PPC or SEO? Which should you do first?

It’s a classic question. Many clients and potential clients contact me wanting more traffic. They wonder whether they should sink some time and money into Google AdWords OR organic SEO to boost traffic. My answer is usually - BOTH!

But it’s a bit more nuanced than that.

If someone has to start with just one traffic source due to budget limitations, I usually recommend starting with PPC because the information gathered from PPC campaigns can direct the resources you invest into SEO for organic rankings. Let me explain how...

Keywords Aren’t Irrelevant...Yet!

If you keep up with SEO trends and search engine algorithms, you probably know that Google’s Hummingbird update and the move to "semantic search" means that themes, authority and search intent are often as important, if not more important, than the actual keyword that is searched.

While it’s important to understand this trend, the simple truth is that search phrases are still used whether they are typed in a search bar or spoken. If you’re going to invest time and money optimizing your site to be displayed more prominently in organic search engine rankings, at some point you’ll have to buckle down and do some good ol’ fashioned keyword research.

Every search has its own intent

Keyword Tools Galore

This post is in the keyword research section of the WooRank blog, so I don’t need to list all the keyword tools that are out there. You can simply read through some of the excellent posts in this category (after you finish reading this one, of course) to learn more about some of the most powerful tools out there for discovering keywords that can move the needle in your niche or industry.

The purpose of this post is to show you that Google AdWords can be ONE of those keyword research tools - and might just be the best one!

Use Google AdWords for Keyword Research

Why not use Google AdWords for keyword research? Most years, AdWords is responsible for over 75% of Google’s billions of dollars in revenue. And with Google controlling of the majority of searches that happen in the world, you can go direct to the source to find out what keywords are producing the magical volume you need to grow your business.

Let’s face it - all the other free and paid tools out there (SEMrush, Wordstream, AdWords Keyword Planner, etc.) are really just doing their best to tap into the mountain of data that Google is sitting on. And they do a pretty good job, but as Marvin Gaye said, "ain’t nothing like the real thing"!

Hidden Benefits of Google AdWords

Many people have tried and failed at Google AdWords. They believe they are just paying for traffic and customers, and although that is the main purpose of AdWords, most AdWords advertisers don’t realize they are sitting on a potential gold mine of data.

When you spend money, even for only one month, you have keyword data in your account for every impression and click of your ad.

After accumulating some traffic in AdWords, you can go into the Keyword tab of a campaign and click on Search Queries. There, right before your eyes, you’ll have the list of all the search terms that led to clicks on your ads. And even better than that, you’ll also see keywords that led to impressions when your ad was not clicked.

Valuable keyword data displayed in an AdWords campaign

So what is so good about this data?

  • Live - Google AdWords data is live data, not estimates based on the past. You should see the data within seconds or minutes from the search and click occuring.

  • Local - If you use a free keyword tool, it will probably show you national data. With AdWords data, you’ll obviously be seeing the data only for the location you’re targeting in your campaign. This is amazing for discovering the types of local city and region names used and specific vernacular that might be used in one region of the US or even the world.

  • Competition - You’ll get an idea of competition for a keyword based on your ad ranking and costs per click. This may not be directly related to organic competition but is certainly an indication of overall search engine competitiveness for a search term.

  • Conversions - Volume is one thing. You have to start by looking for keywords that can drive traffic, but the ultimate goal is conversions (phone calls, prospects, sales, etc). With conversion tracking properly set up in AdWords, you’ll be able to see which search terms are actually leading to the most conversions. In case you missed that last bullet point, read it again. THIS IS HUGE!

Conversion data for keywords is very valuable information in AdWords

A Keyword Tool that Actively Produces Income?

Many people would argue they shouldn’t pay for this data when they could get it for free from another tool. If my points touting the superiority of AdWords data above wasn’t enough to convince you that this data is invaluable for your business, don’t forget - you’re not actually JUST paying for data. You’re paying for clicks and traffic to your site - remember?.

If you decide to devote a budget to AdWords purely for keyword research, you may find that you generate positive ROI on your AdWords spend while accumulating the keyword data at the same time!

RESULT: A keyword tool that isn’t an expense or even free, but that actually boosts your revenue!

Maximize the Keyword Data You Get From AdWords

So, how do you make sure you get the most meaningful data out of AdWords in a short amount of time - say 3-4 months?

  • Don’t skimp on the budget. If your aim is to bring in a lot of data fast, make sure your daily budget is not limiting you.

  • Make sure you’re getting as close to 100% impression share as possible. Impression share can be limited by rank and budget. Watch my video on how to monitor impression share.

  • I rarely use broad match keywords in AdWords because it generates a lot of barely relevant searches. However, since you’re trying to gather keyword data, it’s not a bad idea to use broad match and modified broad match keywords to expand the number of terms that will generate impressions of your ad. Consider putting these keywords in their own campaign with limited budget.

I think every business owner or marketing department has to at least try AdWords to see if they can use it to grow their business. Understanding the keyword research potential of AdWords may be what is needed to push you off the sidelines and into the fray.