Go on to any news site that covers the world of search engine marketing (SEM), and the chances are that it will divide its content into at least two different categories – one covering search engine optimisation (SEO), and the other covering pay-per-click advertising (PPC). There’s a common mentality in the search marketing world that these are two separate disciplines, and, while part of the same overall project, should be kept rigidly apart. For all their similarities, or so the thinking goes, the two topics are different enough to be entrusted to separate teams, or even different agencies, pursuing their own goals and strategies, even if the overall aim – getting your brand in front of customers – is ultimately the same.

While specialisation is all well and good, there are huge benefits to combining your SEO and PPC strategies, and evidence shows that companies which put the most effort into this unification are the most likely to see the best SEM results in the long run, whether that be achieving higher traffic, greater activation, or better return on investment. If you’re looking to streamline your SEM strategy, here are a few things to bear in mind as you get started…

The best of both worlds

Each aspect of SEM has cultivated its own approach, and sharing these approaches can help to see the other side in a new light. In PPC, the ever-shifting landscape has encouraged quickfire responses in its practitioners, as they deal with constantly-moving sets of competitors, reams of topical ad copy, and a blind auction system built around inscrutable CPCs and quality scores. Being able to be reactive and seizing the initiative when the opportunity comes has long been the key to success.

Meanwhile, SEO teams have traditionally played the long game, working on legacy sites to carefully curate their content, monitoring links, and adapting to the incremental updates of the major search engines.

It’s time to bring these two approaches to bear on the other side of the coin, with PPC learning the value of sustained campaigns and continuity, and SEO seeing the benefits of speed and adaptability

Believe in the brand

Research into the collective impact of SEO and PPC shows that many brands have a lopsided approach to their SEM, with one dominating while the other lags behind. Looking at businesses in a range of industries, we can typically see that keywords common to both sides will show a high share of impressions in one discipline, but be low in the other, showing a lack of communication between the two. 

The one place where both can often put in a good showing is on a businesses’ own brand terms. An example can be taken from the gaming industry, Virgin Games. If we examine the brand’s share of voice (SOV), on one keyword, the brand term, it performs incredibly well. However, outside of this there is only a small scattering of keywords in which Virgin Games is scoring anywhere above 20% SOV for organic searches and 30% for paid. By investing in a wider variety of terms, and combining their SEO and PPC strategy to clearly mirror, Virgin Games would be able expand its SOV considerably.

While it may seem a given than brands do well on their own terms, in the cutthroat world of SEM, there’s no room for complacency. In PPC, ensure you’re covering your brand terms, and check for higher CPCs which could indicate that someone is bidding against you. You could also invest in competitive intelligence to monitor your brand infringements and nip the issue in the bud. In SEO, make sure your metadata is flawless – descriptions, images and tags will all ensure better visibility. Your brand may be intangible, but it’s also one of your more precious assets.

It’s good to talk

While the people and teams behind your SEO and PPC could be sat next to each, sitting at other ends of the office, or even based in different cities, the first practical step to joining forces is to open the lines of communication and build a coordinated set of goals. While the team goals might be specific, there are overall targets that must be considered together – for example, are you trying to build awareness of the business, or bring customers in to complete a certain action, like make a purchase? Are there events or times of year when a concerted effort will make a bigger impact? What promotions or activities can you both capitalise on? Have these discussions, begin your planning, and start working your way towards your goals, making sure there are regular check-ins to make sure you’re moving in the right direction.

While the two sides may be very different, when they find common ground, there are huge advantages to be discovered.