People who are new to SEO and PPC often think that having a Google Adwords campaign somehow improves their natural search engine results. Even though Google has insisted that this is not the case, and almost all SEO experts agree, there are still occasional claims of a correlation between paying for PPC and improved search engine rankings. Alternatively, there are some people who claim that their natural search engine rankings dropped when they started paying for ads.
SEO conspiracy theories aside, there are usually reasons why natural rankings improve in tandem with PPC. In many cases, people had started to pay attention to their websites within a few weeks of starting a sponsored match campaign, if only to improve the possibility of a conversion when the paid clicks started coming. At minimum, this increases the freshness of a website, and generally there are better keywords on the PPC landing pages when people start making changes. In many cases, we have customers who are doing SEO and PPC at the same time, so we can deduce that our own work, which once again may have started weeks or months earlier, was starting to bear fruit.
Secondarily, depending on your PPC spend, you might actually be getting natural search engine links after people visit your site through the paid channels. Site visitors may be bookmarking your site, commenting on it in blogs, or asking questions about it in forums. Although this roundabout way of link acquisition is not recommended as an SEO strategy, it does make for a reasonable link between PPC and higher search engine positions, especially if you have “sticky” or “viral” content on your site that needed to be discovered. People who have new tools, features, widgets, or content on their sites may want to consider the use of PPC to “prime the pump” if they believe that that a certain level of traffic may generate critical mass for sustainable word-of-mouth traffic.
Making your site more PPC friendly can certainly improve your chances for getting better search engine rankings. This is especially true since the advent of “quality score” measures in Adwords and Bing Adcenter, which give preference to landing pages that have text content that is relevant to the keyword being purchased. Natural search engine spiders, which read the same content, are going to give more credence to a page if it has a good keyword focus. Additionally, your site may already have met several of the factors that search engine algorithms are looking for, so improved content may be the difference between a lackluster ranking and a competitive position.
Finally, there is some consensus on the idea that natural search engine rankings, paired with visible PPC ads, results in an improved conversion rate. It may seem unusual that someone may want to pay for Adwords on keywords that rank naturally, but many advertisers choose to keep the paid keywords running if they have a high enough conversion rate to be profitable. The visibility of the same site in paid and natural positions creates a greater sense of trust in the mind of the customer, and it also means that you are holding a fair portion of search engine real estate. Experimenting with ads on keyword queries that already rank well may be one way to test an ROI improvement, but (as always) it could be unnecessary if you are happy with the traffic generated by your natural positions.