PPC vs SEO: Round 2, A Total Knock Out

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A few months back Sam (our Head of Search) wrote an article entitled SEO vs PPC? Time To Compare Your Business Costs where he conducted a review of our client’s SEO and PPC performance.

At that time he found that our SEO services were outperforming their in-house managed PPC by 3 to 1. Each SEO lead was costing a mere £30 ($46) whereas PPC cost over £106 ($160).



Round one easily fell to SEO then.

However, since the publication of Sam’s article the client asked us to manage their PPC account. The results of which are now in – let round 2 commend…

The Numbers – A Quick Recap

Below is the stark comparison made by Sam:

Example of cost-effectiveness analysis for SEO vs PPC

Was this analysis unfair on PPC? Time to find out as we roll up our sleeves and turn the fight in favour of paid search!

The Horse Doesn’t Like The Water

The old adage of ‘leading a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’ is very true of paid search. If your landing pages aren’t in order, don’t resonate with the searchers’ intent and fail to respect continuity of message then, they will fail you.

Our first task was to identify the winners and losers in the array of landing pages serving paid adverts and clicks.

We quickly identified some issues:


Of the top 5 pages sorted by traffic, there were 3 clear losers.

Looking for yours? They can be found in your Google Analytics under: Behaviour > Site Content > Landing Pages, and sort by Sessions.

The worst performer saw 918 visits in a month without a single conversion. That’s painful, a punch right in the kisser!

When we analysed the assisted conversions in Analytics the story didn’t improve massively, there were a few, but nowhere near enough to warrant this level of spend.

Fix this issue:

Jumping in to AdWords we identified the keywords driving clicks to these wasteful pages; we found a wedge of broad match keywords huddled in an Ad Group with a sizeable campaign budget.

At this stage it was easy to simply pause the lot. So we did. We’ll come back later to analyse the issues within, see if we can unearth any assisted converting keywords that might be worth pursuing in the future.

There are of course negative keyword opportunities to help fine-tune broad match too. More work for us to do at a later stage.

For now we stopped sending traffic to all the worst performing landing pages – this meant replacing adverts in a number of Ad Groups that used those landing pages.

Keyword Sucker Punch

Next on the cards was a quick and relatively painless exercise, finding wasteful keywords. By sorting keywords by spend over the past quarter (this account isn’t particularly seasonal) we could see very quickly where the budget was being spent.

Bear in mind this table excludes the underperforming Ad Group from above too:


Even with the ‘problem’ Ad Group out the way and now paused, we can still see opportunities to shave waste and recover the client’s budget.

Fix the issue:

Anything over the client’s target CPA (Cost per Acquisition) was paused.

£587 a conversion? Not on our watch – paused!

Get Your SKAG On!

Notice from the above top 5 spending (offending, more like) keywords that CTAs (Click-through Rates) are a bit well, average? We really don’t like average.

Our next task was to boost those CTAs which will boost Quality Score and most importantly in this context, reduce the cost per click.


So what is a SKAG?

A “Single Keyword Ad Group” that offers complete control in the battle for relevance. One keyword, one advert and one landing page: all matched and working in harmony.

SKAGs are highly relevant to user’s search which means a higher Click-through Rate = higher Quality Score = lower Cost per Click = lower Cost per Conversion.

We did the reverse of the above exercise, we found the top performing keywords and split them out from their current Ad Groups in to their very own SKAG.

Budgets were adjusted accordingly.

The Astonishing Uplift

Remind yourself of the numbers; PPC falling behind by 3 to 1 in the fight to remain competitive with SEO.

Not any more, now paid search is going toe-to-toe with it’s organic brethren.

The results:


Significant cost per lead reduction ahoy! Still not quite at the cost-effectiveness levels of SEO but getting there.

You might note the spike of cost versus conversions in April, mid-graph. That was at the point where we undertook the account restructure and this ‘shock’ to the system is perfectly normal. With sweeping changes come sweeping moves in metrics but hold firm, ride the noise and come out the other side stronger.

The ROI Simplified

Previously this AdWords account was spending circa £15,000 per month. With our work carried out and our continued management of the account, and even with our monthly fee of £900 factored in, the costs have tumbled.

The account is now spending closer to a total of £7,000 per month and yet produces more leads than ever before.

Half the cost – more leads – who’d have thought it?

Declaring A Winner

Sam has a point, SEO is lasting whereas ‘PPC is more on/off’.

That is a true statement. Does that mean it’s still a win for SEO then? No. It’s a win for the client. Both channels are delivering beyond expectations in both volume of leads and shrinking target CPAs.

We’ve toppled the target CPA of £100 pairing it in down to nearer £40 – even with our management fee – and in only a few months too. With time that will come even closer to the levels of organic traffic.

PPC vs SEO: more like PPC and SEO, hand-in-hand and delivering a powerful combo finishing move.

Ed Leake

Author: Ed Leake

Ed is the director of Midas Media and has served in the technology industry for just shy of twenty years. Ed believes in the constant development, improvement and the maturing of ideas. Outside of work Ed enjoys motorsport, yet more fresh coffee and doughnuts.

  • very good roundup, so we can said it depends on the execution, is it effective or not ? it depends on the SEO or PPC manager skill.

    • Ed Leake

      Absolutely – a poorly managed PPC account (particularly AdWords) will just monster through budget leaving nothing but the crumbs!

      It highlights the importance of measuring your real return on advertising and any other form of marketing. Knowing the cost in > out is critical to success.

  • @edleake:disqus I’ve really enjoyed watching this series of blog posts, thank you to you and Sam. I hope you don’t mind me asking a question? This SKAG: When analysing existing AdGroups, if you see keywords that you want to increase their CTAs, if you have 3 keywords for example, would you create 3 new AdGroups within the same Campaign as where they’re currently underperforming and pause them in the AdGroup which is underperforming? I’m trying to understand this approach a little more so that I might be able to try and implement it on my side.

    • Hi Christopher – thanks for stopping by.

      Yes a new Ad Group to incorporate a good to great performing keyword, to give it an additional boost as you completely tailor the ad for additional CTR.

      Obviously CTR isn’t the most important KPI, conversion typically is. But, if you have solid keyword conversion data and an ‘okay’ CTR – do the SKAG to boost both! 🙂

      • Cheers for the response, @edleake:disqus.

        I stop by quite frequently, so it’s not my first time, but this time I wanted to reach out, despite the post being a few months old.

        Really interesting approach. I’m very much an SEO guy and although I’ve been doing campaigns for a few years I’m still running up the learning curve and this concept of SKAG is really useful so thank you.

        • Glad you find our articles interesting and of use. If you do have any further questions, just ask away!

          Essentially the strategy can be summed up as:

          1. Move your best performing keywords to
          their own Ad Groups

          2. Create 100% targeted ads (because you
          can), a minimum of 2 per Ad Group

          3. Send people to a landing page that is 100%
          specific to the keyword and advert (more on this later in the guide)

          4. Don’t forget your keyword sculpting (where

          5. Test close variants in their own single
          keyword Ad Groups

          6. Bid with confidence!

          • Cheers, that’s exactly what I took away from the article and your comment. It’s interesting though, because out of natural progression I’ve done similar with some of the campaigns I run for the big listed company’s, but not exactly how you’ve suggested so here I sit with some new things to try out and for that I’m so grateful. I’ll have to think very carefully about a good AdGroup naming convention!

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