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SEO and PPC – making the correct choice



How do you ensure that potential customers come across your business at the right stage of the buying process? Digital Marketing trainer Ethan Giles of explains.

Ethan will run the Digital Marketing Skills course on March 25th and 26th at Prolific North’s HQ on Princess Street, Manchester. We turned to him to provide a bit more detail on SEO and PPC strategy ahead of the session.

Each day there are 5.6 billion daily searches on Google alone, which provides a great opportunity to increase your website traffic, if you employ the right strategy. 

But what is the right strategy? Consider that these potential customers will be in different stages of the buying process – some might just search for information or inspiration whilst others might have already made the purchasing decision and are now comparing their options. 

There are two main ways you can take advantage of search engines – SEO or PPC. Both have their merits and both have their challenges, so make sure you understand them before you define your strategy.

SEO & PPC explained

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) means you work on your website to ensure it is tailored towards users’ search queries. For example, if somebody searches for “SEO training Manchester”, Prolific North would want people to find their website as it is relevant for their training session. SEO is focused on the ‘natural’ search results – those results on the search page that are not paid for.

Pay Per Click (PPC) is a form of advertising that search engines like Google offer in a number of different forms. With PPC, you tell the search engine what search terms or keywords you want your ads to appear for, and write relevant advertising. As the name suggests, you only pay when your ads are clicked, and you decide how much you’re willing to pay.

SEO – the benefits

It’s free!


That’s right, you don’t have to pay to do SEO – apart from the cost of time of course. 

Unlike PPC, you don’t need to pay to appear in the ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ search listings, you just have to be well-optimised for user searches. Even tracking tools like Google Analytics or Google Search Console, which allow you to measure your SEO effectiveness, are free.

You can be creative

There’s an opportunity for you to be creative, as a big part of SEO is content and writing good quality content that users will care about.

This will help you stretch your business’s creative muscles. In addition, the usability of your site, including what it looks like and how it works, are important for SEO.


Organic results attract 88% of all clicks. So if you neglect your SEO and don’t appear often or consistently, and rely on PPC instead, you’re missing out on the vast majority of clicks and therefore a high proportion of potential customers.



It’s not enough to simply have a website and expect this to be an effective SEO strategy. If you do your SEO properly, this will allow you to remain competitive and can often allow you to punch above your weight against larger competitors with bigger budgets. 

SEO is about doing something really well, not about spending more money.

PPC – the benefits


Unlike SEO or other forms of advertising such as print, radio or TV, PPC allows you to directly target your customers by defining when your ads are shown and to who they are shown to. 

There is no other form of marketing that is so effective at targeting relevant and engaged potential customers.

Cost effective

You manage your own costs and pay only per click. This means you can ensure that you only pay enough to ensure your ads generate an effective return on investment. 

Unlike traditional forms of advertising, you have greater control of how much you spend, what you spend it on, and ultimately whether that spend generates results or not.



PPC can generate instant results. If you were to set up a campaign now, you could expect to start seeing website visits within hours. This means that you can spend money and expect instant results without having to spend a long time working on campaigns.

SEO – the downsides


It can take a long time before your SEO efforts start to generate results – changes you make today could take up to six months to start working. If you’re looking to make a big difference in a short space of time, then SEO won’t be an effective strategy for you.


SEO can often appear complex to newcomers – it combines multiple skillsets such as creative writing, web development, data analysis and even graphic design. 

However, with expert training or expert support, SEO can often become easier as these complexities are explained or managed.

Lack of control


Unlike PPC, you do not directly control what search results you appear for. While you can optimise for particular terms, ultimately the search engine decides what is relevant and what is not. 

You also can’t control international targeting, so you may appear in search results in countries that are not relevant for your business.

PPC – the downsides


The amount you have to pay to get clicks for ads will be defined by your competition and how much they are willing to pay. So if you are up against competition with bigger budgets or with a lack of understanding of their own profit margins, you may be quickly priced out of securing customers.

Too much control

Small changes you make could make drastic differences to your bottom line. For example, you could increase your budgets tenfold in just a few clicks, or show your ad for irrelevant searches or in a location you cannot serve. 

Google provides some security against this, but it’s recommended that you get proper training from experts before you pursue PPC.

Time investment


To get PPC right, you need to invest time to manage your campaigns. It’s not as simple as setting your campaigns up and leaving them to run without further changes. 

PPC requires management and optimisation and things can change daily depending on your marketplace. This means that PPC can soak up time as well as the cost of the clicks. However, there are intelligent things you can do to avoid spending a long time within the PPC platform and it’s important that you prioritise on the things that will make the biggest difference.


Now that you’re aware of both advantages and pitfalls of SEO and PPC, let’s get back to the initial question, which one do I use? 

The answer is, it depends. I wish there was a simple, universal answer but this is the beauty of it: it depends on your objectives. 

What are the needs of your business? How much time can you invest? What’s your budget? And do you have the right skills in-house?

Depending on how you answer these questions, you might even look at a combined approach where you use both SEO and PPC together. In my experience, there are massive benefits to managing them holistically as it allows for the advantages of one to make up for the pitfalls of the other. “

If you could use with more hands-on advice on search marketing tailored to your business, Ethan hosts regular workshops at Prolific North where we delve into just that. Browse the next available sessions here.

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How to Write For Google



How to Write For Google

Are you writing your SEO content based on the latest best practice tips?

I originally wrote this SEO copywriting checklist in 2012—my, how things have changed. Today, Google stresses quality content even more than before, conversational copy is critical, and there are revised SEO writing “rules.” 

I’ve updated the list to reflect these changes and to provide additional information.

As a side note, I would argue that there’s no such thing as “writing for Google.” Yes, there are certain things you should do to make the Google gods happy. However, your most important goal should be writing clear, compelling, standout copy that tells a story. 

I’m keeping the old headline in the hopes that I can convert some of the “write for Google” people to do things the right way.

Whether you’re an in-house SEO content writer, a DIY business owner, or a freelance SEO copywriter, this 27-point checklist will help you write engaging, Google-happy content—every time.

Items to review before you start your SEO writing project



– Do you have enough information about your target reader?

Your copy will pack a powerful one-two punch if your content is laser-focused on your target reader. Ask your client or supervisor for a customer/reader persona document outlining your target readers’ specific characteristics. If the client doesn’t have a customer persona document, be prepared to spend an hour or more asking detailed questions. 

Here’s more information on customer personas.


– Writing a sales page? Did you interview the client?

It’s essential to interview new clients and to learn more about their company, USP, and competition. Don’t forget to ask about industry buzzwords that should appear in the content.

Not sure what questions to ask to get the copywriting ball rolling? Here’s a list of 56 questions you can start with today. 



– Writing a blog post? Get topic ideas from smart sources

When you’re blogging, it’s tempting to write about whatever strikes your fancy. The challenge is, what interests you may not interest your readers. If you want to make sure you’re writing must-read content, sites like Quora, LinkedIn, Google Trends, and BuzzSumo can help spark some ideas.


– Did you use Google for competitive intelligence ideas?

Check out the sites positioning in the top-10 and look for common characteristics. How long are competing articles? Do the articles link out to authoritative sources? Are there videos or infographics? Do the articles include quotes from industry experts? Your job is to write an essay that’s better than what’s already appearing in the top-10 — so let the competition be your guide.


– Did you conduct keyphrase research?

Yes, keyphrase research (and content optimization) is still a crucial SEO step. If you don’t give Google some keyphrase “cues,” your page probably won’t position the way you want.


Use a keyphrase research tool and find possible keyphrases for your page or post. As a hint: if you are tightly focusing on a topic, long-tail keyphrases are your best bet. Here’s more information about why long-tail keyphrases are so important.

If you are researching B2B keyphrases, know that the “traditional” keyphrase research steps may not apply. Here’s more information about what to do if B2B keyphrase research doesn’t work.


– What is your per-page keyphrase focus?

Writers are no longer forced to include the exact-match keyphrase over and over again. (Hurray!) Today, we can focus on a keyphrase theme that matches the search intent and weave in multiple related keyphrases.


– Did you expand your keyphrase research to include synonyms and close variants?

Don’t be afraid to include keyphrase synonyms and close variants on your page. Doing so opens up your positioning opportunities, makes your copy better, and is much easier to write!


Are you wondering if you should include your keyphrases as you write the copy — or edit them in later? It’s up to you! Here are the pros and cons of both processes.


 — Do your keyphrases match the search intent?

Remember that Google is “the decider” when it comes to search intent. If you’re writing a sales page — and your desired keyphrase pulls up informational blog posts in Google – your sales page probably won’t position. 


— Writing a blog post? Does your Title/headline work for SEO, social, and your readers?

Yes, you want your headline to be compelling, but you also want it to be keyphrase rich. Always include your main page keyphrase (or a close variant) in your Title and work in other keyphrases if they “fit.”

Here’s some excellent information on how to write headlines that get noticed (and that are good for Google.) You can also use headline-analyzing tools to double-check your work.



– Did you include keyphrase-rich subheadlines?

Subheadlines are an excellent way to visually break up your text, making it easy for readers to quick-scan your benefits and information. Additionally, just like with the H1 headline, adding a keyphrase to your subheadlines can (slightly) help reinforce keyphrase relevancy.

As a hint, sometimes, you can write a question-oriented subheadline and slip the keyphrase in more easily. Here’s more information about why answering questions is a powerful SEO content play.


Is your Title “clickable” and compelling?

Remember, the search engine results page is your first opportunity for conversion. Focusing too much on what you think Google “wants” may take away your Title’s conversion power. 

Consider how you can create an enticing Title that “gets the click” over the other search result listings. You have about 59 characters (with spaces) to work with, so writing tight is essential. 



– Does the meta description fit the intent of the page?

Yes, writers should create a meta description for every page. Why? Because they tell the reader what the landing page is about and help increase SERP conversions. Try experimenting with different calls-to-actions at the end, such as “learn more” or “apply now.” You never know what will entice your readers to click!


– Is your content written in a conversational style?

With voice search gaining prominence, copy that’s written in a conversational style is even more critical.

Read your copy out loud and hear how it sounds. Does it flow? Or does it sound too formal? If you’re writing for a regulated industry, such as finance, legal, or healthcare, you may not be able to push the conversational envelope too much. Otherwise, write like you talk.

Here’s how to explain why conversational content is so important.



–Is your copy laser-focused on your audience?

A big mistake some writers make is creating copy that appeals to “everyone” rather than their specific target reader. Writing sales and blog pages that are laser-focused on your audience will boost your conversions and keep readers checking out your copy longer. Here’s how one company does it.

Plus, you don’t receive special “Google points” for writing long content. Even short copy can position if it fully answers the searcher’s query. Your readers don’t want to wade through 1,500 words to find something that can be explained in 300 words.

Items to review after you’ve written the page


– Did you use too many keyphrases?

Remember, there is no such thing as keyword density. If your content sounds keyphrase-heavy and stilted, reduce the keyphrase usage and focus more on your readers’ experience. Your page doesn’t receive bonus points for exact-matching your keyphrase multiple times. If your page sounds keyphrase stuffed when you read it out loud, dial back your keyphrase usage.



– Did you edit your content?

Resist the urge to upload your content as soon as you write it. Put it away and come back to it after a few hours (or even the next day.) Discover why editing your Web writing is so very important. Also, don’t think that adding typos will help your page position. They won’t.


– Is the content interesting to read?

Yes, it’s OK if your copy has a little personality. Here’s more information about working with your page’s tone and feel and how to avoid the “yawn response.” Plus, know that even FAQ pages can help with conversions — and yes, even position.


– Are your sentences and paragraphs easy to read?

Vary your sentence structure so you have a combination of longer and shorter sentences. If you find your sentences creeping over 30 or so words, edit them down and make them punchier. Your writing will have more impact if you do.


Plus, long paragraphs without much white space are hard to read off a computer monitor – and even harder to read on a smartphone. Split up your long paragraphs into shorter ones. Please.


– Are you forcing your reader onto a “dead end” page?

“Dead-end” pages (pages that don’t link out to related pages) can stop your readers dead in their tracks and hurt your conversion goals. 

Want to avoid this? Read more about “dead-end” Web pages.


– Does the content provide the reader with valuable information?

Google warns against sites with “thin,” low-quality content that’s poorly written. In fact, according to Google, spelling errors are a bigger boo-boo than broken HTML. Make sure your final draft is typo-free, written well, and thoroughly answers the searcher’s query.


Want to know what Google considers quality content — directly from Google? Here are Google’s Quality Raters guidelines for more information.


– Did you use bullet points where appropriate?

If you find yourself writing a list-like sentence, use bullet points instead. Your readers will thank you, and the items will be much easier to read.

Plus, you can write your bullet points in a way that makes your benefit statements pop, front and center. Here’s how Nike does it.


– Is the primary CTA (call-to-action) clear–and is it easy to take action?

What action do you want your readers to take? Do you want them to contact you? Buy something? Sign up for your newsletter? Make sure you’re telling your reader what you want them to do, and make taking action easy. If you force people to answer multiple questions just to fill out a “contact us” form, you run the risk of people bailing out.


Here’s a list of seven CTA techniques that work.


– Do you have a secondary CTA (such as a newsletter signup or downloading a white paper?)

Do you want readers to sign up for your newsletter or learn about related products? Don’t bury your “sign up for our newsletter” button in the footer text. Instead, test different CTA locations (for instance, try including a newsletter signup link at the bottom of every blog post) and see where you get the most conversions.


– Does the page include too many choices?

It’s important to keep your reader focused on your primary and secondary CTAs. If your page lists too many choices (for example, a large, scrolling page of products), consider eliminating all “unnecessary” options that don’t support your primary call-to-action. Too many choices may force your readers into not taking any action at all.



– Did you include benefit statements?

People make purchase decisions based on what’s in it for them (yes, even your B2B buyers.) Highly specific benefit statements will help your page convert like crazy. Don’t forget to include a benefit statement in your Title (whenever possible) like “free shipping” or “sale.” Seeing this on the search results page will catch your readers’ eyes, tempting them to click the link and check out your site.


– Do you have vertical-specific testimonials?

It’s incredible how many great sales pages are testimonial-free. Testimonials are a must for any site, as they offer third-party proof that your product or service is superior. Plus, your testimonials can help you write better, more benefit-driven sales pages and fantastic comparison-review pages.

Here’s a way to make your testimonials more powerful. 

And finally — the most important question:



– Does your content stand out and genuinely deserve a top position?

SEO writing is more than shoving keyphrases into the content. If you want to be rewarded by Google (and your readers), your content must stand out — not be a carbon copy of the current top-10 results. Take a hard look at your content and compare it against what’s currently positioning. Have you fully answered the searcher’s query? Did you weave in other value-added resources, such as expert quotes, links to external and internal resources (such as FAQ pages), videos, and graphics? 

If so, congratulations! You’ve done your job. 

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