Keywords for SEO vs. Keywords for PPC: What’s the Difference?


When an individual or business decides they want to drive more traffic to their website, keyword research is commonly one of the first tasks they complete. It’s often easiest to do this by using a free tool to generate a list of keywords. Once you have compiled a list, you can begin focusing your efforts on SEO, PPC or both channels. While diving right in and doing both at once—using the same set of words—may seem better than not taking any action at all, it’s actually not the case. Jumping in too quickly can result in the investment of a significant amount of time, resources, and capital into targets that won’t pay off in the long run.

SEO and PPC are Very Different Channels

Prior to conducting any keyword research, it’s important to identify what you’re going to do with the results. Are these keywords specifically for search engine optimization (SEO) or pay-per-click (PPC) advertising? What many people overlook is that when it comes to intelligent keyword research, these categories are fundamentally different.

For SEO, you should make understanding a topic’s general keyword “landscape” the primary goal of your research. Common keywords, the intent associated with them, and what broader information can be gleaned from those details—these are all issues worth considering.

While that information can be helpful for PPC, research for that medium needs to be more targeted. Specifically, you have to identify viable keywords that make sense to bid on. That means finding keywords with the right balance of cost, buying intent and traffic needed to provide a positive ROI. It also means organizing them correctly in terms of ad groups, ad copy, and landing pages.

How Right Do You Need to Be?

With SEO, targeting a keyword that doesn’t end up delivering the results you were expecting isn’t the end of the world. As long as you achieve the rankings in a sustainable manner, you should be able to transfer them to a keyword that will drive the type of traffic you want. Additionally, with Google becoming more aggressive about penalizing highly targeted SEO efforts, as well as SERPs pages becoming more personalized, using a broad mix of keywords can actually work in your favor.

On the other hand, not nailing your PPC keyword research exactly right will cost money. And the more traffic you drive through unsuccessful keywords, the harder it’s going to be to turn a positive ROI for your entire AdWords campaign.

Because these two types of keyword research have significant differences, if you decide to hire a consultant to handle this task for you, it’s very important to choose wisely. Look for a reputable online marketing firm that offers a specific SEO keyword research process, separate from its research on keywords used in PPC campaigns.


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  • By Dennis Consorte
  • Published on July 30th, 2013