Paid Search · SEO

Getting Indexed by Google Using Only PPC: It Could Happen to You

A lot of people write about the difference between SEO and PPC, and how pay per click advertising can come in to strategically boost traffic. When a previous SEO’s efforts have run amok because of shady tactics, PPC can keep a business running while Penguin and Panda recovery efforts are advanced. Nonetheless, the two strategies are often framed in opposition, as if PPC vs. SEO were a championship fight with an ultimate winner.

Hybrid Strategy

Metrics driven agencies have long realized that the ideal client is knowledgeable about the importance of both SEO and PPC. Clients who are open to trying a hybrid strategy to build traffic over time can often move faster than their competitors on the web. But linking PPC and SEO together can also create great things on the agency’s side as well. Recently I have been talking a lot about breaking down silos, and fully integrating teamwork across departments. Having your PPC team do keyword research and build natural language terms without having your SEO team gain from that knowledge is simply a waste of time.

Beyond the no-brainer combination of the two channels, there is a more complex relationship between PPC and SEO, one that Google is reluctant to confirm or deny. There is supposedly no connection between a paid AdWords placement and Google’s organic rankings—admitting otherwise would be like saying the game of search engine results is rigged. However, I recently experienced a case where it appears that there is a deeper synergy.

The Client

A travel industry client created a fully-fledged booking site that was part of a larger portfolio of brands. Though other sites in the portfolio were indexed and had historically performed well in organic search, this particular brand had not been launched. It hadn’t been announced to the public in any way. There were no inbound links or sitemap, though crawling was allowed in robots.txt. I launched PPC campaigns to a specific targeted audience in mid-August, which continued throughout the fall. PPC remained the only promotion of the site, with no efforts made to announce or publicize the brand. The booking site existed as a PPC microsite as the parent company focused most of their attention on other brands.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

On October 23, Google crawled the site, indexing 135 pages.  Thereafter the site began ranking for brand terms, as well as other relevant competitive terms. The only source of traffic at that point was PPC, and direct returning visitors.

organic index 1 637x158 Getting Indexed by Google Using Only PPC: It Could Happen to You

I saw the organic traffic begin and thought little of it. Someone must have linked to the site, submitted a sitemap, or shared it on social somewhere—but no. After a lot of digging, I found only a single, no-followed link to the site which was an image credit from a low credibility, low traffic blog.

The only other information relating to the brand terms or site URL that was indexed were on scraper sites like SpyFu which aggregated PPC campaign data but did not link back. So while the full URL was mentioned in the text on the page, there was no actual link returning to the site. It could be that the booking site was crawled after citations scraped from PPC ads appeared on indexed sites, but it is impossible to tell if that is the case.

In the months that followed, organic search traffic increased, as visitors returning to complete bookings started clicking on organic results for brand terms. Competitive non-brand search terms and long-tail keywords also gained impressions and rose in placement, still with no external links. The only measure of relevancy Google could glean other than AdWords-driven Google Analytics data was contextual references.

Top 3 Takeaways

  • If you are driving traffic to a PPC landing page, make sure it is tagged for noindex, nofollow or there remains a possibility that it will become indexed. This is doubly true if your landing pages are on an indexed domain with non-PPC content which could automatically add your pages to a sitemap.
  • This case could be a serious indication that the importance of citations is on the rise. Even if PPC was not the factor that caused the crawl, the citations from over 20 AdWords competitive keyword research sites were indexed.
  • If you are launching a new site and want to gain traction fast, it may be advantageous to run PPC to accelerate the process, to compliment SEO as well as the increased visits.

Have you had similar experiences with PPC-only sites in the past? Let us know in the comments!

 Getting Indexed by Google Using Only PPC: It Could Happen to You
Paolo Vidali is a digital media strategist, specializing in PPC, E-Commerce and Conversion Rate Optimization.
 Getting Indexed by Google Using Only PPC: It Could Happen to You

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11 thoughts on “Getting Indexed by Google Using Only PPC: It Could Happen to You

  1. Honestly I don’t really believe it. There might be other explanations.
    You occasionally see development sites indexed, and it usually happens because somehow a link leaked somewhere.
    You mentioned scraper sites, they might not appear in the SERP so you might not know they link to you.
    Furthermore, Google can crawl what it believes to be badly written links, attempting to discover URLs (sorry, I can’t find a doc url now); that’s what might have happened in the SpyFu case: Google sees an url-shaped text in the html body and tries to fetch it.
    Intriguing though, and I find the first and the third takeaways very true.

  2. Hi Federico,

    I agree that it’s a puzzle, and I dug around the code on the scraper sites quite a bit to investigate. The malformed URLs theory you mentioned is a good one. If that is the case, the booking site still showed up on other websites through PPC, however indirectly.
    cheers,
    Paolo

  3. I haven’t used this tricky way to generate search engine traffic even before but when I saw your SEO growth charts on this post using PPC . Really I am in wonder . This strategy might be best for the new setup blogs that want immediate traffic . But It ‘s cost really above the pocket .

  4. I think you have wrongly link cause and effect.

    PPC does not cause Organic traffic.

    Google keeps both entities seperate to avoid FTC claims on collition.

    The only real overlap s is AdsenceBot + GoogleBot, where contextual data is shared to reduce server load.

    Also overlaps exist with Reviews, structured data (dynamic ads) and meta data. Both GoobleAdbot and GoogleBot read and uses this data, but again they ate independent entities.

    Thanks

    Phil.

    1. Hi Phil,

      Thanks for the feedback. I am leaning towards a correlation rather than a direct causation. The FTC angle is a good consideration though to evaluating how Google approaches the issue.

      cheers,
      Paolo

  5. We have had a handful of cases where PPC campaigns that had been set up but not launched appeared to trigger crawls of sites that were still in development. Now, we never did any real testing so we don’t know for sure what the cause was, but it certainly appeared to be a viable explanation.

    1. Thanks for sharing Sarah! It’s something I’m going to be very aware of going forward with new launches too.

  6. Nice Post Paolo!

    I can attest to this first hand. I am one of the Marketing Managers for an AV manufacturer. We used a combination of SEO and PPC. We were struggling to find out if both were really necessary for us, since our distribution channels would be employing their own SEO team and driving sales to us anyways. We still have a running E commerce platform, so we employed an A/B comparison and ran a PPC campaign for about 3 months on its own. We saw a pretty noticable spike in our organic traffic even without employing any SEO strategies. I still think running both SEO and PPC campaigns is ideal, but I think how the long the site has been established plays a big part on the quality of traffic as well.

    1. Josh, the spike in organic traffic you experienced could be explained with AdWords traffic non recognized as such; a common cause is a redirect dropping the gclid auto-tagging parameter.

    2. Thanks Josh, and thanks for sharing! There have been other case studies published of the synergy and lift of SEO keywords with PPC running, with branded and competitive terms too.

  7. Google is providing page rank to individuals who participate in their paid advertising. It isn’t surprising that a nepotistic company like Google would provide organic search result boosts to companies that invest in other products. Just the same as an individual creating a linked Google+ account gets page rank power as would someone using PPC to buy traffic would see traffic increases.

    The fact that Google refuses to irrefutably deny any link between PPC and page rank shows that they themselves cannot control that aspect of the algorithm. When I sell SEO services; I always ask clients to invest even just $20 into PPC. They get near immediate indexing and pages begin to show up higher in Google than clients who do not participate in any PPC.

    The SEO success map for Google is –
    PPC
    Google+
    YouTube
    Twitter

    Those four products can help you rank sites astronomically.