Home Blog The Difference Between SEO and PPC Keyword Research


The Difference Between SEO and PPC Keyword Research

Posted by drew on Sept. 28, 2014, 6 p.m.

Any marketing efforts related to search engines (like SEO and Paid Search marketing) begin with keyword research. Keyword research gives marketers insight into the behavior and psychology of their audiences. If you want to learn the details of doing keyword research, I recommend this Backlinko article

In addition to knowing the methods and tools for keyword research, it is also important to know the overall theory behind keyword research, and the differences between keyword research for an SEO campaign and research for a PPC account.


First, let's look at keyword research for paid search accounts.

It has been shown that users who click on a paid ad are closer to completing a conversion than those users who click on an organic result in the SERP. Because of this, you should be focusing on transactional keywords, rather than informational keywords, when you are putting together your keyword list for PPC. 

What do I mean by transactional or informative keywords? Distinguishing these two requires a little empathy, trying to put yourself in the user's shoes to determine what their intention is behind typing a certain phrase into a search engine. For example, if someone searches [how to do SEO keyword research], they are clearly looking for information rather than a particular product or service. However, if they had searched [SEO services] or [keyword research tools], this indicates that they may be looking for a company to sell them services or tools. 

Given that you are paying for the traffic to your site, it makes sense to focus on keywords that are more likely to bring you quicker conversions. This will keep your return on investment up and help you track the impact of your paid search campaign. 

When preparing keywords for PPC, you also need to consider things like the average cost per click (CPC) to see if you can afford those keywords and the match type of your keywords. Bidding on only exact match keywords will bring you more targeted traffic, while broad match keywords (which are really not recommended in most cases) will bring larger volumes of traffic, but less relevant traffic.

Obviously, you also want to weigh how competitive a keyword is against how popular it is with searchers. This is also the case for SEO keywords. Think about how important a keyword is to you, and how much time and money you are willing to invest in ranking (either organically or in paid search) for that keyword.

What about SEO keyword research?

Above, I discussed the concept of transactional and informational keywords. While PPC campaigns usually only target transactional keywords, an SEO campaign may target both. Often, it is easier to rank for informational keywords as they tend to be more longtail. What do I mean by longtail keywords?


When you graph the popularity of a keyword against its share of total search traffic, you see that the vast majority of total search traffic is taken up by a set of keywords that are each individually not very popular. These unpopular keywords are known as the longtail keywords, whereas the few popular keywords are the fat head. 

This graph above isn't fully representative of the length of the longtail. In his post, Sizing Up the Longtail, Bill Tancer describes it like this: "if search were represented by a tiny lizard with a one-inch head, the tail of that lizard would stretch for 221 miles."

So in researching your SEO keywords, you may compile a long list of relevant keywords, each of which only gets a few dozen searches each month. But if you target enough of these keywords on various landing pages throughout your site, you can dominate the SERPs for a whole host of these keywords.

Longtail keywords also give you the opportunity to bring more relevant traffic to your site, because fat head keywords tend to be shorter and more vague. For example, if an auto insurance provider wanted to rank for the phrase [car insuranse], they may not have that much success. Someone searching [car insurance] may be looking to purchase insurance, but they might also be looking for laws related to car insurance, information about types of insurance, etc.

If that auto insurance company had instead optimized for something closer to [purchase car insurance in Boise Idaho], they would get more targeted traffic and have a better chance of ranking highly. 


While PPC keywords should be more transactional, it is easier to rank organically when your SEO keyword list includes longtail, informational keywords. In order to achieve a good aount of traffic with longtail keywords, you need to target many of them. 

Fusionbox is a Denver SEO company, and we hope this article was helpful to you. If you still have questions about SEO or PPC, contact us.