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7 Ways To Use Semantic SEO For Higher Rankings

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7 Ways To Use Semantic SEO For Higher Rankings

Over the years, search engines like Google have utilized semantic analysis to more deeply understand human language and provide users with more relevant search results.

For this reason, a single-keyword approach to SEO is no longer sufficient.

Instead, semantic SEO considers the deep learning and natural language processing algorithms that Google relies on.

Site owners who utilize semantic SEO strategies are more likely to build topical authority in their industry.

They can also more easily outperform competitors for important keywords in their niche.

What Is Semantic SEO?

Semantic SEO is the process of building more meaning and topical depth into web content.

By doing so, you help Google crawlers better understand your content.

You also help them see it as high-quality and thus promote it more often in the SERPs.

Semantic SEO And Google

In the early days of SEO, Google’s ranking algorithm was far less advanced.

Crawlers simply looked for specific keywords on a page to understand meaning and relevance.

But we all know that there is a lot more that goes into understanding human language than simply the words we use.

Context, facial expressions, tone, and the paragraphs before and after our words, all impact their meaning.

This is why Google has strived to take a more human-like and semantic approach to understand and rank web content.

Some of the biggest turning points in this effort include:

  • Knowledge Graph: A large, sophisticated knowledge base used by Google that helps crawlers understand the relationships between particular entities and concepts.
  • Hummingbird: A 2013 algorithm update that helps Google better understand the meaning and context behind queries, decreasing the emphasis on singular keywords.
  • RankBrain: A 2015 machine learning algorithm that helps Google better interpret search intent and thus provide users with more relevant search results.

With these advancements, Google can look at a piece of content and understand not only the topic it covers, but the related subtopics, terms, and entities and how all of those various concepts interrelate.

How Semantic SEO Improves The Search Experience

Why so much emphasis on semantic SEO?

Well, Google is always trying to make search better for users.

The reality is, searchers aren’t necessarily just looking for one specific answer when using Google; they are often trying to understand a given topic with more depth.

For example, say a user types in the keyword phrase “what are backlinks“?

Most likely, they will have additional questions that arise after finding their answer, such as:

  • How do I get backlinks?
  • Where can I get backlinks?
  • How many backlinks do I need?
  • Can I buy backlinks?
  • What’s the difference between white hat and black hat links?
  • And others!

In terms of the search experience, it’s far better for the user to find a single piece of content that answers all of those related questions rather than separate pieces of content for each individual question.

Overall, semantic SEO improves the experience of search for users.

It allows them to get more in-depth information without having to repeatedly return back to the search bar.

Benefits Of Semantic SEO

Although semantic SEO strategies require more time and effort on the part of content teams, the benefits are significant.

  • More keyword rankings in organic search.
  • Improved content quality signals in the eyes of Google crawlers.
  • Stronger brand authority and expertise in the eyes of searchers.
  • Helping Google see your brand as its own entity with expertise in core topics.
  • Passage Ranking or People Also Ask features.
  • More opportunities for internal linking.
  • Keeping users on your website for longer instead of returning to search.

By creating semantically- and topically-rich content, site owners can see significant improvements in their overall SEO performance.

7 Semantic SEO Strategies For Higher Rankings

Semantic SEO encompasses multiple strategies that you may have already heard about or incorporated into your SEO campaigns.

Combined together, they are all centered on improving topical depth and better conveying the meaning of web content.

1. Optimize For Keyword Clusters

Because Google isn’t reliant on just one keyword per page, your content team should be optimizing your web pages for multiple keywords in the same semantic cluster.

Keyword clusters are groups of similar keywords that share semantic relevance.

By optimizing for these keyword groupings, you can improve the total number of keywords your content ranks for and build more meaning into your content.

Here is an example of what keyword clustering looks like in content strategy:

Screenshot from Google Spreadsheets, February 2022

The reality is, Google already ranks our landing pages for multiple keywords anyway.

Keyword clustering is all about leveraging Google’s strong semantic capabilities to improve the total number of keywords our content ranks for.

That means more opportunities for organic clicks.

2. Improve Topical Depth And Length Of Content

The most simple semantic SEO strategy is to increase the length of your web content by offering a more comprehensive exploration of your topic.

Although content length is not an official ranking factor, longer content is more likely to display stronger semantic signals.

Also, several studies have shown the strong correlation between longer content and higher-ranking positions.

bar chart comparing content length and ranking positionImage from sweor.com, February 2022
But simply relying on keyword stuffing or repetition to improve content length is not going to prove effective.

Instead, the best way to increase the length of your web content is to be more specific, nuanced, and in-depth with the information you’re providing users about the primary topic.

3. Include Synonyms, Related Terms, Or LSI Keywords

With Google’s improved algorithms and NLP models, there is no need for users to stuff their content full of their keyword target in order to rank.

Thanks to semantic analysis, Google is smart enough to understand synonyms and related terms.

In the SEO community, these are also referred to as latent semantic indexing (LSI) terms.

Adding these terms to the content, as well as page titles, meta descriptions, h1-h6s, and image alt text can improve topical depth and semantic signals, while also making the content more readable and nuanced for searchers.

4. Answer People Also Ask Questions

Another way to improve the semantic depth of your content is to answer the common questions that users are asking in relation to your primary keyword.

example of people also ask questions in google searchScreenshot from Google, February 2022

According to a recent study of 2.5 million search queries, Google’s “People also ask” feature now shows up for 48.4% of all search queries, and often above position 1.

By answering those questions in your web page content, not only do you improve your semantic signals, you also give your page the opportunity to rank at the top of the SERPs.

Web pages can show up for PAA questions even if their blue link result appears on page 2!

5. Add Structured Data

Although not often thought of as a semantic SEO strategy, structured data is all about directly conveying the meaning of content to Google crawlers.

Structured data makes clear the function, object, or description of the content.

For example, when you use the products schema on a product page, you immediately convey to Google a variety of important details.

That includes information like type, dimensions, color, size, etc.

Paired with other semantically relevant or topically rich content on your web page, the purpose and meaning of your web content is unambiguously clear to search engines.

6. Use Content Optimizer Tools

Content optimizer tools do the hard work of identifying all of the semantically-related terms for you.

They essentially provide the “cheat codes,” to improve topical depth.

content optimizer tool that can help site owners improve semantic seo signalsScreenshot from SearchAtlas, February 2022

An SEO content writer could certainly investigate the content ranking on the first page to identify the important terms.

But content optimization software does the same work in a matter of seconds.

By adding those terms, topics, or questions onto the page, you improve topical depth and thus practice semantic SEO.

7. Build Out Topic Clusters On Your Website

Unlike keyword clusters, topic clusters are focused on more than just a single piece of content.

Topic clusters are groups of content pieces that are centered around a central topic.

For example, the keyword cluster pictured in strategy #1 is a part of a larger topic cluster focused on link building.

The various articles (each targeting their own keyword cluster) all link back to a primary “pillar page,” that is focused on the larger topic of link building.

example of a topic cluster content strategy outline in spreadsheetsScreenshot from Google Spreadsheets, February 2022

The goal of these topic clusters is threefold:

  • First, improve semantic SEO signals and meaning.
  • Second, improve the total number of keyword rankings.
  • And third, establish this website as an authority in “link building.”

The number of topic clusters on your website will depend on the products or services your brand offers.

Final Thoughts On Semantic SEO

Again, semantic SEO encompasses a variety of strategies and concepts, but it all centers on meaning, language, and search intent.

SEO experts can leverage semantic SEO strategies to highlight the semantic signals that Google algorithms are trained to identify.

By doing so, Google will not only associate your website with a few keywords but several larger topics – and the thousands of keywords and search queries that are related to them.

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How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything

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How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything

Getting to the top of Google can be quite slow. Especially so for small, new websites. And the competition can often be too strong, which makes it quite unlikely for you to outrank your rivals in the first place.

Well… if you can’t win, change the rules.

There’s a very simple trick for getting search traffic for the keywords that you want to rank for—without actually ranking for them.

Enter…

One of the most common pieces of marketing advice is to “go fish where the fish are.” Whatever product or service you want to sell, you have to follow three simple steps:

  1. Figure out who your ideal customers are.
  2. Find the places where those people are hanging out online.
  3. Go to those places and find ways to promote your product.

Quick example: if you want to sell fitness gear, it would be good to figure out how to tap into the r/Fitness community on Reddit, which has over 12M members.

What does it have to do with SEO though?

Well, whatever search traffic you want to drive to your own website… someone is already getting it to theirs, right? And their website is not necessarily your direct competitor.

If you own a bagel joint in Singapore, you definitely want your website to rank in Google for “best bagels in Singapore.” But the pages that actually rank for this keyword are listicles, which give readers a bunch of different suggestions. So your job is to get featured in as many of those top-ranking listicles as possible.

Ranking for a keyword with your own website isn’t the only way to get customers from Google. Getting featured on other pages that rank for this keyword is incredibly effective too.

I call this tactic “second-hand search traffic”.

The underlying idea is not new though.

You might have heard of the concept called “Barnacle SEO,” shared by Rand Fishkin back in 2014. There’s also a concept called “Surround Sound,” coined by Alex Birkett. And another one called “SERP Monopoly strategy” by Nick Eubanks. There’s also a reverse concept, called “Rank & Rent.”

The idea behind all of these tactics is practically the same: if a page gets a lot of relevant search traffic from Google—you have to try and get your business mentioned there.

1721330765 614 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything1721330765 614 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything
Source

But that’s easier said than done, right?

Why would anyone bother to feature your business on their website?

Well, one simple answer is money.

If a website owner can make money from mentioning your business on their page, there’s a good chance they’ll do it. This money could come in the form of an affiliate commission or a flat fee for an annual or permanent placement. Sometimes these things can also happen as part of a broader partnership deal.

Getting listed for free is very, very hard. Especially so if you’re not already a big and respected business that people naturally want to feature on their website.

And yet—it’s not completely impossible to get listed for free.

Case in point, we just published our own “best SEO conferences” post, in order to rank for relevant search queries and promote our upcoming event, Ahrefs Evolve Singapore.

And then we went ahead and reached out to all websites that rank for the “best SEO conferences” keyword and asked them to add Ahrefs Evolve to their listicles. So far 10 out of 17 featured us on their pages, without asking for any payment whatsoever.

1721330766 734 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything1721330766 734 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything

The most straightforward way to execute this strategy is to compile a list of highly relevant keywords (with high business potential scores), pull all the top-ranking pages for each of them into a spreadsheet, and start your outreach.

But there’s one other fruitful source of pages to get second-hand search traffic from. These are pages that are linking to your competitors, while getting a decent amount of search traffic themselves.

Here’s how to find these pages in 3 simple steps:

  1. Put the website of your competitor in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.
  2. Navigate to the Backlinks report.
  3. Apply the “Referring page > Traffic” filter.
How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for AnythingHow to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything

Here’s an example of a page I found while trying this out for the ConvertKit website:

1721330766 665 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything1721330766 665 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything

As you can see, this page is not about “email marketing” (the primary topic you’d go for, if you wanted to promote an email marketing tool). And yet, this page is receiving 2.6k visitors per month from Google (as estimated by Ahrefs), and it recommends a bunch of email marketing tools to its readers.

So if you own an email marketing tool—like ConvertKit—you definitely want to get mentioned on that page alongside your competitors.

The moral of this story is that you should look outside of the topics that are immediately relevant to your business. Any page that gets traffic and mentions a competitor of yours should become your target.

And Ahrefs makes it super easy to find such pages.

That’s it.

I hope you found this tactic useful. Don’t sleep on it, because there’s a good chance that your competitors won’t.

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What SEO Should Know About Brand Marketing With Mordy Oberstein

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What SEO Should Know About Brand Marketing With Mordy Oberstein

For the SEO industry, the Google documents leak offered an important view behind the scenes. Although the leak was not a blueprint of how the algorithm worked, there was considerable confirmation that SEO professionals were right about many elements of the algorithm.

From all the analysis and discussion following the leak, the one insight that got my attention was how important the brand is.

Rand Fishkin, who broke the leak, said this:

“Brand matters more than anything else … If there was one universal piece of advice I had for marketers seeking to broadly improve their organic search rankings and traffic, it would be: “Build a notable, popular, well-recognized brand in your space, outside of Google search.”

Mike King echoed this statement with the following observation:

“All these potential demotions can inform a strategy, but it boils down to making stellar content with strong user experience and building a brand, if we’re being honest.”

Mordy Oberstein, who is an advocate for building a brand online, posted on X (Twitter):

“I am SO happy that the SEO conversation has shifted to thinking about “brand.”

It’s not the first time that “brand” has been mentioned in SEO. We began to talk about this around 2012 after the impact of Panda and Penguin when it first became apparent that Google’s aim was to put more emphasis on brand.

Compounding this is the introduction of AI, which has accelerated the importance of taking a more holistic approach to online marketing with less reliance on Google SERPs.

When I spoke to Pedro Dias, he said, “We need to focus more than ever on building our own communities with users aligned to our brands.”

As someone who had 15 years of offline experience in marketing, design, and business before moving into SEO, I have always said that having this wide knowledge allows me to take a holistic view of SEO. So, I welcome the mindset shift towards building a brand online.

As part of his X/Twitter post, Mordy also said:

“I am SO happy that the SEO conversation has shifted to thinking about “brand” (a lot of which is the direct result of @randfish’s & @iPullRank’s great advice following the “Google leaks”).

As someone who has straddled the brand marketing and SEO world for the better part of 10 years – branding is A LOT harder than many SEOs would think and will be a HUGE adjustment for many SEOs.”

Following his X/Twitter post, I reached out to Mordy Oberstein, Head of SEO Brand at Wix, to have a conversation about branding and SEO.

What Do SEO Pros Need To Know About ‘Brand’ To Make The Mindset Shift?

I asked Mordy, “In your opinion, what does brand and building a brand mean, and can SEO pros make this mindset shift?”

Mordy responded, “Brand building basically means creating a connection between one entity and another entity, meaning the company and the audience.

It’s two people meeting, and that convergence is the building of a brand. It’s very much a relationship. And I think that’s what makes it hard for SEOs. It’s a different way of thinking; it’s not linear, and there aren’t always metrics that you can measure it by.

I’m not saying you don’t use data, or you don’t have data, but it’s harder to measure to tell a full story.

You’re trying to pick up on latent signals. A lot of the conversation is unconscious.

It’s all about the micro things that compound. So, you have to think about everything you do, every signal, to ensure that it is aligned with the brand.

For example, a website writes about ‘what is a tax return.’ However, if I’m a professional accountant and I see this on your blog, I might think this isn’t relevant to me because you’re sending me a signal that you’re very basic. I don’t need to know what a tax return is; I have a master’s degree in accounting.

The latent signals that you’re sending can be very subtle, but this is where it is a mindset shift for SEO.”

I recalled a recent conversation with Pedro Dias in which he stressed it was important to put your users front and center and create content that is relevant to them. Targeting high-volume keywords is not going to connect with your audience. Instead, think about what is going to engage, interest, and entertain them.

I went on to say that for some time, the discussion online has been about SEO pros shifting away from the keyword-first approach. However, the consequences of moving away from a focus on traffic and clicks will mean we are likely to experience a temporary decline in performance.

How Does An SEO Professional Sell This To Stakeholders – How Do They Measure Success?

I asked Mordy, “How do you justify this approach to stakeholders – how do they measure success?”

Mordy replied, “I think selling SEO will become harder over time. But, if you don’t consider the brand aspect, then you could be missing the point of what is happening. It’s not about accepting lower volumes of traffic; it’s that traffic will be more targeted.

You might see less traffic right now, but the idea is to gain a digital presence and create digital momentum that will result in more qualified traffic in the long term.”

Mordy went on to say, “It’s going to be a habit to break out of, just like when you have to go on a diet for a long-term health gain.

The ecosystem will change, and it will force change to our approach. SEOs may not have paid attention to the Google leak documents, but I think they will pay attention as the entire ecosystem shifts – they won’t have a choice.

I also think C-level will send a message that they don’t care about overall traffic numbers, but do care about whether a user appreciates what they are producing and that the brand is differentiated in some way.”

How Might The Industry Segment And What Will Be The Important Roles?

I interjected to make the point that it does look a lot like SEO is finally making that shift across marketing.

Technical SEO will always be important, and paid/programmatic will remain important because it is directly attributable.

For the rest of SEO, I anticipate it merges across brand, SEO, and content into a hybrid strategy role that will straddle those disciplines.

What we thought of as “traditional SEO” will fall away, and SEO will become absorbed into marketing.

In response, Mordy agreed and thought that SEO traffic is part of a wider scope or part of a wider paradigm, and it will sit under brand and communications.

An SEO pro that functions as part of the wider marketing and thinks about how we are driving revenue, how we are driving growth, what kind of growth we are driving, and using SEO as a vehicle to that.

The final point I raised was about social media and whether that would become a more combined facet of SEO and overall online marketing.

Mordy likened Google to a moth attracted to the biggest digital light.

He said, “Social media is a huge vehicle for building momentum and the required digital presence.

For example, the more active I am on social media, the more organic branded searches I gain through Google Search. I can see the correlation between that.

I don’t think that Google is ignoring branded searches, and it makes a semantic connection.”

SEO Will Shift To Include Brand And Marketing

The conversation I had with Mordy raised an interesting perspective that SEO will have to make significant shifts to a brand and marketing mindset.

The full impact of AI on Google SERPs and how the industry might change is yet to be realized. But, I strongly recommend that anyone in SEO consider how they can start to take a brand-first approach to their strategy and the content they create.

I suggest building and measuring relationships with audiences based on how they connect with your brand and moving away from any strategy based on chasing high-volume keywords.

Think about what the user will do once you get the click – that is where the real value lies.

Get ahead of the changes that are coming.

Thank you to Mordy Oberstein for offering his opinion and being my guest on IMHO.

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4 Ways PPC and SEO Can Work Together (And When They Can’t)

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4 Ways PPC and SEO Can Work Together (And When They Can’t)

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing your pages to rank in a search engine’s organic results.

Pay-per-click (PPC) is a form of online advertising where advertisers pay a fee each time someone clicks their ad.

There’s no conundrum between the two types of marketing. You don’t have to choose one or the other; the best companies use both.

Here’s how they can work together and produce magic:

Creating SEO content is the process of figuring out what your target audience is searching on Google and aligning your content to their search intent.

To start off, you need to find out what they’re searching for. The easiest way is to use a keyword research tool, like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.

Here’s how you might find keywords for a hypothetical coffee equipment store:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter a relevant keyword (e.g., “coffee”)
  3. Go to Matching terms

Go through the list and pick out keywords that are relevant to the site. For example, the keyword “how to grind coffee beans” seems like a good keyword to target.

The keyword "how to grind coffee beans" and relevant SEO statsThe keyword "how to grind coffee beans" and relevant SEO stats

Once we’ve chosen our keyword, we want to know what searchers are looking for specifically. Sometimes the keyword gives us an idea, but to be sure, we can look at the top-ranking pages.

So, click the SERP button and then click Identify intents to see what searchers are looking for:

The Identify Intents feature in Ahrefs' Keywords ExplorerThe Identify Intents feature in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

We can see that searchers are looking for techniques and methods to grind coffee beans at home, and especially without a grinder. If we want to rank high, we’ll likely have to follow suit.

Those are the basics of creating SEO content. But doing just this isn’t enough. After all, the quote goes, “if a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?”

This applies to your content too. You don’t want to create into a void; you want people to see and consume your content. This is where PPC comes in. You can run PPC ads to ensure that as many people see your content as possible.

For example, at Ahrefs, we run Facebook ads for our content:

An example of a Facebook Ad we ran for our contentAn example of a Facebook Ad we ran for our content

We also run ads on Quora:

Our Quora ads campaigns we ran for the blogOur Quora ads campaigns we ran for the blog

This way, we make sure that none of our content efforts go to waste.

Links are an important Google ranking factor. Generally speaking, the more links your page has, the more likely it’ll rank high in the search results.

But acquiring links is hard. This is why it’s still a reliable ranking factor. And it’s also why there’s an entire industry behind link building, and tons of tactics you can use, all with varying levels of success.

One way you can consider building links to your pages is to run PPC ads. In fact, we ran an experiment a few years ago to prove that it was possible.

We spent ~$1,245 on Google search ads and acquired a total of 16 backlinks to two different pieces of content. (~$77-78 per backlink.) This is much cheaper than if you had to buy a backlink, which according to our study, costs around $361.44.

(It would be even more expensive if you acquired links via outreach, as you would have to consider additional costs like software, manpower, etc.)

Retargeting allows you to target visitors who have left your website.

Here’s how retargeting works:

  1. A visitor discovers your article on Google
  2. Your ad management software sets a cookie on the visitor’s browser, which allows you to show ads to these visitors
  3. When the visitor leaves your website and surfs the web, you can show ads and persuade them to return to your website

Depending on where they are on the buyer’s journey, you can convince them to take the next step.

buyer's journeybuyer's journey

For example, if someone found your website via your article on the “best espresso machines”, it’s likely they’re looking to buy. So, you can set your retargeting ad to encourage them to visit your espresso machines category page.

On the other hand, if a visitor discovered your website from your “what is a coffee grinder” article, they might still be early on the journey. In that case, it might be prudent to encourage them to sign up for your email list instead.

Every site has important keywords. For example, besides our brand and product terms, critical keywords are “keyword research”, “link building”, and “technical SEO”.

Since these keywords are important, it makes sense to dominate the SERPs for them. You can do this by simultaneously running ads for them while ranking in organic search. For example, Wix ranks for the keyword “create website for free” in both paid and organic SERPs:

Wix ranks for the keyword “create website for free” in both paid and organic SERPsWix ranks for the keyword “create website for free” in both paid and organic SERPs

This is especially useful if you’re a new or smaller site. The keywords that are important to you are likely important to your competitors too. Which means you can’t compete with them overnight.

So, a good strategy is to target those keywords via PPC first, while investing in your SEO strategy. Over time, as you acquire more backlinks and gain more website authority, you’ll be able to compete with your competitors in organic search too.

While both channels are complementary, there are times where it may make more sense to choose one over the other.

When to choose PPC

If you fit these scenarios, it might be a better idea to go for PPC:

  • You’re promoting a limited-time offer, event, or launching a product. According to our poll, SEO takes three to six months to show results. If your event, offer, or launch is shorter than the expected timeframe, it’ll be over even before SEO takes any effect.
  • You need immediate, short-term results. If you need to show some results now, then PPC will be a better choice.
  • You have a disruptive product or service. SEO depends on figuring out what people are already searching for. If your product or service is completely novel, then it’s likely no one is searching for it.
  • Hyper-competitive SERPs. Some niches have competing sites with large SEO teams and deep pockets. Coupled with Google’s preference for known brands, if you’re in these niches, it can be difficult to compete. PPC offers a viable alternative for gaining visibility on the first page.

When to choose SEO

Here are times when it may make better sense to choose SEO:

  • Keywords are too expensive. Some industries, like insurance or finance, have cost-per-clicks (CPC) up to a few hundred dollars. For example, the keyword “direct auto insurance san antonio” has a CPC of $275.
  • Your niche is restricted. Certain industries or niches (e.g., adult, weapons, gambling, etc.) are prohibited or restricted from advertising.
  • You have a limited budget. PPC requires money to begin, whereas SEO can drive traffic to your website at no direct cost per visitor.
  • You’re building an affiliate site. Affiliate sites earn a commission when people buy from their recommendations. While it’s not impossible to build an affiliate site from PPC, it’s difficult to control the return on investment (ROI) since affiliate site owners cannot control sales conversion rates.

Final thoughts

There are cases where focusing on either SEO or PPC makes sense.

But most of the time, the best companies don’t discriminate between channels. If they produce positive ROI, then you should be using all marketing channels.

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