What if you could explain to prospects, management, or your wife that your year-long SEO plan would result in $ 50,000 for the company? Sounds far-fetched because SEO is an untamed animal pulling on its chains ready to run wild.

Every week I hear companies say, “We tried SEO but it doesn’t work”. “Well, SEO will probably NEVER work for you”.

Their problem may be bad on-page SEO, incorrect link building methods, endless Google updates, or misaligned stars in the universe. There’s likely a greater problem that could be avoided and fixed with what I call the “SEO litmus test”.

The litmus test is the secret to a cash-creating SEO campaign. If you skip the SEO litmus test, you miss clients, risk delivering poor results, and waste time. The litmus test lets you know beforehand if increased revenue from a boost in organic rankings is greater than the spend to achieve those rankings. You then get to justify work in a clear dollar value to prospects and management.

Most SEO work sucks because it is either:

  1. done poorly then fails to get more website visitors
  2. gets the wrong type of visitor

This is the major flaw of SEO today. No one cares if you will get 100 links per month, 4 guest blogs, first page rankings, or even triple their website traffic.

It’s satisfying to see your site on top of Google, but so what? You might argue visitors matter. Wrong again. Rankings are a frivolous metric like Facebook likes (compared to your engagement rate), bounce rates (they could be finding exactly what they’re after then bouncing off), and even visitors (just bandwidth consumers) when isolated. We do this to set apart our SEO service.

The perfect litmus test for SEO is AdWords. Google AdWords lets you estimate the dollar-worth of an SEO campaign. If you can make a profit on keywords in PPC, you then work at ranking for these through SEO. You don’t even have to profit. A return can be enough to validate your efforts at ranking high for a search term.

The SEO Litmus Test in Action

Here’s an example I did for a client who is a cleaner. One of his services is high pressure cleaning. What keywords would you try to optimize for? High pressure cleaning? High pressure cleaner? You spend months on an SEO campaign and 6 months later, you’re killing it. Visitors are hammering the site. You’re so happy with yourself, but the conversions are awful.

You try conversion optimization, yet it still doesn’t work. The problem is you have replaced a wheel while the engine (traffic source) needs replacement. How is it that a business can be made on 350 visitors a month while you have 3000 a month and struggle to get by?

The problems could be avoided through a simple AdWords campaign. See the screenshot below:

Adwords campaign

Think of each keyword as a market. In this example, the markets for “high pressure cleaners” and “high pressure cleaning” are made of people after devices rather a service. How do I know?

The ad describes a service (this is important to know). Look at the click-through rates above. A high-impression to low click-through rate indicates message-to-market mismatch.

If you want to be certain about this hypothesis, you could create an ad targeting pressure cleaning devices to see the contrast in CTR!

There’s no way to have this valuable market information beforehand. It’s the quickest way to know where the profit resides.

With conversion tracking set-up, you can review the exact terms that trigger clicks and leads through the “search terms” report. Check out a snippet of the search terms report for this campaign:

Adwords campaign report

These two terms had a high CTR (especially considering the average position where you typically get 5% CTR for a second position) and a kick-ass conversion rate, which shows a message-to-market match.

For more evidence, I then filtered keywords that didn’t have “brisbane”. $183.78 was spent for an uninterested 0.47% CTR and 0 conversions.

Now, what keywords should we rank for? Not “pressure cleaner”. It’s dead obvious.

You get to clarify to the client the dollar value of your service. The added benefit of running a good AdWords campaign before an SEO campaign is you know the dollar-value per lead, which is useful for other marketing activities to scale lead generation.

Arguments Against This Method – And The Little-Known Reason to Do AdWords

“So you’re saying, not only do I have to sell them on my SEO services, but now I have to convince them to test SEO with AdWords because in the end SEO may not work for them? What a joke!”. If you’re serious about doing killer SEO, go even or lose money in your client’s first month. You can run your own AdWords campaign out of their first SEO payment.

It’s up to you if you disclose your testing with AdWords, but don’t fake an ad to a new client as a top listing. Link building campaigns can still take place as you test AdWords to narrow down your keyword focus.

Another argument against this method is saving money using free tools. Marketers in the past have used Google’s keyword tools for this type of research. You type in your keyword then get told an estimated cost per click to advertise. A higher ad costs means there is high competition amongst advertisers. If someone can afford to pay a lot per click then the traffic is assumed to be profitable.

This causes similar problems as traditional SEO where you try rank for keywords you think are suitable. In reality the advertiser may have no idea about running a good AdWords campaign or deliver different services to you that convert better. Your business could differ. As you saw in our example, seemingly good search terms fail to convert.

Keyword tools can never replace the data you get from running an AdWords campaign. I recommend you use Google’s keyword planner tool as an aid. In the keyword tool, type in a keyword you think would be good then filter the ad group ideas by “suggested bid” to get expensive keywords for SEO ideas.

In AdWords you bid on predefined keywords then see the exact terms that get clicks. Some experts argue against using AdWords for SEO because long-tail searches are unknown. The argument is you cannot accommodate for all keywords that you’d get in SEO. I say you should be using AdWords to discover your top 10 keywords rather than extraneous phrases you have little influence over.

If you knew all your long-tail keywords, what would you do with this knowledge? 15% of organic searches on your site will never happen again. You could use the information to see problems people have, come up with new product ideas, and generate content ideas. But for SEO, it isn’t practical to know.

How to Overcome the Greatest Website Analytics Problem of Recent

Google AdWords is more powerful now for SEO because of the “not provided” keyword data dilemma in Google Analytics as Google migrate towards secure search. We won’t be able to understand the long-tail in search through SEO. This is one more reason I see AdWords becoming valuable in an SEO service in the future.

Become good at AdWords if you’re serious about SEO. An SEO professional can no longer be one-dimensional. You have to be a project manager. You have to understand all aspects of marketing. It’s okay if someone comes to you wanting to rank high in the big G. Be a search-engine optimizer to give people what they want but be a marketer to give people what they need.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.

  1. Wow that is a nice piece. I am familiar with using Adwords test campaigns to check new markets for demand / traffic but never thought of using it to test my assumptions about a current site. In the past, I have always passed on Adwords for terms that we rank well on. Maybe I need to check my assumptions….

    1. Thanks Dave. Not many SEO experts know about it and of the ones who know, few do it. I think the two primary reasons are a lack of knowledge about the method and the belief it’s a great expense. 1 hour of work and $200, beats 1 year of failed SEO.

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