An Oft-Overlooked Use of PPC

by Wiz

A quick scan of recent blog headlines confirmed something I heard over the weekend: the folks at Google have apparently been working on more changes. The latest is something that has been dubbed an “over-optimization penalty”: examining web pages for “excessive” use of SEO techniques and reducing (not eliminating) their rankings in search results.

While any hints of a “penalty” always sound alarm bells in the SEO industry, this really is nothing new. Google has always publicly stated that it wants to serve up popular pages with great content, and not pages that bear obvious signs of trying to attract the attention of search engines.

In an ideal world, writing for your audience would be sufficient. If your web pages resonate with your audience, all the factors that search engines seek should happen naturally. In practice, though, there’s always a balance between creating content for visitors to consume, and presenting that content in a manner that search engines can properly index. There are any number of information sources that deal with the latter.

But how can you tell if the page you’ve just written will resonate with your audience?

PPC as a testing method

If your web page has some sort of a measurable call to action – a purchase, a signup link, a download, a lead capture, etc. – then testing with pay-per-click traffic is an option worth considering. I’m not suggesting a detailed, full scale marketing campaign here. I mean a small, short-lived, targeted campaign utilizing the core keywords appropriate to the page.

Within 15 minutes you can start getting answers to questions such as:

  • Are visitors taking the desired action? What percentage?
  • Which keywords are more likely to result in desired actions?
  • How popular/competitive is a specific search term? Are there better opportunities?
  • Which version(s) of the web page are more likely to result in desired actions?

Depending on your market, budget settings and keywords used, you can often have these answers anywhere within a few hours to a week or two, whereupon the campaign gets turned off. Armed with this intelligence you can then start making improvements well before your page is ever indexed by a search engine.

With this method, you’re not looking for definitive results, but rather initial indications. There are many behavioral differences between natural search and PPC traffic, so any testing is not a guarantee of what will happen in the future. However, use of selective PPC testing can be a valuable time- and resource-saver in the development of your “action” pages.

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