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A Simple Guide for Beginners



A Simple Guide for Beginners

Despite Shopify handling some basic SEO best practices out of the box, it’s unlikely to be enough to take your store to the top of Google.

You need to optimize for all facets of SEO if that’s your aim. 

In this guide, you’ll learn how to do that to drive more traffic and sales to your store. 

Before we start…

You should take care of a few things before reading this guide:

  • Use responsive design Google confirmed mobile-friendliness as a ranking factor in 2015. The good news is all Shopify themes claim to be responsive on mobile devices. But make sure you run the theme demo through Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool to check.
  • Set up Google Analytics – Monitor the performance of your Shopify store by installing Google Analytics. Read through this documentation to learn how to get started with GA. 
  • Set up Google Search Console – Use this to identify and fix technical SEO issues concerning your Shopify store. Learn how to activate GSC here.

Let’s get down to business.

Technical SEO is critical to e-commerce success. Shopify handles technical SEO reasonably well out of the box. It creates a sitemap and robots.txt file. And page speed is fine. But there are a few considerations worth your attention. Let’s dive into them. 

1. Set your preferred domain 

Once your newly launched Shopify store is live, picking a preferred version of your domain for search engine indexing and ranking is the next step, a practice known as domain canonicalization.

For example, your Shopify store can be accessible at:


Having your online store available under different URLs creates a duplicate content issue and dilutes “link equity.” Shopify is pretty good at handling this issue out of the box, as it redirects alternatives to the one it thinks is your preferred domain. But it’s not always correct.

To check and change this, go to your Domains settings

Domain settings in Shopify

If you prefer to use a version of your domain that Shopify didn’t choose as the primary, click that version and hit “Set as primary”:

Changing primary domain in Shopify

2. Use a logical store structure

Site structure is an essential consideration for e-commerce sites because it helps users and crawlers navigate your site more easily. It also assists the spread of link equity (i.e., ranking strength) throughout your website. 

Here’s my suggested starting point for an e-commerce site structure: 

How to structure Shopify stores

The homepage links to categories, which then link to subcategories, which then link to individual products. 

Shopify doesn’t have category pages. But it has “collections,” which are essentially the same. 

Here’s the official documentation from Shopify on how to create them.

3. Create separate products for product variants (not always)

Product variants, perhaps unsurprisingly, are products available with slight differences. 

For example, if you’re selling a “GUCCI wallet” in several colors, this is when you create product variants. Shopify introduces product variants by appending ?variant=$id at the end of the product URL. 

Here’s what the URL looks like:


This is known as a parameterized URL. 

By default, product variants are canonicalized to the main product URL to prevent them from indexing. While ideal in most cases, this can result in a lost opportunity if people search for your product variant. 

Case in point:

Search volume for "black gucci wallet"

In these cases, I believe the best option is to create a separate product rather than a product variant and support it with unique content to stand the best chance at ranking.

Editor’s Note

Another option is to index parameterized URLs for product variants with search demand. Unfortunately, this isn’t the easiest thing to do in Shopify. So unless your store is huge, the solution above is arguably the best option. 

Joshua Hardwick

Chapter 2. Keyword research

Like any other e-commerce store, Shopify stores mainly consist of category and product pages. These are the pages that you’ll want to rank on search engines. Here’s how you can do keyword research for them.

1. Find keywords

You can find keywords in various ways, but using a keyword research tool like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer is the best starting point. So type in a few broad keywords related to your products and sift through the Matching terms report. 

For example, here are a few potential categories for a guitar store:

Finding keywords for categories in Keywords Explorer

Beyond that, it looks like people primarily search by brand, so those will probably be the best choice for subcategories. 

Finding keywords for subcategories in Keywords Explorer

As for products, keyword research isn’t really a thing unless you sell unbranded products or products from unknown names. That’s because, for branded products, people will search for the products themselves, and your product pages will target those keywords without much effort.

For example, if you sell a PRS McCarty 594 guitar, there’s no way not to target that keyword with your product page.

But if you sell a generic light blue electric guitar, it may be better to target a relevant keyword with search volume like “light blue electric guitar”: 

Search volume for "light blue electric guitar"

However, it depends on search intent. If the top-ranking search results are all category pages, that probably means searchers are looking for a choice. So you may struggle to rank for this term with a product page. 

2. Map keywords to existing URLs

Unless you’re just setting up your store, you can probably target some of the keywords you find with existing pages.

For example, if you already have a category for electric guitars, there’s no need to make a new page to target the keyword “electric guitar.” 

If you want a list of all the indexable pages on your website to help, run a full crawl of your store using our Site Audit in Ahrefs Webmaster Tools (it’s free). You can then export a list of indexable URLs from Page Explorer

Indexable pages in Site Audit

It’s then just a case of mapping keywords to existing pages and creating new pages for the rest.

Now that you’ve identified which terms and phrases to target with pages on your store, it’s time to optimize your site for on-page SEO elements.

1. Optimize meta titles and descriptions

Shopify offers an easy way to optimize titles and descriptions. Select one of your product or collection pages, scroll to the “Search engine listing preview,” click “Edit website SEO,” and click to edit meta information:

Adding a title tag and description to a product page in Shopify

Here are some ideas to keep in mind when crafting perfect titles and descriptions:

  • Include the target keyword
  • Add long-tail variations
  • Keep titles between 50 and 60 characters
  • Keep descriptions around 120 characters
  • State your USP (e.g., free shipping, great deals, discounts, inexpensive, etc)

The advice above will not only help you write titles and descriptions that are keyword-optimized, but it’ll also make your snippets compelling.

But let’s be honest: Writing a unique meta title and description for each product is challenging. That’s because most e-commerce stores have hundreds or thousands of pages. So a templated approach is often preferred.

This approach involves creating a template for your titles and meta descriptions and following a similar format across a particular category of products. Unfortunately, Shopify doesn’t support this out of the box, so you need to rely on apps like SEO Manager and Smart SEO to do this.

2. Write unique category and product descriptions

Product and category descriptions help users and search engines learn more about the page, so optimizing each page with unique descriptions is useful.

Some stores cut corners and use the same product descriptions across a particular category of products. Don’t make that mistake. Remember, duplicate content is an obstruction to ranking. 

Shopify has a place for collection and product descriptions in the dashboard: 

Adding a product description in Shopify

Here’s some advice on how to write a perfect description:

  • Address visitors’ potential questions within product descriptions
  • Talk about things visitors care about
  • Use simple words
  • Avoid shoehorning your target keyword

Of course, writing unique descriptions for each product and category page takes time, so prioritizing your most important pages makes sense.

Editor’s Note

Product and category descriptions are arguably less important than they used to be. I mean, who actually reads these descriptions on category pages? That said, this is still something worth considering for important pages, as it may help boost their rankings.

Joshua Hardwick

3. Add a schema markup for rich snippet eligibility

Schema markup makes your snippets stand out from the rest of the search results on Google. The benefit is obvious: Eye-catching snippets get more clicks, and that means more traffic. 

Case studies have shown a 30% bump in CTR for pages with schema markup.

Shopify stores can use product schema markup to enable rich product results. These display additional information about your product, such as price, availability, and review ratings.

Here’s an example of a product page with a rich result:

Rich search result

And the page without a rich snippet:

Regular search result

Which page do you think is likely to attract more clicks?

The former. Besides helping you improve CTR (thereby, sales), schema markup also serves to help Google understand your page better.

In Shopify, virtually all themes support schema out of the box. Just fill in all the necessary information to be eligible to appear as a rich result:

Product information that creates structured data automatically

If your theme doesn’t support schema, consider using an app like Smart SEO to enable rich results for your products.

4. Optimize your images

Alt text (alternate text) is the best starting point for image optimization. It helps search engines understand the subject matter of an image and assists users with screen readers. 

To add alt text in Shopify, click an image and hit “Add alt text”: 

Adding alt text

It also pays to use descriptive file names for images. For example, if you have a photo of a guitar on a product page, prs-mccarty-574.jpg is better than IMG785476.jpg.

Lastly, be wary of image file size. Heavy images slow the loading of your pages, which can hurt rankings and user experience. You can use apps like to compress images before uploading them to Shopify.

Chapter 4. Content marketing

Content creation is an integral part of a successful Shopify SEO strategy, and e-commerce stores have some of the best content marketing opportunities. Let’s take a closer look at some of them.

1. Blogging for search

Blogging about the questions and topics potential customers are searching for is a smart way to attract more targeted search traffic to your store.

Here’s how to find these topics in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer:

  1. Enter a few broad terms related to your products
  2. Go to the Matching terms report
  3. Switch to the “Questions” tab

For example, if you sell musical instruments, you may enter “drumkit,” “drums,” and “guitar”:

Finding question keywords in Keywords Explorer

This returns over 367,000 keyword ideas.

Not all of these will make sense for blog posts. For instance, although “how to tune a guitar” gets an estimated 13K monthly searches in the U.S., there’s not much point in writing about the topic because searchers almost certainly already own a guitar.

Keyword "how to tune a guitar" gets an estimated 13K monthly searches

On the other hand, “how much is a guitar” makes sense despite its lower search volume because searchers are clearly considering buying one.

1.8K monthly searches for "how much is a guitar"

To add the blog posts you write to your Shopify store, hit “Blog posts” in the sidebar and click “Create blog post.” 

Adding a blog post in Shopify

2. Product video reviews

People often watch review and comparison videos to help figure out which product to buy. 

If this is likely to be the case for the products you sell, consider creating these videos and uploading them to YouTube. It should be easy enough if you’re knowledgeable and passionate about your products.

To figure out which product reviews and comparisons people are searching for, use Keywords Explorer:

  1. Enter a few brands you sell
  2. Go to the Matching terms report
  3. Add the words “review” and “vs” to the Include filter and select “Any word”

For example, there are an estimated 500 monthly searches in the U.S. for “prs custom 24 se review”: 

Finding review and "vs" keywords in Keywords Explorer

If we search for this in Google, we see a “Videos” SERP feature at the top of the results: 

Video SERP feature for "prs custom 24 se review"

These results tell us that searchers mainly want videos, not blog posts.

It’s a similar story for “prs s2 vs se,” which gets an estimated 250 monthly searches in the U.S. and also has a “Videos” feature on the SERP:

Search volume for "prs s2 vs se"
Video SERP feature for "prs s2 vs se"

Link building to Shopify stores is challenging, especially if you want to build links directly to your product or category pages. For this reason, it’s often easier to build links to other pages. You can then use internal links to distribute “link equity” to relevant product and category pages. 

Let’s go over a few link building tactics you can use. 

1. Find sites linking to your competitors

Replicating your competitors’ common homepage links is arguably the best starting point when building links to your Shopify store. You can find these using the Link Intersect report in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.

Here’s the process: 

  1. Plug your domain into Site Explorer
  2. Go to Ahrefs’ Link Intersect tool and enter a few competing sites
  3. Change the search mode on all URLs to “URL” and hit “Show link opportunities” 
Link Intersect tool in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

You should then see websites linking to one or more competitors but not you:

Results from Link Intersect tool

Not all of these will be good opportunities. It’s a case of sifting through the list for ones that may be replicable. 

For example, OldTimeMusic links to a couple of competing guitar stores: 

OldTimeMusic links to two competitors

If we hit the caret and investigate the linking pages further, we see that the links to both sites come from a list of the best places to buy guitars:

Referring page to the competitor, Reverb
Referring page to the competitor, Guitar Center

This is definitely somewhere we could pitch for inclusion if we had a guitar store.

Here’s another site linking to a couple of competitors:

MusicRadar links to two competitors

If we investigate further, we see that one of the links is from a list of online guitar-selling tips by Dan Orkin from 

Excerpt from Reverb's guest post on MusicRadar

Given that Dan got a guest post published on this site, perhaps we could too? 

2. Write guest posts

Speaking of guest posting, this is something that pretty much every store owner can do. 

Here’s a quick and easy way to find guest post opportunities:

  1. Enter a broad query that defines your niche into Ahrefs’ Content Explorer
  2. Switch the search mode to “In title”
  3. Filter for pages published in the last 90 days (so you know they’re still active) 
  4. Filter for English pages
  5. Filter for pages on DR 30–70 sites (this excludes low-quality websites)
  6. Filter for pages with at least 1,000 words (this will eliminate e-commerce pages from the search results)
  7. Check “one page per domain” box
  8. Go to the “Websites” tab

You should now see the top websites that have published content about your topic:

Finding guest post opportunities in Content Explorer

Eyeball the list for relevant websites with plenty of traffic and multiple authors. These are likely to be receptive to a guest post pitch. 

3. Create “linkable assets”

A linkable asset is a piece of content purposefully created to attract links to your site. Examples include research studies, free tools, calculators, interactive widgets, etc.

Let’s say you want to find research-type post ideas for a hypothetical Shopify store selling musical instruments. 

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Go to Content Explorer
  2. Search for keyword AND (data OR study OR research)
  3. Set the scope of the search to “In title”
  4. Filter for pages with 50+ referring domains
  5. Filter for pages published over two years ago
Finding studies with backlinks in Content Explorer

Look for results where it may make sense to publish an updated study.

For example, here’s a study from 2018 with 112 referring domains about how half of all new guitar players are women:

Example of a study with backlinks in Content Explorer

This is relatively easy to replicate if you have a mailing list of customers. You can just run a survey asking how many started playing guitar in the last few years, as well as their gender. 

Once you have an up-to-date study, reach out to everyone linking to the old research and see if they want to cover it or replace the old link.

Final thoughts

Shopify stores have some SEO built in. The platform takes care of page speed and regularly updates your sitemap automatically. It also allows you to adjust your store elements for SEO best practices.

But using Shopify won’t guarantee high rankings in search results. Shopify is just a tool. You still need to do keyword research, produce quality content, and build high-quality backlinks to see your store prosper in organic search.

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How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything



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.


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

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




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.

More resources:

Featured Image: 3rdtimeluckystudio/Shutterstock

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



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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