How PPC is Destroying SEO: Culture Cultivation and Taxation

PPC is munching it’s way through SEO and isn’t about to stop. Organic traffic was only ever a vehicle to get PPC to critical mass, and now paid advertising is ready to take over. In a lot of ways however, both traditional PPC and SEO are verging on being obsolete. The gaming of both of these are over, replaced with brand building and investment management. The attention of PPCers now needs to turn to identifying undervalued areas and exploiting them – calculating risk vs payoff to redirect budget. Not convinced? I’ll put my argument to you.

Found this painting in an art gallery’s dusty storeroom titled “PPC chases SEO out of SERPs”. From Wikipedia.

Manipulating Results is Dead

It’s agreed the gaming of organic rankings is pretty much futile nowadays. Link-building has had the rug firmly pulled out from under it with Panda and Penguin (Google’s algorithm updates) and technical SEO has been absorbed by UX design – which it always was really anyway. It’s taken a few years, but web analytics and search algorithms are sophisticated enough now that they’ve really managed to bridge the gap between what they’re measuring and how they measure it. While in the past SEOs may have tried to influence the data going into Google’s listening devices, they’re not as easy to manipulate any more and it’s simpler to just focus on the thing Google was trying to measure in the first place.

It’s Just Like Quality Score

There’s a similarity here with PPC. In the past, there was (and in some corners still is) far too much of an interest in Quality Score. Quality Score is only a numerical representation of a measurement of something much bigger and much less tangible. Instead of trying to improve your Quality Score by gaming the numbers it’s measuring, the best advice is just to have a good, honest, quality account. If you have highly relevant ads and treat your traffic right, then it doesn’t matter what number the Quality Score is – a high relative Click Through Rate means a low relative Cost Per Click.

Organic Results Supporting the Ads

Introduced as the revenue stream that allows Google to remain free of charge, paid search has ballooned under everyone’s noses into a form far in excess of what would have been required to maintain the service. In short, paid ads aren’t there to support the free results – the free listings are there to support the growth of the paid. In my opinion, this has always been Google’s plan since day one.

TV Shows and Magazines

This is a model as old as the hills. TV stations, magazines, sporting events, etc. are designed primarily as advertising platforms. Filler content, whether it’s 12 minutes of soap storyline or an article on losing weight, is sandwiched in between to maintain the viewer’s attention span until the next session of ads. With the ads as the primary role of the platform, viewers have content breaks not ad breaks. GIF

Culture Cultivation And Taxation

These advertising mediums are so old that nobody even remembers what they were like when they started, but they probably followed a similar path of culture cultivation – where a behaviour is encouraged to develop, and then taxed.


A recent example of this is Spotify. It was a godsend when it arrived and having every piece of music (ok, almost) you could imagine at your fingertips, it quickly became the Status Quo (hehe). Once the audience grew enough and had invested enough of themselves in the product, the advertising increased to nauseating levels and users flocked to the premium model in droves.


Facebook is hot on the heels of Spotify and Google. Facebook took control of user’s newsfeeds last year and began prioritising content with EdgeRank, forcing page owners to work harder to produce more valuable content and a better experience for Facebook users. Unlike Google, Facebook’s audience isn’t it’s mass populace but the businesses who have invested time and money into building their own customer communities. As EdgeRank proved more and more difficult to gain an advantage with, it became more efficient for businesses to turn to promoted posts and pay to increase their post’s visibilities. Quite simply, once everyone was bought in and Facebook’s business pages reached critical mass, businesses began getting taxed to talk to their community.

Stepping Into the New Dawn

Back to Google – organic results continue to be marginalised to the bottom left of the Search Engine Results Page, with the most recent iteration of this being when Product Listing Ads straight up replaced the organic shopping results. Replacing isn’t the right word actually; the organic shopping results “became monetised” is a more accurate phrasing. Unlike traditional text ads, the PLAs are organically selected by Google. By being the leading organic search engine over the past decade, Google has almost single-handedly dictated user experience industry standards, and formed the commercial internet into a beast of it’s own making. It understands the game inside out to a point where it can charge a fee to use it’s organic engine without competitive threats.

In effect, PPC and SEO are converging into one singular paid-search-marketing strategy. Keywords, bids, and even ad copy are becoming redundant as traditionally organic methods of optimisation are required to keep a competitive paid search campaign.

Nouveau Optimisation

So how do you optimise a PPC account without keywords, bids and ads??? At the heart of a paid search campaign, there are two things that dictate how it’ll perform: your margins and your conversion rates.


In this example, two competitors who both sell an item worth £100 have very different margins, and so can afford to pay different amounts to advertise the same product (The target Cost Per Acquisition)is the max their margin allows them to spend on acquiring each sale). However they also have different conversion rates and so end up only being able to afford the same Cost Per Click (CPC). Assuming your margin is static, the only dial that can be moved is your conversion rate.

In traditional PPC, we’d focus on the influence Click Through Rate (CTR) has on ad position. If you maintained the affordable CPC of £0.30 and worked on your CTR, you’d likely see your ad rise up the ad positions and your traffic levels alongside it. With Google favouring automated ads for ecommerce sites instead of hand-crafted ad copy, we need to improve the CTR in other ways. When provided with a level playing field like the Product Listing Ads panel, not only do price and domain-branding impact the CTR, but they heavily influence margin and conversion rate as well.


To optimise your margin, you may want to take a seminar in negotiating or, alternatively, scale your business to the size where your suppliers need you more than you need them… while that’s in progress, you could implement a price automator on your site such as Wisepricer which automatically scrapes the web for competitor prices of your products and optimises your prices based on rules you set.

Conversion Rate

I’m not talking about simpler navigation or checkout processes. While reducing friction with clearer information, endorsements, and credentials will help speed the user through the conversion funnel, what really makes a user convert are value propositions and affinity. Focus on providing the most exclusive, best-quality, and best-value product or in reassuring your customer that you are the only place they should consider buying from. Manage to achieve both and even the worst checkout experience won’t stop someone from persisting.

Too Long; Didn’t Read

Over the past decade, Google’s business model has been one of culture cultivation followed by taxation, where a product is provided free of charge to allow a culture of use to develop, and when it reaches critical mass it is upgraded with a paid-for version. After ten years, we are now witnessing Google’s transition from a seemingly ad-supported free service to its true form – an advertising platform with a few non-commercial results that are there only to maintain a rounded service. As commercial sites see their paid search begin to engulf their organic search, traditionally organic techniques are required to continue optimising traffic and a respected brand with a good value proposition is all you need to succeed (and all that can succeed) in this new era of taxed search traffic.

My old Dad used to say the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. I think all channels of online communication are on a path to becoming paid for, and it’s an appropriate fee to use such efficient marketing tools – but they can only ever work competitively if optimised correctly.

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2 thoughts on “How PPC is Destroying SEO: Culture Cultivation and Taxation”

  1. Paul says:

    One of the best post’s I’ve ever read. Well done mate yer shinin.

  2. Colin says:

    It’s now a fine line where to spend your money – SEO or PLA’s. Ideally both but margins are tight!

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