How to find long-term PPC & SEO opportunities in Google Analytics

Michael Wiegand, Director of Analytics
Find long-term PPC and SEO opportunities in Google Analytics

Here’s the latest excerpt in the upcoming analytics e-book on cross-channel opportunity gap analysis. Another reminder: We’re using Google Analytics and a few other third-party data providers here to unearth long-term SEO opportunities and PPC opportunities, but the tool you use isn’t as important as the process of discovering what channels and tactics work for you.

Disclaimer: In this post, we mention direct competitors of Portent. The point is not that we’re gunning for their positions, but to demonstrate the effort it takes to make it to the top of the search results and stay there for a sought-after head phrase.

Other posts in this series:

  1. How to Assess Your Digital Marketing Mix Quickly
  2. How to Find Quick Win Opportunities in Google Analytics

In this episode, we’ll look at the long-play, hard-to-make-progress-on initiatives that’ll truly take your business to the next level in search. Things like:

  • Ranking for that one target phrase with the most traffic (aka the “head term”)
  • Dominating the #1 ad position for the highest-intent phrases

The reality is, succeeding on just one of these two points won’t make you an industry-leading authority. It takes a mix of doing the right things over a stretch of time to make it to the top.

Among many other things, successful [digital] marketing also takes:

Long Term SEO Opportunities

We begin by looking for the Search Console report in GA. While the click and impression numbers themselves are notoriously unreliable in Search Console, it does give us a good read on head term popularity and roughly how effective we are at attracting click-through on those terms.

When the Queries report is sorted descending by Clicks – its default state – it shows a handful of terms we’re already successful at generating interest around. “PPC agency” and “PPC ad copy” net us higher-than-average CTRs and we appear regularly in the top 3 organic positions for them in the last 30 days.

Finding key terms in Google Analytics for search engine optimization

But when we sort descending by Impressions instead, some of our inadequacies come to the fore. We’re buried at #7 for “PPC” – a term that generates 7.5x more searches than any other term in this topic.

SEO opportunities in Google Analytics sorted by volume

We also have lower-than-average CTR and lower rankings for both “ppc services” and “ppc agency” – terms with higher intent that we should be relevant for.

So why aren’t we? And what will it take to succeed there?

Let’s take a quick incognito look at the SERPs on a few of these, since Google will personalize search results based on past browsing history and several other factors.

Organic Search Result for the term PPC

So what’s the lesson here? For the head term “PPC” sites that rank above and around us will give us more insight into what it takes to win in that space. Since I’m searching from a Seattle IP address, we actually rank #4, which isn’t too bad, but still won’t garner near as many clicks as the Top 3 listings.

Above Portent’s organic result for this term we’ve got Wikipedia (the internet’s encyclopedia) — not surprising as they have boatloads of authority. But atop the pile in the #1 and #2 spot is Wordstream.

When you see something like this for a competitor who’s dominating a SERP, it’s not a time to wring your hands and give up. Nor is it wise to simply charge after random tweaks, checklists, or link-building schemes. Take the time to look at what your competitor is doing well, and be brutally honest with this research.

In this case, let’s look at what’s special about Wordstream and their site that’s earning them so much relevance on a highly competitive and broad term like “PPC”. I notice a couple things:

A well-optimized page

They have an overall diversity and richness of “PPC” related content linking to and from this page (e.g. their AdWords Grader tool, which is wildly popular.

Wordstream SEO example trust signal

They offer a very shareable infographic explaining the AdWords auction.

They offer a recommendation for their PPC 101 e-book at the bottom of the page. And they also have links in the footer to a section of their site called PPC U, with loads more educational content on the subject. They hold a Premium Partner status with Google, a major trust symbol in the industry.

They also use the phrase “marketing” in conjunction with “PPC” in their page title and several times in the above-fold body copy – Google might see this entity as more closely connected to “PPC” than “advertising” which could have broader connotations.

But it goes beyond those immediately visible elements too. Larry Kim, the founder and CEO of MobileMonkey and the founder of Wordstream, is a well-known speaker on the PPC circuit. So his reputation and social media authority on the topic is undoubtedly a factor in how authoritative Google perceives Wordstream to be.

Outranking Wordstream for “PPC” would take a gargantuan effort. Google clearly prioritizes the sheer depth and width of their educational content on the subject. Importantly, it’s not just the volume, but how it’s connected and promoted.

So what could another brand do to compete? It might seem insurmountable. You may look at a similar situation in your industry and feel overwhelmed.

But let’s break down the giant task into a plan to bolster and differentiate your authority:

How to increase your authority for a topic in organic search

  1. Focus on something your competitor isn’t doing — another content format or vehicle of delivery. If your competitor doesn’t have any video on their ranking pages, that could be an opportunity to share educational content in a different way that generates lift and interest in your brand.
  2. Start a community around a topic that will generate passionate evangelists for your brand and content. If your competitor staked their claim on industry tools, there could be an opportunity to develop a forum instead with a spring of user-generated content.
  3. Don’t rest on being different. You’ll also need a backbone of written content – with relevant subjects and words on pages – to obtain that rank. Some of the gains you’ll earn will just be pure hustle. Create a content calendar that’s consistent and focused on answers your target customer’s questions.

Long-Term Paid Search Opportunities

Speaking of “PPC”, it’s also one of the ways you can acquire and retain top real estate on the SERPs. For a price. And while you could build an AdWords campaign in a few minutes that will get you the #1 ad position for the phrase “bobby’s super duper great widgets,” heightened competition around premium terms means it will take a much more concerted effort to get #1 and stay #1.

Since we’re shifting to discuss PPC opportunities, let’s keep it meta and use “Search Engine Optimization” as our example topic.

Doing a quick search turns up a few ads (I’m doing this at 6AM, so your results may vary). But even in the wee hours of the morning in a specific locale, it takes a lot to get a top ad position for a competitive term.

As of zero-dark-thirty this morning, a company called is at the top of paid results on our example term.

Organic Search Results for the term Search Engine Optimization

Looking quickly into their landing page, they’re offering a free SEO assessment.

Paid search landing page elements review

Digging deeper into competitive research with SpyFu, we’re able to turn up a ballpark estimate into how much it’s costing them per month to get this kind of placement. Turns out it’s upwards of $60K. Not cheap. And they’ve been at this for a long time, with SpyFu having first scraped their results from an AdWords SERP over 11 years ago!

Using SpyFu to estimate competitor PPC spending

Taking a wider look at their online presence with a tool called SimilarWeb, we see that as much as they’re spending promoting themselves, only ~13% of the total search traffic is paid.

They also rank organically for many of the terms they’re buying. Many studies have shown the positive impact on overall CTR when both organic and paid listings are present, so just having a great AdWords campaign isn’t the whole story either.

Example of SimilarWeb results for competitive research in digital marketing

And they’ve averaged over 1M uniques on their website over the past 6 months. So this is not a small operation and, if anything, their paid initiatives are pretty lean for a company of that size.

Using SimilarWeb to evaluate traffic for competitors in online marketing

But going back to ReachLocal’s ad and landing page, here’s what they’re doing well:

  • They have a review extension in their ad with over 500 4-star reviews.
  • They use trust factors like “award winning” and “23,000+ clients” to bolster their sense of belonging in a very competitive landscape.
  • They have a fast-loading Unbounce landing page template, of which they’re likely testing many variations.
  • The call-to-action on the landing page offers a free service and asks for only 5 pieces of information from the potential customer

So what could we – or anybody – do to compete with a very well-constructed paid search effort that? These are a handful of the things that it takes to win at PPC over the long-term:

  • Prepare to invest minimally between $50K and $100K per month on marquee terms. These clicks are expensive to generate, even if you day-part your ads early in the morning or late at night.
  • Enact a bid automation strategy to get your seen when your customer are most likely to convert. You can either buy a third-party platform to do it, or enable rules directly in AdWords or Bing to tackle this.
  • Enable retargeting pools. If somebody found a piece of content you wrote organically, be prepared to reach back out to them later with a PPC offer that matches the previous interest they showed in you. (We do a fair bit of this at Portent for folks who’ve engaged with our SEO blog posts and services page.)
  • Offer tangible value on your landing page – not just a sales pitch. And use an A/B testing platform to try different messages while still maintaining relevance in your <title> and an <h1> for the keywords you’re trying to buy.

The point of all this is that success on the web can’t be faked, can’t be won overnight and once you’re past the “low-hanging fruit” that every agency will sell you on, the wins are hard-fought and take significant cross-discipline effort and organization.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series, where we’ll look to model the bottom-line financial impact of pursuing specific short- and long-term opportunities.

Michael Wiegand, Director of Analytics
Director of Analytics

Over two decades as a marketer, Michael's experience has run the gamut from design, development, direct mail, multivariate testing, print and search. He now heads Portent's analytics practice, overseeing everything from Google Tag Management, to CRM integration for closed-loop analytics, to solving ponderous digital marketing questions. Outside of work, he enjoys recording music, playing D&D, and supporting Seattle Sounders FC.

Start call to action

See how Portent can help you own your piece of the web.

End call to action


    1. AdWords and Search Console are excellent, but neither are tethered to the performance of your website or your business as a whole. That’s where Google Analytics can help, even if it’s just a little bit of performance — you can get context for how an opportunity can impact your business.

  1. This is an awesome case study style post. I loved the remarketing comment of reaching back to them with similar content if they have reached your website via organic search results.
    Thanks for taking the time to create this post Michael!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close search overlay