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SEO MarketingExplainers

How to Test SEO Using Google Ads

February 3, 2023
Alanna Hawley

Table of Contents

This article covers different ideas on how to test SEO keywords and other elements before launching or expanding a full SEO program by using Google Ads. 

While there are tools to a/b test SEO (such as SearchPilot and SEOtesting.com, this typically requires a high volume of already-ranking pages to test (to create a control group and test group) and requires that your SEO program be relatively mature and established. For businesses just beginning to launch or expand their SEO strategy, or for businesses that don’t have hundreds of ranking pages on their site, using Google Ads to test keywords, messaging, and URLs for SEO can be valuable. Plus, you generally get immediate results from the ads themselves. 

The basic premise of using Google Ads to test SEO

Earning organic rankings is a long-term investment, so by testing with Google Ads first you not only get immediate traffic while rankings are developing, but you also get key insights into what keywords, URLs, etc., could drive the highest return in SEO as well.

Here are ideas for what you can test for SEO using Google Ads:

  • Which keywords convert the best (and therefore should be prioritized in your SEO budget and strategy)
  • The messaging/verbiage that converts the best (you can use top-converting ad verbiage in the title tags and description tags for ranking pages)
  • Which URLs convert the best (plus gain user experience insights)

We’ll dive into each of those areas below.

A quick note on how long to test 

A common question is “how long should I run the tests for?” The answer is more about statistical significance than any set period of time. However, if you have a business with seasonal spikes or dips, then you’ll want to test outside of those times to make sure your data isn’t skewed by the peaks or dips.

Aside from seasonality, you should make sure the metrics are coming from a statistically significant data set. This can vary from business to business, as a business with high-search-volume keywords can reach statistical significance much more quickly, while businesses with lower search volumes (or lower budgets) may not want to wait that long to accrue the same number of clicks and may want to aim for a lower number. 

How to test keywords for SEO using Google Ads

You can test keywords for SEO by using Google Ads by targeting those specific keywords and measuring the results before you invest SEO resources in those keywords.

The purpose: Knowing what keywords convert the best tells you where to prioritize your SEO investment. 

How to do it: Create ads for all of the keywords you want to test, and monitor all keywords for conversions. Ultimately you will want to know which keywords convert the best. Those are the keywords you would want to prioritize in SEO efforts.

How do I determine what keywords to start with?

Performing thorough keyword research before testing will ensure that you consider all keyword opportunities in your tests. You can have this keyword research done professionally by a marketing agency or SEO consultant or can do the research yourself using tools like SEMRush Keyword Magic.

From the master keyword list, we would recommend selecting keywords that could realistically turn into a conversion, and testing keywords across different categories. For example, different products, different personas, etc.

Tips for organizing your Google Ads campaigns and ad groups for testing SEO

Although actionable and thoughtful organization is always a valuable asset in marketing, it is even more beneficial when testing keywords for SEO using Google Ads. Clear and methodical organization will allow you to draw stronger insights and takeaways with more confidence. 

We recommend organizing your campaigns and ad groups in a way that provides insights that you can take action on. Here are some examples you could consider:

  • Group campaigns by content type or strategy bucket. Examples are educational or transactional keywords, a customer service hub, or frequently asked questions. That way you can group insights by type of content to help you prioritize projects.
  • Ad groups by landing page/URL: This means creating ad groups for each landing page to understand the performance of each URL. In SEO, one specific URL will rank (ideally), so understanding the results you can expect from each URL can be helpful in planning and prioritizing SEO.

How to test title tags and messaging using Google Ads

The purpose: Determine what verbiage inspires the most clicks and use that when writing title tags and descriptions for URLs that are or will be ranking on Google.

How to do it: Monitor each ad for click-through rate. Ultimately you will want to know which ads drive the highest click-through rate, and use that verbiage in your title and description tags.

Ideas for messaging to test: Keep in mind that title tags for organic results are limited to one line (the pixel and character counts are ever-changing), so whatever headlines you test should include shorter snippets. Ideas include:

  • Free shipping
  • Free trial
  • Award-winning
  • Eco-friendly
  • Non-toxic

How to test landing pages and get user experience feedback

The purpose: Maximizing conversions for ranking URLs.

How to do it: Create ad groups by URL to measure conversion rate across all ads and keywords (better isolating the performance of the URL itself) and measure conversion rate across the ad group/URL compared to other ad groups/URLs. Additionally, use this visitor data to gather user insights.*

*This is best executed in conjunction with a tool like HotJar or FullStory that provides heatmaps and user recordings that allow you to see deeper into user experience beyond just conversion rate.

These are just a few ways to test for SEO using a channel you’re likely already investing in (Google Ads). Remember to document all of your experiments and hypotheses so that you’ll be prepared to create data-backed, actionable next steps for your brand.

Alanna Hawley
about the author

Alanna has been in the SEO industry for over 10 years and throughout that time has worked with brands of all sizes and industries, including Logitech, The Red Cross, Troy-Bilt, Ariat International, numerous local businesses, and companies both large and small. Alanna is also an entrepreneur and business owner in the music industry who understands the unique perspective of founders and CEOs. Alanna's work over the last 10 years has allowed her to hone in on key SEO/SEM strategies and approaches that reliably yield success in driving traffic and business revenue through search engines.

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