The Consequences of Getting Keyword Research Wrong for PPC and SEO

Posted on August 29, 2012

Yesterday Jenny Halaz wrote a piece on Search Engine Land about the different approaches to keyword research for PPC and SEO. She makes some excellent points but I really disagree with her about the relative size of the margin for error in each discipline.

1 The Margin for Error in PPC

Jenny says

the margin for error in PPC is small. Every mistake costs you money.

And it is true, every PPC mistake does cost you money. But this is also true of SEO even if the cost is only opportunity cost.

However, the key thing about PPC is the speed at which you can learn and react. If I add some bad keywords or end up targeting the wrong area then I’ll know about it pretty quickly. I can also fix my mistake because changing PPC keywords and adding new ones is fast.

Contrast this with SEO…

2 The Margin for Error in SEO

In the SEO projects I have worked on there have been two major difficulties:

  1. Getting changes and recommendations onto the live site
  2. Linkbuilding

Both of these tasks depend on the keyword research, and for both of them learning that the keyword research is wrong may require starting again from scratch.

The costs here could be massive both in terms of all the missed search traffic while these things are being implemented (again) and in terms of the time taken by IT teams and linkbuilders.

I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb with what I say in this post. For years people have known that one of the best ways PPC and SEO can work together is to use PPC to help the SEO team with their keyword research:

  1. SEO team go to PPC team with an idea of the keywords they want to bid on (or they setup the PPC themselves)
  2. PPC team dedicate a small testing budget to these keywords
  3. PPC team report to SEO team on keyword performance, in terms of volume of impressions, quality of traffic and competitiveness of auction
  4. SEO team analyses the data and may go back to step 1 with a new set of keywords.

This approach does not require expensive (in terms of time) linkbuilding or on site changes. I cannot imagine anyone doing it the other way around (SEO team run experiments to tell PPC team what to bid on) which is why I think it is so odd for Jenny Halasz to say that there is more risk in PPC keyword research than SEO