyword Phrases
After running PPC for 3 to 6 months, you should have enough response data to create the list of keywords that do the best job of driving conversions via your landing page program. This is another key advantage of running landing pages vs simply connecting your search ads to site content. Having someone do a search, click on your ad, arrive at a landing page, read it and convert provides much more evidence that the keyword they used to search for you is highly relevant to your particular business.
6. Optimize your Content
Take your priority phrases and use them to optimize your key site content – home page, product page, etc. But remember, on and off page content optimization are just part of a myriad of tasks that you will need to implement for a successful SEO program. Studies show that this work contributes about 15-20% to the overall SEO puzzle. For SEO to work long term, you will also need to kick-off a sustained link- building program and focus on keeping your site content ‘current’ – a blog is the ideal vehicle for this.
7. Keep PPC Going
If you can afford it, keep the paid search program going. There are two good reasons to do this:
- The true impact of SEO efforts cannot be known immediately. It will not give you instant results in terms of traffic and may take several months for your site to get the desired traffic. Keeping paid search going during this time will ensure that your conversion rate doesn’t dip while waiting for your SEO efforts to ‘kick in’
- You can only ever hope to optimize 10 to 15 site pages with any degree of success, so if you have a bunch of other keyword phrases that performed well but just didn’t make it to the top 15, you can still keep leveraging them, and the conversions they yield via paid search.
So, the answer to the question is really “both”. PPC and SEO together are a killer combination. Executed with care and focus, they will both help you improve your online visibility, and, with the right conversion mechanisms in place, help you generate actionable sales leads for your sales organization too.
Sean O’Donovan is the owner of FunnelBuilders, an internet marketing consultancy that helps technology organizations develop and implement smart post-click marketing strategies that generate actionable in-bound sales leads.