How Should SEO and Paid Media Work Together?

June 10, 2021


Our next episode of The Digital Marketing Troop finds host John Tyreman welcoming Kurt Lambert and Andrew Fuchs, two senior digital experts at Silverback Strategies.

They discuss how SEO and paid media should work together to get the most value out of your digital marketing strategy.

Don’t forget, there is a transcript below, and if you want more digital marketing discussions, subscribe to our series on Spotify


John Tyreman: Hi gang, welcome to The Digital Marketing Troop, where we talk about what’s going on in digital marketing. I’m your host John Tyreman and I’m joined today by Kurt Lambert, VP of SEO and development ops, and Andrew Fuchs, director of paid media at Silverback Strategies, and we’re here to talk about how paid media and SEO can work together in your digital marketing strategy. But before we dive in, I’m going to put both of you on the spot, since we’re in coronavirus time, still working from home.

Let’s just imagine that you’re at a bar and you get roped into singing a karaoke song. What’s your go-to karaoke song? Andrew, we’ll start with you, alright? 

Andrew Fuchs: So, my go-to is, always been, “Sweet Caroline.” I feel like I nail it; I know the words for starters, but I feel like I nail all the intonations and all of that, so that’s always been my go-to. 

JT: It’s funny, I actually was working an opportunity one time and the point of contact is–a fairly large company–the point of contact was Caroline, and every time I saw an email come through, that song just ran right through my head. Sweet Caroline…

Kurt, what about you?

Kurt Lambert: Going-back-to-the-bar karaoke? I miss those days, wow. There’s a few choices that I keep on my steady rotation when I’m at a karaoke place, but I spent way too much time in high school practicing my rap flows, so one of my go-tos is always Eminem, “Lose Yourself.” I think it really gets the people going. It’s a real crowd-pleaser and something that I really enjoy performing. 

JT: Yeah, just don’t perform after you’ve eaten too much of mom’s spaghetti, right? 

KL: That’s right.

JT: For me, I would have to go with any sort of Sublime song. “40 Ounces to Freedom” comes to mind for me. Love singing that tune. 

AF: You don’t hear enough Subline at karaoke bars, I’ll say that much. 

JT: You don’t. It’s fun, it’s party music, right? 

Well, let’s dive into the topic at hand today, guys. So, how can paid media and SEO work together? Kurt, I’d love to start with you, from your perspective, from an SEO perspective, how can paid media really help enhance a company’s SEO activities.

KL: Yeah, so I’d say there’s several ways, really. Anytime we’re able to have a campaign that leverages SEO and paid media together, we really see better results across the board when we’re looking at the company’s broader digital goals and initiatives. It’s easy from the SEO perspective just to sit back and say, “Oh, paid media just provides more competition for organic search clicks,” which is technically true. But I think there is a lot larger benefit to gain when you look at the big picture.

Really, any time we’re able to run both together, the data that we get from the paid media side, from the paid media campaigns with, you know, search query reports and performance metrics and everything like that, and then being able to kind of share that data and leverage it into the SEO side as well, we get way better results because we’re not able to necessarily see a lot of those metrics on the organic side when we’re just kind of locked into the SEO silo. So, we’re able to really see you know our keyword strategy and then take it one step further and see how that keyword strategy could theoretically perform.

It gives us a lot more confidence in the work that we’re putting together with organic. Another big benefit is just the immediate short-term boost that paid media can provide. You know, it’s no secret that SEO campaigns can take a few months to really get off the ground and up and running before you can start seeing noticeable increases in organic performance. Clients, a lot of times, when we’re starting an SEO and paid media campaign together at the same time, paid media can really provide that short term boost and then allow the patience of the SEO campaigns to take hold. Then, over the long term, once both are up and running, then results are really of going full-sailing there. But it does help the clients, knowing that they’re not going to be sitting around for a couple of months of waiting for leads to roll in.

And then really, the third thing I would say is just the long-term strategy to really be able to refine which keywords over time, which terms or topics can be bucketed as truly paid media priorities. Once we get an understanding for the industry, which keywords can be prioritized as SEO priorities and then be able to optimize the budget accordingly on the media side. Or,in certain situations where you know competition is really fierce for a group of keywords, then being able to throw resources at it from both the paid media and SEO side, going all-out assault. 

I think those are really the big benefits of paid media and how they can help the SEO campaigns over time. 

JT: I love that concept of quick wins while you’re building something longer-term, because marketing is always on the hook for delivering right now. Obviously, SEO is kind of a long-term play. That’s an interesting perspective.

Andrew, on the flip side of that, how would SEO really fuel or support paid media initiatives?

AF: Yeah, totally agree with everything Kurt said. I think something we hear a lot from our clients is a little bit of a short-sighted attitude. I’ve heard clients say, “I’m only going to do paid media until my SEO kicks in,” or on the flip-side of that, “I’m only going to do SEO for a little while until my site’s all good, and then I’ll turn it off and I’ll be all set.” 

I think that that mindset is a little bit dangerous. If you’re not looking to grow your business, that’s fine, but the reality is you need both firing on all cylinders for a long period of time. So for me, to answer your question, obviously is all things search when it comes to both paid and SEO. Do you want to dominate the search landscape for all of your top keywords? That’s kind of a no-brainer, but paid media nowadays encompasses so much more than just paid search.

We drive a lot of our traffic–maybe folks who aren’t necessarily familiar with the businesses that we work with–driving up or funnel traffic from other platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn or Display or YouTube. So, what we’re trying to do there is introduce those people to the brands that we are promoting, show a little bit about the product and the value proposition, and ideally get them to the website to perform an action. 

But in reality, we know that people don’t just necessarily click and then convert right away. The user journeys can be really complex and take time, take many visits, many sessions. So, in a lot of cases what we’re doing with that first ad interaction is driving a subsequent search. Maybe the people are going to go to their search engine the next day, maybe a week later, and search for the business; maybe just the general product or industry term. 

Of course you want to be present however you can, whether that’s paid search or SEO, have that listing right at the top, just because people are going to be taking a lot of different actions on their way to conversion.

Another way I think that you can get a lot of great mileage out of your SEO efforts–nowadays SEO isn’t just technical, having a good technical foundation on your site. There’s a lot more importance around the content that you’re producing, and I don’t think that the content that you produce needs to solely be beneficial for SEO and organic visibility. I think it can also get a lot more life out of paid promotions, promoting it on Paid, Socal, Display, YouTube. Just as another way to maximize the value of it, the two working together. 

JT: One thing that clicked to me as you were talking about that, Andrew, where I see a tie-in to SEO is the technical foundation of the site. But then also, the user experience on the site is becoming more and more important as you’re driving traffic from platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter or wherever, and they’re landing on your site. Having that seamless experience, that’s just going to stand out in their mind. That’s another good ranking factor for Google.

Now with these core web vitals that are rolling out, Kurt, is there anything additional that you want to layer on there?

KL: John, I think you bring up a great point. Site performance, in general, user experience is so big in SEO these days. I mean, it’s really a website initiative. It’s a business initiative that can span all the different digital channels that we work on, certainly with SEO, but then driving traffic to those paid media landing pages, making sure the content is easily found and digested for users. Whether they’re coming through search or coming through social or another channel like that.

I think you know a lot of what we do in SEO these days isn’t just about making sure we have the highest visibility in search, which is still important. We really want to optimize the overall business, the overall website, and everything that funnels into it.

JT: Is driving more traffic to a website, let’s say from channels like paid media, is that a signal that Google sees and says, “Hey, there’s traffic coming to this site”? Perhaps that gives you a little bit more authority that might elevate some organic search results?

KL: Yeah, officially, I don’t think Google will ever come out and say that, but we’ve definitely seen cases where sites that get more play in search results get higher clickthrough rates organically, somehow start to move up.

People that are on a site and they spend more time browsing different pages, they spend more time on a page just reading through an entire new page of content. Those particular URLs in those particular sections of the site tend to do better. So, even though officially there’s not this, “Bounce rates are a part of SEO, click-through rates are part of SEO as a ranking factor,” there’s definitely a really positive correlation that the more we’re able to keep people engaged, the better that we do as a result.

JT: Andrew, any thoughts on that?

AF: Well, just hammering home what you asked about initially, with paid we can drive traffic pretty easily. We can turn it up and down on a daily basis if we need to, but that traffic is only going to be as valuable as the actions that they take on the site. If you don’t have a good technical foundation on your website, your house in order, so to speak, a lot of that traffic will be sent to the website for nothing and you won’t get the return that you want, so.

Super important, the user experience that a person has on the website. Finding the right content that’s helpful for them in their user journey. At least getting them to the next step if not getting that conversion, I think that’s a big part of organic nowadays. And how Google views sites and ranks them. So yeah, definitely a big relationship there.

JT: Right on. Well, you guys shared an article with me the other day and I want to ask you guys about it. The article was in Search Engine Journal and it was about a concept called search incrementality or the 1 + 1 = 3 theory. Now I’ve read through it and I think I understand, but I’d love to hear you guys, if you could explain it to me as if I’ve never heard of it. How would you describe that? 

AF: Yeah, I’m happy to start. Incrementality’s a concept not necessarily specific to the digital space, but in the context of what we’re talking about, it’s basically the measure of lift that advertising produces for a particular outcome that you’re trying to drive. So in the case of search incrementality, that outcome is really a click on your listing, whether that’s the organic or paid listing that results in a visit to your website.

Many, I’d say, like to look at, when it comes to a keyword status as paid or organic and not necessarily running the two together. I mean, it is true that running keywords for both, there’s going to be some overlap. There’s going to be some cannibalization, so to speak.

But by running the two together, you actually increase the likelihood and probability of a click between the two that running one or the other would not necessarily have driven, so you produce what’s called a “Halo Effect” by having the two together. It’s something our clients often ask us about, especially when it comes to branded keywords. They say, “Obviously I rank well for my brand organically, so why am I going to put money into a branded search campaign on Google ads or Microsoft ads,” and it’s a fair question, I think it’s really worth having a discussion about.

The way we tend to explain it as you know, if you’re in an industry that has no competition, your competitors are not going to run keywords for your brand name and you’re just going to get that top slot organically, and its almost a given that you’re going to get the traffic. That’s great, but in reality that’s not the case.

Almost any industry is going to have competition, going to have smart marketers that are trying to capture other peoples brands as paid keywords. So, you need to have your own ads up there to defend your brand, for starters, and not just assume that because it’s your brand you’re going to capture the click organically.

It’s really about just giving yourself as many opportunities as you can to get that person to your site and not be too complacent and take your foot off the gas by saying, “Oh no, I’m good. I don’t need to run on a paid ad because I rank well, organically for something.” 

KL: It’s really a numbers game, you know, even though we might see a dip in paid clicks, organic clicks, there’s just so much more immediate reinforcement with branding and awareness. 

The fact that we’re taking up more real estate really improves the likelihood of users as they scroll down a page of search results, they’re going to see us or they’re going to see our clients somewhere because they have that immediate reinforcement of seeing the same brand pop up twice. It really increases, likely, those people clicking through to the site and taking the necessary actions that we’re desiring more so than if we’re just running one versus the other. 

JT: I know our industry is hyper competitive and I’ll search all sorts of competitors keywords and see all sorts of other different companies pop up. So, yeah, I totally get that point. Are you saying that if you’re in a paid campaign around the same keyword as you rank for organically, It’s kind of like a reinforcement? Let’s say that somebody may search that same keyword multiple times and then seeing that consistency, whether it’s an advertisement or whether it’s an organic result, just having that extra level of visibility, I guess results in that in more clicks? That’s kind of how I’m hearing it.

KL: Yeah, absolutely, and I think that the same could be true whether it’s you somebody doing multiple searches over a short time span or even in that direct moment, they’re doing a search for the first time and they really want to find the information that they’re looking for. They’re scrolling down, I see the ad and then they scroll a little bit further and they see maybe that same company in the local map pack if it’s a local-based search. If it’s more of a generalized search, they see that same brand appearing in the first two organic results as well.

And it’s probably subconscious in a lot of cases, but just the fact they see that brand multiple times, I think, just reinforces the fact that they could be seen as legitimate. They could be seen, as a pretty authoritative resource in that space, since they are appearing so much, so highly on Google. And again, it just really goes back to increasing the likelihood of somebody clicking through in a case like that. 

JT: That’s fascinating stuff. Well, gentlemen, I know we’re at time. Is there any other thing, anything else that you guys wanted to cover on this topic before we closeout?

AF: I just think it’s really important to hit home how crucial it is to have both as part of your long-term marketing strategy. The coverage part and what we’ve explained, I think is all true and important. But, just the fact that these products and landscape change so frequently when it comes to SEO, it’s algorithm changes when it comes to paid, it’s new campaign types, new ad formats. Just having someone who’s on top of all those things and has your back and is looking ahead is super important and it’s important not to get too complacent about it, either. Really prioritize both. 

JT: You bring up a really good point about that, because all these different SERP features, all these different ad formats, they’re all changing and they interplay with each other. Having that communication between the SEO teams that are working for a given company and the paid media teams, I can see how that communication, if that’s not there, then there’s a lot of missed opportunities.

AF: Yeah, absolutely. 

JT: Right on. Well, Andrew, Kurt, thank you guys so much for taking the time. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you on our podcast today.

AF, KL: Yeah, thanks so much for having us, John. 

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