How Do SEO and Paid Search Work Together?

How do SEO and paid search work together? New marketers, experienced marketers, and even large companies or agencies often share one common mistake: treating search engine optimization and paid search as two entirely different initiatives. Really, that is a missed opportunity. Let’s talk about four ways that your SEO and paid search can work together to enhance your search engine marketing.

Paid Search and SEO Keyword Research

The first area where your search engine optimization and paid search can work together is keyword research. Paid search and SEO are not targeting two different users. It is the same users and the same search queries. 

These two different tactics—paid search and SEO—are simply giving you different ways of ranking for the same searches and the same users. 

  • If you have ever worked on SEO, you know that keyword research can be a complicated and time-consuming exercise. 

  • If you have ever worked on paid search, you also know that you have to spend a lot of time investing and figuring out what keyword targets you are willing to pay money for. 

Why not do those exercises together? 


One of the best ways I recommend people approach this is doing a singular research exercise where you try to figure out what are all the best target terms that you want your business to rank for—whether you are using paid search or SEO. Once you have that list, you can plan tactically how many of those search queries you want to tackle through paid search or how many you want to try to rank for with your search engine optimization efforts. You can even target the same keywords in both tactics.

Combining the Analytics

The second area where your SEO and paid search can work together is through combining the analytics or doing gap analysis on your different search query performance data. Using your paid search query data from Google Ads and the SEO query data from Google Search Console, you can identify:

  • Where you might have holes in your different strategies

  • New search query targets to your target list on the SEO side

  • Where you might want to pick new keyword targets for paid search


Let’s take a look at an example of combined analytics. This is a search term report combining data from Google Search Console for our organic search performance and Google Ads for our paid search query performance.


This report tells us both the SEO performance data and the paid search performance data for each keyword all on one line. Combining this data makes it easy for us to see our most valuable search queries. It also highlights areas where we are paying for traffic on the paid search side but not getting any impressions or clicks on the SEO side. Using this example, I can quickly see there is a keyword here—mobile mechanics near me—that we might want to add to our SEO targeting list. 


Now that we see this gap, we will plan a piece of content to help target this keyword on the SEO side of our business. 

Using a report like this, you can get a bird’s-eye view of everything going on in the search engines rather than isolating your focus to just SEO or paid search data.

Keyword Scouting

The third area where our paid search and SEO can work together is a concept I like to call keyword scouting. Keyword scouting is using paid search as a way to test your messaging and your keyword targets before you invest in SEO. SEO can be challenging, and there are three big problems you have when you are getting started: 

  • Bad quality data:


    When you are doing keyword research, you do not always get a lot of information—especially when you start looking at long-tail search queries or really specific search queries. Additionally, you might not know how much actual search volume there is.

  • Messaging

    : You may not know whether or not your SEO content will resonate with your users. Without building that content, it is hard for you to test whether or not your messaging is going to work. 

  • Conversion

    : You also might not know whether the traffic you receive for an SEO keyword will convert to business for you in the future.

Using paid search, you can test all those things and get a great deal of information quickly before you invest all that time in SEO.

For example, imagine you are a B2B software company that wants a new page around your ROI to help your prospective customers figure out if they will get a return on investment when partnering with your software. To drive traffic to this page, SEO efforts would require some guesswork around query variations, messaging, or the functionality of the ROI calculations.

Instead, you could use a paid search campaign to immediately drive traffic to something like an ROI calculator. Using the resulting paid search data, you can then go invest in SEO tactics with the confidence of knowing:

  • Exactly what your messaging will need to be

  • The search query variations that you need to target

  • How to craft your user experience to convert those users to customers

Smoothing out the ROI Curve

The fourth way you can have your paid search and SEO work together is by doing something I like to call smoothing out the ROI curve. Paid search and SEO both have their unique challenges:

  • One of the challenges on the paid search side is that all of your clicks cost money. Even if you have a well-optimized paid search program, you are still going to need to continue to budget and pay for clicks no matter how long you plan on driving traffic through the campaign. 

  • One of the challenges we see with search engine optimization is that it takes a long time to see the results from your efforts. You might be investing in something like content production or link building for two to six or even 18 months before you see traffic come back to your website—depending on how competitive your keyword targets are. 

By combining paid search and SEO, we can mitigate both of those issues.


Let’s take a look at a conceptual example of how this can work:


This chart represents paid search—both the effort it takes and the results we should expect over time from making these investments. We have a lot of work upfront to do things like set up campaigns and optimize keywords. Over time, it takes a pretty consistent effort to maintain paid search campaigns. Based on our initial data, you will see that results tend to be pretty steady. We usually get immediate results as soon as we start investing. While these results can improve over time, there is a limit to how much traffic we can drive with paid search. 

In contrast, we have this same example for search engine optimization:


Here, we also have a consistent amount of effort as we are creating content, promoting that content, on-site optimization, or building links. Unlike paid search, our SEO results are delayed. We might get some outstanding results in the future, but we are not going to see them on day one of our efforts. However, the long-term results are not as limited as paid search. 

As you can see in this last graph, combining these tactics allows us to balance out the challenges of paid search and SEO while making a consistent effort over time:


In the short term, we are more heavily relying on paid search to drive traffic, leads, and revenue. In the long-term, our SEO efforts start to take over so we can wean down from some of our investments in paid search. 

Now we have seen four ways that your search engine optimization and paid search can work together to improve your marketing. Implementing even just one of these practices can improve the way you do both SEO and paid search. If you need help managing your paid search or SEO, contact our experts to see if we can help. And remember to always be optimizing. 

Jeff Cooper

Founder & President, Saltbox Solutions

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