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What’s the Difference Between SEO and PPC Keyword Research?

If you’re new to pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, it can be tempting to simply add all of your SEO keywords as PPC keywords, create a few ads and press “go”.

That, however, would be a mistake.

While SEO and PPC keyword research have a lot in common, there are a few important differences between PPC and SEO that you need to keep in mind when creating your keyword lists.

In this article, we’ll talk about what makes a good PPC keyword different from a good SEO keyword and how to identify good PPC keywords for your own campaigns.

PPC is Expensive

Every click on a PPC ad costs you something, which means you can really only afford to bid on keywords that will produce a meaningful return-on-ad-spend.

As an example, one of our clients operates a B2B translation service that translates business documents or helps with international deals. As a translation service, they decided that it would be a good idea to run ads using the keyword “translate”.

At first, this might seem like a good idea. After all, “translate” describes what they do and the keyword gets 450+ million searches a month:

With that kind of search volume, it should come as no surprise that they got clicks. Lots of clicks. $150,000 worth clicks.

That was great…except that those clicks didn’t become paying clients.

At the end of the day, this client burned $150,000 on a keyword that described their business offering perfectly (which is why they ended up coming to us for help).

Why? They were targeting the wrong search intent.

If you search for “translate” on Google, here’s what you get:

Do any of these search results look like they describe business translation services to you?

In fact, Google doesn’t show any results mentioning professional translation services of any type—let alone B2B translation services—until page 3 of the search results.

Google has spent an enormous amount of time and money creating algorithms that interpret the intent of a search and return relevant results.

So, if Google doesn’t think it’s worth it to show any sort of translation services result until page 3, what do you think most people are looking for when they type in “translate”?

Business translation services? I don’t think so.

As you can see, even if a keyword is relevant to your business, if people don’t use that keyword when they are looking for a product to buy or service to use, it’s probably not a great keyword to target in your PPC campaigns.

Targeting the Right Intent

For PPC campaigns, the intent behind the search is a usually a lot more important than how often that keyword is used.

Why? People use certain keywords when they are in the market to make a purchase than they do when they’re in information-gathering mode.

For example, I’d be willing to bet that you didn’t use the keyword “SEO agency” to find this article. Odds are, you typed in something more like “ppc vs seo keyword research”.

Now, that’s a highly relevant keyword for an SEO agency like Big Leap, but it doesn’t indicate a particularly strong buying intent.

If you actually were in the market to hire an agency, you probably wouldn’t be searching for information on how to do keyword research (unless, of course, your current agency is so bad that you feel like you have to figure out keyword research on your own—in which case, you should give Big Leap a shot…).

So, while “ppc vs seo keyword research” is clearly a great SEO keyword for Big Leap, it’s not a good PPC keyword candidate—the buying intent just isn’t high enough to justify paying for clicks.

However, a keyword like “SEO agency” shows a lot more buying intent. Most people don’t use this term unless they are actively looking to hire an agency, which means that paying for clicks from that keyword is a lot more likely to produce profitable sales for an agency.

SEO vs PPC Keywords

Ultimately, when you get right down to it, the difference between PPC and SEO keywords all comes down to buying intent.

So, if you’re trying to decide whether or not a particular keyword would be a good fit for PPC, you need to look at how much clicks from that keyword will cost and how likely those clicks are to turn into sales.

If a keyword has good search volume but low buying intent, you’re probably better off trying to rank organically for that keyword.

However, if a keyword has great buying intent, you should definitely consider bidding on it—even if the keyword doesn’t have a ton of search volume.

With PPC, there are a lot of things you can do to get more value out of a low search volume keyword, so buying intent is typically far more important than search volume.

The good news is, you can usually figure out the buying intent behind a keyword by simply typing that keyword into your search bar.

If most of your search results are business-related pages (product pages, services pages, business home pages, etc) or ads, you’ve probably found a great PPC keyword. If most of your search results are informational, you’ve just found an SEO keyword candidate.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, PPC keyword research isn’t a simple matter of plugging your SEO keywords into an AdWords campaign.

With SEO, the goal is to target keywords that will drive relevant traffic to your site. With PPC, the goal is to drive new revenue and ensure that your campaigns are profitable.

To pick profitable PPC keywords, you have to look at the buying intent behind those keywords.

Fortunately, if you put Google’s algorithms to work for you, it’s usually fairly easy to identify the buying intent behind a keyword and decide which keywords are right for PPC and which ones are a better fit for SEO.

Jacob Baadsgaard

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