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SEO and SEM Synergy: Testing Ad Copy Mirroring to Improve CTR

Published: November 30, 2017

Author: Scott Ridout

Do you know what ad copy and meta tag descriptions are your top performers? What about the keywords your SEO team is optimizing for and what keywords your PPC team is bidding on? Too often the answer to both questions is “I am not sure….”
Despite sharing the same search engine result page (SERP), advertisers often silo SEO and SEM/PPC as separate channels (even though users often don’t distinguish paid and organic listings).
Where SEO is focused on organically growing visibility on SERPs through website optimizations, SEM is focused on driving traffic by paying a fee (usually through an auction) each time an ad is clicked. Although fundamentally different, treating these two marketing disciplines independently ignores valuable synergy opportunities and insights. This blog post will explore synergistic messaging opportunities between disciplines and share performance results from a test with Vistage, a 3Q client and the world’s leading executive coaching organization designed for CEOs and business owners. Their digital marketing strategy is focused on identifying SMB business leaders to join Vistage’s private peer advisory boards of high-caliber executives. The highly selective nature of Vistage membership requires that their digital strategy targets and immediately engages appropriate member candidates.
In my experience, when an organic result appears on the same SERP as a corresponding paid ad, great things happen. Not only is the advertiser taking up more SERP real estate when both are served, it also serves to confirm legitimacy in the eyes of the searcher. There is a wealth of research that shows performance increases for both SEO and SEM when both paid and organic are present on a SERP. For example, a study from Google found that, 89% of the traffic generated by search ads is not replaced by organic clicks when ads are paused. Another Google study found that click through rates (CTR) increased for ads with corresponding organic search results and that the CTR increased the higher the position of the organic result. Thus, there are clear performance benefits when an organic result appears with a paid ad.
Using the above as a premise, Vistage’s SEO team and I decided to target a handful of keywords on paid search that we knew were struggling organically. Just as the latter Google study claimed, we saw increased CTRs for SEO and SEM when both a paid ad and organic result appeared on the same SERP.
After a few weeks of seeing increased CTRs, we decided to test whether synergistic messaging between paid and organic would affect performance. We reasoned that if a paid ad mirrored the organic listing, the consistency in messaging would improve performance. Our hypothesis was: CTR will increase the closer the copy is between a paid ad and the organic result.
We decided to limit this test to brand keywords because they had the most consistent SEO performance. Additionally, because meta tags and descriptions are much harder to change, we decided to mirror paid ads to the organic result (as opposed to vice versa). We created two ads to capture most of the meta description, which is longer than the 80 characters allotted for expanded text ads. Finally, performance would be evaluated by comparing the organic messaging ads to the ads currently running for brand keywords (standard messaging).

Organic Listing

Title = Vistage: Executive Coaching – Leadership Training & Business Coaching


This test began on 08/08/17 and is still ongoing. The data below shows 08/08/17 to 10/17/17 (70 days). The results showed that organic messaging ads’ CTR outperformed the standard messaging ads’ CTR by 2.4% with 100% statistical significance.

Based on this data, it looks like the more consistent messaging is between a paid ad and organic result, the better CTR performance. This is in line with what many marketers have posited regarding the importance of brand consistency and subsequently brand recognition. In The Brand Report Card, Kevin Keller argues that brand consistency is one of the top 10 characteristics of the world’s strongest brands: “The brand’s image doesn’t get muddled or lost in a cacophony of marketing efforts that confuse customers by sending conflicting messages.” In a digital advertising environment cluttered with different ad formats, channels, and target audiences, it is easy to lose consistency. Thus, maintaining consistent messaging on the SERP may be more well received by searchers.
This test was ultimately limited by the fact that it was conducted on just one account. Searchers may have liked the organic messaging ads more than the standard ads in no relation to the organic listing or brand messaging. In order to confirm or deny our hypothesis, this test would need to be expanded to multiple accounts across a variety of verticals. Additionally, CVR and CPA are other important metrics to evaluate ad copy performance, but they have not yet reached statistical significance. Despite these shortcomings, our team is continuing this test and considering launching similar tests in non-brand campaigns.
If you found this interesting, I encourage you to test this out with your accounts and report back with results!

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