Posted by anthonycoraggio

PPC and SEO go better together. By playing both sides of the coin, it’s possible to make more connections and achieve greater success in your online marketing than with either alone.

That the data found in search query reporting within AdWords can be a valuable source of information in
keyword research is well known. Managing the interaction effects of sharing the SERPs and capturing reinforcing real estate on the page is of course important. Smart marketers will use paid search to test landing pages and drive traffic to support experiments on the site itself. Harmony between paid and organic search is a defining feature of well executed search engine marketing.

Unfortunately, that’s where the game all too often stops, leaving a world of possibilities for research and synergy waiting beyond the SERPs on the Google Display Network. Today I want to give you a couple techniques to kick your paid/organic collaboration back into gear and get more mileage from combining efforts across the disciplines.

Using the display network

If you’re not familiar with it already, the GDN is essentially the other side of AdSense, offering the ability to run banner, rich media, and even video ads across the network from AdWords or Doubleclick. There are two overarching methods of targeting these ads: by context/content, and by using remarketing lists. Regardless of your chosen method, ads here are about as cheap as you can find (often under a $1 CPC), making them a prime tool for exploratory research and supporting actions.

Contextual and content-based targeting offers some simple and intuitive ways to extend existing methods of PPC and SEO interaction. By selecting relevant topics, key phrases, or even particular sites, you can place ads in the wild to test the real world resonance of taglines and imagery with people consuming content relevant to yours.

You can also take a more coordinated approach during a content marketing campaign using the same type of targeting. Enter a unique phrase from any placements you earn on pages using AdSense as a keyword target, and you can back up any article or blog post with a powerful piece of screen real estate and a call to action that is fully under your control. This approach mirrors the
tactic of using paid search ads to better control organic results, and offers a direct route to conversion that usually would not otherwise exist in this environment.

Research with remarketing

Remarketing on AdWords is a powerful tool to drive conversions, but it also produces some very interesting and frequently neglected data in the proces:
Your reports will tell you which other sites and pages your targeted audience visits once your ads display there. You will, of course, be restricted here to sites running AdSense or DoubleClick inventory, but this still adds up to over 2 million potential pages!

If your firm is already running remarketing, you’ll be able to draw some insights from your existing data, but if you have a specific audience in mind, you may want to create a new list anyway. While it is possible to create basic remarketing lists natively in AdWords, I recommend using Google Analytics to take advantage of the advanced segmentation capabilities of the platform. Before beginning, you’ll need to ensure that your AdWords account is linked and your tracking code is updated.

Creating your remarketing list

First, define who exactly the users you’re interested in are. You’re going to have to operationalize this definition based on the information available in GA/UA, so be concrete about it. We might, for example, want to look after users who have made multiple visits within the past two weeks to peruse our resources without completing any transactions. Where else are they bouncing off to instead of closing the deal with us?

If you’ve never built a remarketing list before, pop into the creation interface in GA through Admin > Remarketing > Audiences. Hit the big red ‘+ Audience’ button to get started. You’re first presented with a selection of list types:

The first three options are the simplest and least customizable, so they won’t be able to parse out our theoretical non-transactors, but can be handy for this application nonetheless. The
Smart List option is a relatively new and interesting option. Essentially, this will create a list based on Google’s best algorithmic guess at which of your users are most likely to convert upon return to your site. The ‘black box’ element to Smart Lists makes it less precise as a tool here, but it’s simple to test and see what it turns up.

The next three are relatively self explanatory; you can gather all users, all users to a given page, or all that have completed a conversion goal. Where it gets truly interesting is when you create your own list using segments. All the might of GA opens up here for you to apply criteria for demographics, technology/source, behavior, and even advanced conditions and sequences. Very handily, you can also import any existing segments you’ve created for other purposes.

In this figure, we’re simply translating the example from above into some criteria that should fairly accurately pick out the individuals in which we are interested.

Setting up and going live

When you’ve put your list together, simply save it and hop back over to AdWords. Once it counts at least 100 users in its target audience, Google will let you show ads using it as targeting criteria. To set up the ad group, there are a few key considerations to bear in mind:

  1. You can further narrow your sample using AdWords’ other targeting options, which can be very handy. For example, want to know only what sites your users visit within a certain subject category? Plug in topic targeting. I won’t jump down the rabbit hole of possibilities here, but I encourage you to think creatively in using this capability.
  2. You’ll of course need fill the group with some actual ads for it to work. If you can’t get some applicable banner ads, you can create some simple text ads. We might be focusing on the research data to be had in this particular group, but remember that users are still going to see and potentially click these ads, so make sure you use relevant copy and direct them to an appropriate landing page.
  3. To hone down on unique and useful discoveries, consider setting some of the big generic inventory sources like YouTube as negative targets.
  4. Finally, set a reasonable CPC bid to ensure your ads show. $0.75 to $1.00 should be sufficient; if your ads aren’t turning up many impressions with a decent sized list, push the number up a bit.

To check on the list size and status, you can find it in Shared Library > Audiences or back in GA. Once everything is in place, set your ads live and start pulling in some data!

Getting the data

You won’t get your numbers back overnight, but over time you will collect a list of the websites your remarketed ads show on: all the pages across the vast Google Display Network that your users visit. To find it, enter AdWords and select the ad group you set up. Click the “Display Network” and “Placements” tabs:


You’ll see a grid showing the domain level placements your remarketing lists have shown on, with the opportunity to customize the columns of data included. You can sift through the data on a more granular level by clicking “see details;” this will provide you with page level data for the listed domains. You’re likely to see a chunk of anonymized visits; there is a
workaround to track down the pages in here, but be advised it will take a fair amount of extra effort.


Tada! There you are—a lovely cross section of your target segment’s online activities. Bear in mind you can use this approach with contextual, topic, or interest targeting that produces automatic placements as well.

Depending on your needs, there are of course myriad ways to make use of display advertising tools in sync with organic marketing. Have you come up with any creative methods or intriguing results? Let us know in the comments!

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