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Results-Driven SEO Project Management: From Chaos to Cash

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Results-Driven SEO Project Management: From Chaos to Cash

Making a profit in SEO relies on good project management. That means doing things that get results rather than just drowning yourself in endless tasks.

Below, I’ll walk you through a 7-step process to do exactly that.

Having clear goals keeps your team unified toward a specific direction. For example, if your boss allocates $5,000/month for the SEO project, you need to translate this into meaningful results and milestones you can report on. 

A goal you can easily set is to increase the website’s organic traffic value. This is a metric unique to Ahrefs that estimates a dollar value of SEO traffic. 

If you invest $5,000/month in SEO for six months, you could aim to increase your website’s organic traffic value by $30,000 ($5,000 ✕ 6 months). 

This isn’t the most accurate method because traffic value doesn’t necessarily correlate with real-world revenues, but it works as an easy starting point for setting targets. 

A better solution is to use conversion data and average order or deal value to set goals around delivering a return on investment. You can find these metrics in your analytics tool, like Google Analytics, if conversion tracking is set up: 

Tracking conversion rate and average order value in Google Analytics.Tracking conversion rate and average order value in Google Analytics.

Sidenote.

If you don’t have access to conversion metrics like this, to be conservative, use 1% as a ballpark conversion rate and the cheapest product or service price for the average order value.

Using these metrics, you can calculate the number of sales needed to break even on the SEO campaign.

# of monthly sales to break even = monthly SEO cost average order value 

Since this project’s monthly SEO cost is $5,000, we’ll need to grow sales from organic traffic by 32.25 for each month of the project’s duration. 

Here’s the formula to discover roughly how much traffic or projected organic sessions you’ll need: 

projected organic sessions = transactions needed to break even conversion rate

So in this example, we divide 32.25 transactions by the conversion rate of 0.86% to learn that we need at least 3,750 organic monthly sessions to break even. Of course, not all traffic is created equal, so keep that in mind going forward. 

So far, so good! (Save this number, we’ll need it in a moment). 

In many cases, the timeline will be decided for you by your boss or client. For instance, if you take on a client with a six-month contract, that’s the timeframe in which you generally have to deliver results. 

The question at this stage is whether it’s possible to reach your performance goal in that time. 

Truthfully, there’s no way to know for sure, but you can look to your competitors for an idea. 

Sure, you have no idea what their SEO budgets are (they could be spending 10x what you are), but if you see multiple competitors of a similar caliber getting similar results over a similar timeframe, that’s a good sign. 

For instance, in its first six months of SEO, Webflow reached just shy of 24,000 organic monthly traffic, with a traffic value of $76,510 (according to Ahrefs). 

Webflow's SEO performance in the first 6 months.Webflow's SEO performance in the first 6 months.

By comparison, Duda’s first-year performance is also fairly close to Webflow’s.

Duda's SEO performance in the first 6 months.Duda's SEO performance in the first 6 months.

So, if these are your competitors and your target is to reach a traffic value of $30,000 in six months or to increase monthly traffic by 3,750 sessions, it certainly seems achievable. 

If you don’t see competitors hitting your target in your timeframe like this, you’ll need to rethink your goals and communicate them to key stakeholders. Communication is critical for setting the right expectations with your boss or clients. 

Now that you’ve set an achievable goal for the project timeline, the next step is to plan what tasks actually need to be done to get you there. 

You’ll need to spend some time on strategic tasks to help you determine the correct implementations for the project. 

Don’t be tempted to skip this part!! 

If you don’t spend enough time on strategic tasks like competitor analysis, keyword research, and auditing the current website, no matter how much action you take, it’ll be useless if you’re heading in the wrong direction. 

But don’t overdo it, either. You need to balance strategy with implementation to get results. 

For example, there’s generally a notable difference in performance between a project that spends one month on strategy and publishes content ASAP compared to a project that front-loads strategic tasks and implements content a few months later. 

SEO project management strategy differencesSEO project management strategy differences

I recommend spending ⅙ of the project timeline on strategy and ⅚ on implementation for the best balance. 

As for what specific tasks you can plan, there are many things you could focus on here. The right things for your website will vary depending on your available skills and resources, plus what’s working best in your industry… but here’s where I’d start, given that the target is to increase traffic. 

a) Fill content gaps

Start by finding pages that deliver traffic to competitors that your website doesn’t have. 

Using Ahrefs’ Competitive Analysis tool, make sure you select the “keywords” tab and then enter your website along with a handful of your top competitors, like so: 

Adding competitors to Ahrefs' Competitive Analysis report .Adding competitors to Ahrefs' Competitive Analysis report .

Then check out the results to find topics your competitors have written about that you haven’t. Make sure you qualify the topics according to what has business value for you. 

For instance, let’s look at design-related keywords that Wix or Squarespace rank for but Webflow doesn’t.

Finding keywords competitors rank for that your website doesn't.Finding keywords competitors rank for that your website doesn't.

Many of these keywords hold very little business value for a company like Webflow, like any related to logo makers and generators. However, keywords related to design trends and principles might be topics Webflow can consider for its blog since designers are a staple part of its audience demographic. 

For topics that have business value, create new content targeting these keywords. 

There can be a lot of data to sift through here, so I recommend my content gap analysis template for a faster and smoother process 😉 

b) Boost authority of top pages

This task is about identifying which of your content is already performing well and sending more internal links and backlinks to those pages. 

You can find the best pages to promote by using the Top Pages report in Site Explorer. Here you’ll see which pages on your site get the most traffic: 

Using Ahrefs' Top Pages report to quickly identify pages with the most traffic on your website.Using Ahrefs' Top Pages report to quickly identify pages with the most traffic on your website.

Then, navigate to the Internal Link Opportunities report in Site Audit. You can set an advanced filter to narrow down the opportunities to the pages you care most about. Check out the suggested anchor text and keyword contexts and implement all the internal links that make sense in your content. 

Ahrefs' Internal Link Opportunities report.Ahrefs' Internal Link Opportunities report.

You should also build backlinks to these pages. You can use the Competitive Analysis report again, but this time, set it to referring domains or pages. 

Sidenote.

Setting it to referring domains will give you a list of websites you can add to an outreach list. Setting it to referring pages will give you the exact URLs where the links to your competitors are. These links can be included in outreach messages to make them more customized.

Also, instead of using the homepage, add the exact page you want to link to and compare it to your competitors’ pages on the same topic. Make sure you set all pages to “exact URL” to get the page-level (instead of website-level) backlink data. 

Using Ahrefs' Competitive Analysis report to find backlink gaps.Using Ahrefs' Competitive Analysis report to find backlink gaps.

There are many different backlinking techniques you can consider implementing. Check out our video on how to get your first 100 links if you’re unsure where to start: 

c) Update content with low-hanging fruit opportunities

For an established website with a decent amount of existing content, you can also look for opportunities to quickly update existing content and boost performance with little effort. 

In Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, check out your pages that are already ranking in positions 4-15 by using Opportunities > Low-Hanging Fruit Keywords: 

Finding low hanging fruit keyword in Ahrefs.Finding low hanging fruit keyword in Ahrefs.

Find pages with many keywords in this range and try to close topic gaps on those pages. For example, let’s take our post on affiliate marketing and look at its low-hanging fruit opportunities. 

We could isolate similar keywords that don’t already have a dedicated section in our article, like the following about becoming an affiliate. 

Example of low hanging fruit keywords to add to an article.Example of low hanging fruit keywords to add to an article.

These are already hovering around the middle of page one on Google. With a small, dedicated section about this topic, we can likely improve rankings for these keywords with minimal effort. 

Most tasks aren’t a one-time thing. For example, you’ll probably create or update multiple pieces of content during an SEO project. 

So, the next step is to create a library of repeatable task templates that you can duplicate in your project. 

Example of SEO task templates using ClickUp.Example of SEO task templates using ClickUp.
Source: Screenshot taken in ClickUp

If you don’t do this and just assume your team knows what to do, it can cause chaos, and there’s a high chance your project won’t succeed. 

Here’s what you should add to each task template: 

  • Who → assignees, reviewers, watchers, key stakeholders
  • What → what’s the goal of the task + what exactly needs to be done
  • When → dates to start and finish a task, estimated hours to complete
  • Where → what tools should be used, where should deliverables be added, where can templates/relevant info be found
  • Why → connect the task to a strategic objective
  • How → SOP or process outlined in a clear and detailed brief

Obviously, the exact details for some of these will need to be filled in on a task-by-task basis as you duplicate them into your project. For example, instead of assigning the template tasks to a specific person, indicate the role that is responsible for the task until you’re ready to assign it to someone. 

Likewise, with the due dates. In the template, instead of adding exact due dates, indicate an estimated length of time each task should take and a general rule for when the task is due after it’s been assigned. 

Not every project will need every task, so the idea is to pull in what’s required as needed and have the bulk of the info pre-filled to reduce the time it takes to brief the task. 

With your tasks set and templates created, it’s now time to start doing.

This is where things can often fall apart unless you distribute responsibility and ownership of tasks and processes throughout your team. 

SEO project management doesn’t fail because there aren’t SOPs and processes in place. It fails because the people executing the processes aren’t given ownership of them.

Mads SingersMads Singers

Here are 3 reasons why this can happen: 

  1. Without clear ownership, all team members rely on you for approvals before they can complete a task or start another. It slows everything down, and very little gets done efficiently.
  2. A “not my job” mentality can take root in your team. Unless team members take ownership of their tasks, you will be responsible for micromanaging everything to ensure your team is doing what it’s supposed to be.
  3. The people best placed to decide upon and update processes aren’t the ones doing so. They’re just doing whatever “management” tells them to do even if they see a better way.

You can solve the first two problems by clearly identifying who is responsible for specific tasks and processes and allowing them to get on with those tasks without having to run every tiny thing through you. 

You can solve the third problem by letting the people on the ground decide how their tasks are done and giving them responsibility for updating SOPs and relevant task templates. This again frees up your time and attention to focus on strategy, not micromanaging. 

PRO TIP

It also helps to break up bigger tasks into sub-components when multiple people are involved, like: 

  • Briefing → SEO Strategist or Account Manager
  • Implementation → often, a non-SEO professional like a writer, developer, or designer 
  • Review → Senior SEO
  • Final approval → Client
Example SEO project management timelineExample SEO project management timeline

For the love of all things good, please don’t manage SEO projects via email. It’s horrible. 

Invest in setting up a proper project management tool to scale with you. Consider your needs before you start planning all your tasks and projects. 

There’s no tool that’s best for everyone, but I recommend you check out Asana, ClickUp, or Monday to get you started. 

In any of these tools, you can easily set up separate projects and task templates. For example, here’s a basic setup of the first month’s tasks you can consider in Clickup: 

Example of Month 1 SEO tasks created in ClickUp.Example of Month 1 SEO tasks created in ClickUp.

Within each task, you can pre-fill certain fields and add a description, like so: 

Example of a task template for SEO project management.Example of a task template for SEO project management.

This is where you can add your brief, relevant links, and the essential details needed to turn the task into a template. Of course, there are nuances of how this works between different project management tools, but the basic idea remains the same. 

It’s worth spending time setting up your tasks and templates correctly so you can save time down the track as your project or team grows. 

The last piece of this framework is tracking resources spent and results achieved. 

Tracking resources

The easiest way to track resources is to create custom fields in your project management tool that measure specific resources allocated for each task. Some tools also let you build out reports to see how your resource allocation is going across different time frames, teams, or projects. 

The types of resources you might consider tracking include: 

  • Cost of the task
  • Planned time allocated
  • Actual time spent
  • Cost of tools required to do the task
  • Credits the task is worth (if you use a credit system)
  • Sprint points (if you work in sprints)

For more in-depth insights on where your resources are going, consider tagging tasks according to whether they’re strategic, implementation, or administrative. This way, you can quickly and easily spot imbalances like investing too much in tasks that don’t contribute to results. 

Tracking results

Measuring your results requires going beyond your project management tool and using a combination of your analytics software and an SEO tool like Ahrefs. 

When you start working on a new campaign, make sure you record a benchmark of the existing performance of the website. Then, keep regular tabs on the metrics that matter for the project and performance milestones you’ve achieved along the way. 

For example, you can use Ahrefs Webmaster Tools to monitor performance across your entire portfolio for free. 

The dashboard allows you to quickly see how performance is trending for key SEO metrics across all projects you’ve added: 

Ahrefs' dashboard showing quick performance stats across multiple projects.Ahrefs' dashboard showing quick performance stats across multiple projects.

Key Takeaways

Results-driven SEO project management starts with the end in mind and works backward. It doesn’t assume you’ll see performance improvements just because you’re doing lots of stuff. 

Instead, it is very intentional about figuring out exactly what needs to be done and linking those actions to realistic and achievable outcomes. 

In the words of Mads Singers: 

The starting point is figuring out how to deliver a return on investment. This is the most important thing. Then it’s about giving your team ownership and control over the tasks related to their roles. 

Once these foundations are in place, only then is it about documenting processes. But it shouldn’t be a business owner or manager who does the documentation. Processes should be owned by the people doing the work and who can keep SOPs current.

Mads SingersMads Singers

The process shared above allows you to do all of this and more. If you have any questions about your SEO project management goals or processes, feel free to contact me on LinkedIn anytime. 

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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.

More resources:


Featured Image: 3rdtimeluckystudio/Shutterstock

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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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