In the field of digital marketing, it’s not uncommon for Google Ads specialists to have a role in SEO, and vice versa. Understanding search engines and how to get the best results from them is a powerful asset in today’s digital economy. But often the different responsibilities of a Google Ads advertiser and an SEO specialist can make it easy to miss the overlap between the two.
It’s true that SEO these days is much more about content and topics than individual keywords, whereas Google Ads continues to be a game of understanding and using the right search terms to drive results – a generally more granular approach. However, the data-driven focus of Google Ads is useful for far more than just your ad campaigns. Because the platform provides so much data directly from Google, it’s an excellent resource for information about how users search for your site, the quality of traffic from search (and broken out by keyword), and how effectively your landing pages are matching their searches to deliver an ideal user experience.
There are many ways to put these insights to work. Here are my top six:
1. Use historical keyword data to understand which keywords convert best on your site.
A common trap in SEO is to make assumptions about what keywords your users are typing in when they come to your site. Relying on SEO data alone may contribute to these assumptions or otherwise skew your perceptions of which terms actually matter – especially if you use rankings as a key metric in determining how successful your SEO efforts have been.
When it comes down to it, it doesn’t really matter how many terms you’re on the first page of Google for. What matters is which ones are driving the best traffic to you, even if it’s from the #3 result, and even if it’s a term you didn’t originally think of. Since Google Ads is all about uncovering strong keywords and optimizing your efforts to focus on them, applying this strategy to SEO can help you save time and avoid being distracted by the exciting-but-less-valuable prospect of high search rankings. And since Google Ads provides so much data about user behavior, especially when linked with Google Analytics, you get incredibly detailed insights about not just which terms generate conversions, but also which drive the greatest engagement with the site – and what pages draw the most interest. This information is priceless when it comes to better optimizing your site for both search engines and user experience in general. Use it!
2. Write (or rewrite) your page titles and/or meta descriptions based on top-performing ads.
When you think about it, there’s really not much difference between the description field in a Google Ads ad and the meta description in an organic search result, especially as Google continues to update how ads appear in results as compared to organic listings (ostensibly to provide a more mobile-friendly experience – but no doubt also to protect the performance and longevity of their flagship ad platform).
Titles may be a slightly different story, especially if you are counting on a particular title tag phrase to help with your rankings for that term. (The title in SEO more closely resembles the function of a target keyword in this sense.) But SEO-friendly meta descriptions are all about earning clicks from results pages, and the headline and description fields are generally what will determine whether or not a user clicks – so it makes sense to use copy from the best-performing ads to inform how your meta descriptions are written. Keyword relevance is also important here – that is, how closely the copy in your ad matches the target keyword – and you should use this same approach when writing a meta description to match your SEO target term or phrase. In both cases, the copy that best fits the user’s expectation is most likely to drive a quality click, so use Google Ads data to tell you which copy is performing best (mainly click-through rate, or CTR) and take the time to rework your meta descriptions to resemble those ads where appropriate.
3. Use Quality Score (QS) and related metrics to better understand your page quality.
One of the great benefits for Google Ads in terms of understanding the search-friendliness of your site is how much data you get about the quality and relevance of your landing pages (i.e., the target pages on your site, assuming you are not using separate landing pages for Google Ads) for a given search term. Landing page experience, including the relevance of the landing page to both the ad and the target keyword that triggered it, is one of the major factors in determining your keyword and ad quality score.
From an SEO perspective, this is essentially Google’s way of telling you whether your page deserves traffic from the keyword you’re targeting. And with Google Ads, you can always pay more for clicks to a given page, but it also makes sense to assume that Google’s criteria for a relevant and high-quality landing page have a lot to do with how search-friendly the page is in general. So you can track these metrics not just as ways to improve your Google Ads campaigns – where landing page testing and optimization should already be key ingredients in the management process – but also as a way to track Google’s overall assessment of your page. As your landing page experience score improves, you should expect to see at least some improvement in search rankings for that page as well.
4. Identify your most expensive keywords – and make them SEO targets instead.
As an auction-based system, the most competitive keywords in Google Ads will typically be the most expensive – and that can vary dramatically depending on their estimated value, which is usually industry-dependent. (Check out this infographic for some context.) It may well be worth bidding on these terms if you can convert your clicks at a high enough rate to maintain a positive ROI. But if they are draining your account budget and making it difficult for you to earn clicks elsewhere in your account, it’s probably time to change course.
Usually, this means pausing that keyword in your account, or even adding it as a negative keyword, depending on your match types and the likelihood that you could unintentionally earn a click from it again. This is all good practice; however, I suggest adding another step: making those expensive terms key targets in your SEO campaigns, or even creating a new targeted SEO effort to rank for that term specifically. If you succeed, you’ll still be earning clicks from the keyword – but without paying Google for it.
For more information on how to identify your most expensive and competitive terms, check out Google’s article on using the Search Terms report, or read about how the search volume statistics from the Keyword Planner are calculated. (If you don’t want to take the chance that you might lose budget to expensive or possibly irrelevant terms, you can also use the Keyword Planner to identify high-bid, high competition keywords early on – but in our experience it’s usually best to see how your ads perform for them before omitting a keyword altogether. That said, you should definitely be keeping a close eye on costs in the initial days and weeks of a campaign to identify any high-cost outliers early on.)
5. Use Google’s keyword data as a source of content ideas, blog topics, or even new business opportunities.
Much as we may like to believe we understand everything there is to know about our industry and what our customers think, hard search data will always have the final say in how people are actually using the web to find us. And often you’d be surprised at exactly what they come up with.
There are two main ways I recommend going about this. One is to use the Keyword Planner to search more broadly for ideas related to your industry, based on general keywords relating to your product or services. This will give you a good sense of the big picture, including not just conversion-friendly purchase intent keywords but more information-driven searches as well.
Those terms may not immediately bring paying customers to your site, but they are often the best way of building awareness and attracting interest from people in the early stages of the buying cycle. And you have some control over what terms you may eventually select as targets, so you can eliminate anything that reflects an intent that’s irrelevant to what you offer. But remember that you’re not necessarily bidding on these terms, either, so you don’t need to apply as strict a filter in deciding what to target. Instead, use them to generate new ideas for your blog or new content you share, where users typing in these sorts of informational queries – which have long made up the vast majority of searches in Google, and will continue to dominate search given the growth of Google’s Knowledge Graph and the rise of voice search. Every new piece of content, and the keyword or set of keywords it targets, is a new avenue through which users can find you from search. Don’t neglect the less obvious opportunities!
The other method, of course, is combing through the Search Terms report to find any terms that brought users to your site, even if they didn’t ultimately convert, that seem like new opportunities to provide answers or delve further into a topic on your site. While the Keyword Planner uses global data from Google – which is still useful given that it’s also based on historical search data – the Search Terms report focuses on exact terms that definitively brought users to your website, which makes it uniquely powerful as a source of new keyword ideas both for Google Ads campaigns and for site content. (Google’s new Search Console does also provide a wealth of information about the exact search terms that drove organic impressions and clicks to your site – so that may be an even more useful resource, especially since Google has not provided organic keyword data in Google Analytics for a long time now.)
Finally, on more than a few occasions, we’ve turned up keywords in both the Keyword Planner and the Search Terms report that represented new business opportunities for our clients – either services they hadn’t considered adding, or areas that they didn’t think were valuable before realizing how in demand they were (search data being a useful tool in that process).
Consider the example of a small construction business using Google Ads to drive new leads. They may already be bidding on keywords like “home construction Bellingham” or “best construction company Bellingham,” using some combination of phrase, exact, broad, and/or modified broad match types.
This keyword strategy will most likely work fine in driving new business as usual, but if the campaign’s keyword match types allow for it, they may find in the Search Terms report that they’re receiving an unexpected amount of traffic for the term “green home construction” or “green construction Bellingham.” Whether or not that’s a service the company wants to explore or expand into is a separate question – but being able to gauge customer interest in that area using search data, it could potentially add an entire new revenue-generating wing to the business, and may even beat their competition to it. The power of digital marketing has always come in large part from the access to vast amounts of highly detailed, near-real-time data, and when used effectively, this can become a major competitive advantage for businesses who are deeply invested in staying on the leading edge of their industry by paying attention to exactly what users are looking for in the present moment.
6. Apply your A/B testing process to SEO – especially your page content.
Testing is absolutely integral to Google Ads optimization, and SEO should be no different. At the end of the day, your job is to let users tell you how they want your website to look and feel – and to show that you’re listening by constantly improving the site to provide a better user experience. Since Google Ads provides such detailed metrics about campaign performance, optimization through testing is a little more intuitive, and is easy to integrate from the beginning of a campaign. However, applying this method to SEO – and even using some Google Ads metrics, such as the landing experience factors I mentioned earlier – will drive better results just as effectively. It’s only gotten easier to test different elements of your website, and Google wants to help. Iteration is always key to long-term success, and there’s no reason not to make consistent A/B testing a core component of your SEO strategy for this reason.
Use keyword data for new ideas
Use ad performance (specifically copy) to inform on-page content decisions
Take advantage of landing page experience metrics to gauge your pages’ SEO-friendliness
Implement A/B testing if you haven’t already, using both Google Ads and Google’s optimization tools
The tools and metrics I’ve found most useful, as mentioned here:
No doubt there are countless more ways to apply Google Ads methods and data to SEO campaigns. If you have other suggestions or thoughts, I’d love to hear them in the comments.