Let’s start off with a pop quiz.

Pop Quiz: I’ve removed theAd symbol symbol in the ad below. For the search term “insurance”, choose which of the two listings below is an ad. Quickly now!

Comparison of two google search results

To the average person searching this, and even at a quick glance from a seasoned digital marketer, the listings look very similar. Some tell-tale signs of the ad (congrats to those who chose “A” above) include the Headline using “$29” right at the beginning, something an SEO would not do, as well as the first description line being so small in the ad. But they are so similar now! Check out some ads from not even 5 years ago:

Google ads from 5 years ago

2012 Photo Credit: http://www.advia.com.au/adwords/the-evolution-of-google-adwords

The line between the ads and organic listing appearance is blurring. What can we learn from this? As paid search and SEO links are beginning to become two sides of the same coin, the standards for SEO best practices to ad appearance are aligning and overlapping more and more frequently.

While there are still plenty of differences and need for specialization within the SERP marketing industry, many of the techniques from one side of the SERP can assist the other side, blurring the line between paid search and SEO. Let’s talk about some of the principles and tools that achieve the same goal: bringing relevant content to searchers for the end intent of driving revenue.

PPC & SEO Shared Principles

Keyword Research:

An SEO and PPC specialist’s job begins at the search. Finding the right keywords can be a long brainstorm session. To help, use the AdWords Keyword Research Tool. This will spit out a list of relevant keywords as well as their estimated search volume and demand (estimated cost-per-click).

Landing Page:

Without a good landing page design, it is tough to turn a profit online. Landing page design and content plays an enormous role in raising your listing/ad up to the top of the SERP. The more relevant the content, and better the customer’s experience on the page, the higher the “quality score” on the paid side and higher the domain authority on the organic side.

Optimizing SEO With AdWords


With the new changes to the Drafts and Experiments features in AdWords, paid search analysts now have an even easier way to test. Quick and repeatable tests provide  a strength that SEOs should be taking advantage of in their efforts.

The Headline in an ad is analogous to the Title Tag in the organic listing. Changing the headlines of ads is easy and the results of that change can be seen within a relatively short time frame. This lends the opportunity to try out new Title Tags in the ad Headline first, without the risk of dropping in the organic listing.

Site Links have been a necessity for both organic and paid. AdWords lends the opportunity to easily see which links are bringing in the most engagement and/or revenue for your business.

Space and Time. AdWords makes it easy to see where and when your ads are the performing the best. Armed with this information, suggestions can be made to the development team to create relevant landing pages for areas where the account may be suffering. I think we would all like the time to create a specific page for every city on the planet, but by looking at the areas where plenty of traffic is coming and conversion rates are low, we can make the decision to add a page for the top 20% of cities. This will help both the paid and the organic listing significantly.

Branded Campaigns have retained their importance throughout all the changes Google has made to algorithms and aesthetics. For a low cost, they provide SERP real estate, competitive protection, and damage control. Imagine working so hard on achieving the top listing for your brand and then seeing a competitor’s ad topping the page off because they were the only ones to bid on your brand term. Not a pleasant sight.

Finally, tools commonly used in PPC like SpyFu, SEMRush, and AdWords scripts like the 404 Error Checker can alert and suggest the next moves for your SEO strategy.

Maybe Google is trying to tell us something. With the appearance of ads virtually mirroring the organic listings on the SERP now, discussions between SEOs and the paid search department should be taking place to optimize both ends of the search page together. What other shared optimization techniques have you seen?

Eric Jackson