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Combine SEO with paid search to rank higher in Google search results.


Although more than half of all product searches begin on Amazon, a recent survey from PwC found that 54% of consumers rank web search engines as their top source for prepurchase research.

Increasing brand exposure in search is an evolving art form that requires a commitment to experimentation and a lot of patience. Once you’ve identified your short list of keywords and are building content mapped to search intent, you can start to see improvements in your rankings in search engine results pages (SERPs)–and get more out of your advertising dollars. Content marketing platform and SEO expert Semrush offers best practices to help you on your SEO journey.

Compared to other marketing channels, search offers a direct window into consumer intent, and it’s also one of the easiest channels to track in terms of performance.

“Whether we like it or not, search engines are the interstate of the internet,” says Ben Otfinoski, CEO of Sentic, a leading digital marketing agency and Buy with Prime Partner that specializes in helping ecommerce businesses grow. “So unless you want to be invisible as a brand, making sure that you’re maximizing your rankings on SERPs is crucial to establishing visibility to the world. It really can’t be understated how important it is.”

When it comes to search, Google still dominates, holding more than 90% market share. According to research from Backlinko, the first result in Google’s organic search results has an average click-through rate (CTR) of 27.6%. Although the organic CTR for positions 8–10 are roughly the same, the first organic search result is 10 times more likely to be clicked than the results in the 10th spot. Only 0.63% of searchers ever click on results found on the second page of Google results.

Ben shares insights about driving greater search exposure through SEO and paid search campaigns—along with the best ways to optimize your results and your return on investment.

SEO vs. paid search

There are two techniques to improve your rankings on Google: SEO and paid advertising. Together, these two proven tactics can yield big exposure benefits for your brand, but there are important nuances to both.

The benefit of the ad route is that it’s virtually instantaneous, as long you have the budget to support it. “I always compare it to turning on a water faucet,” Ben says. “The second you turn the knob, data starts flowing, click-throughs start coming to your website, and you can buy yourself that top spot for the specific keywords that you think are most relevant. Search ads are a great way to get an infusion of data to make faster decisions for your business. The obvious downside is that they can be very expensive.”

Paid search at a glance

  • Pros: Instant results and insights
  • Cons: Expensive

Organic SEO traffic is the highest-quality and highest-converting traffic, and one of its biggest benefits is that it’s virtually free. “It just requires elbow grease,” Ben explains. “If you’re playing the long game, SEO is a great tool to get yourself to a top spot on a SERP for specific search terms, queries, or keywords that you’re trying to rank for.”

It can also take much longer to see results. “It’s more of a slow trickle at first,” Ben says. “But once it gets going, the impact of a good SEO approach compounds, and it gets better and better over time.”

SEO at a glance

  • Pros: Inexpensive
  • Cons: Results take time

How to get started with SEO

If you’re a small business without a lot of resources, Ben recommends focusing on your website first.

  • Pay attention to load times. “How fast and responsive is your website?” he asks. “Because that in itself is a massive ranking factor for Google.” Every fraction of a second counts when it comes to load times, and that has a direct impact on conversion rates. Tap into free tools to check your page-load speed, such as WebPageTest or Pingdom.
  • Optimize your website. When you optimize your website for conversions and design your user experience to build trust, you can improve your SEO. “Make your website incredibly easy to navigate, so that your shoppers can quickly find what they’re looking for and convert,” Ben explains. “A fast-loading website with easy checkout leads to a lower bounce rate, which in turn gets you a higher engagement rate, a new metric important to Google.”
  • Feature product reviews and ratings. “If you’re trying to rank on Google, make sure you have reviews embedded,” Ben says. “Reviews are a really powerful thing, and incentivizing reviews can help.” You can also add Reviews from Amazon directly to your Buy with Prime product pages.
  • Employ SEO best practices. There are many free resources available to help you to boost exposure for your ecommerce site, including SEO guides from ecommerce providers like BigCommerce and Shopify that offer tips for optimizing your product pages and site.

“Before you start thinking about optimizing your content for search, these basic techniques are a good starting point to improve your SEO rankings,” Ben notes.

How to pick the best keywords

Once you cover the SEO basics, you can jump into mastering keywords. Choose a core list of 5–10 keywords that you want to rank for the most, and focus on those first.

Says Ben, “When it comes to SEO, some businesses make the mistake of trying to tackle too many keywords, and then they often just end up going only skin deep on all of them.”

There are many tools available that can give you insights into estimated traffic for certain search terms and keywords, along with the estimated cost per click (CPC) to indicate the competition level for those keywords. For example, check out SE Ranking, Free Keyword Research, or Keyword Explorer.

“After you’ve identified the keywords that are getting a ton of traffic and those of your biggest competitors, you can make an educated decision,” Ben explains. “If you’re a smaller ecommerce business going up against a giant brand, you don’t want to be overlapping with the core terms that they rank highly for, because you’re never going to win. Try to find keywords that still have significant search traffic to arbitrage opportunities with less competition.”

How to develop an SEO-boosting content strategy

Armed with a list of keywords and an optimized site, the next step is to develop and implement your content strategy. Start by rolling out blog posts once a week, with links back to your product pages. “Long form performs the best right now, so try to target 2,000–3,000 words,” Ben says, “and be sure to incorporate rich media, with images of your products embedded—Google loves rich media. Any photos or videos that you can add will help improve search exposure.”

Even better, Ben says, is when those blog posts live on other websites or social media platforms, with backlinks to your website. “You’re basically building out this exponentially powerful web of links with thought leadership and creative posts that incorporate your products and drive traffic back to you.”

You can also get creative with reciprocal backlinking. “A lot of times people make a handshake agreement with a friendly ecommerce brand and they’ll each do guest blog posts for the other, so that content lives on a different site or social platform,” Ben explains. “That’s one good way to build high-quality backlinks.”

How to succeed in targeted ad campaigns

With an SEO-boosting content strategy launched and running, you can use all that keyword research to jump-start your search ranking strategy. “You’re meshing Google Ads with SEO content and your keyword research to help identify those longtail or more affordable, but still high-quality, keywords to bid on,” Ben says.

The key to success is focusing your advertising spend on some very targeted keywords. “I’d start specifically with Google Shopping, because it’s the highest converting and most efficient ad format for ecommerce,” Ben says. “With a limited budget of a few thousand dollars a month, you can spend just enough to get a meaningful sample size of data.

Armed with advertising and SEO-focused content performance data, you can begin to analyze the impact that your campaigns have on achieving your business goals. By monitoring your return on ad spend, or ROAS, you can make informed decisions to further optimize your paid search strategy. Two other metrics that are important to monitor at this stage are CTR and your conversion rate (CVR).

“If you have a high CTR on either an organic post or on your ads, that means you’re actually getting your content and your ads in front of the right people who actually want to engage with your brand and potentially buy from you,” Ben explains.

Once you understand the quality and relevancy of the audience that you’re getting from those targeted keywords, then you can prioritize where to devote resources to maximize CTR and CVR. “You can always spend more money to get more and more traffic,” Ben says. “But it could be very expensive. Use what the data tells you—whatever is performing better— and invest more there.”

From there, Ben recommends exploring options like Performance Max, Google’s newest, fully automated advertising platform that can help identify the most optimal ad placement for your brand based on your budget, from shopping ads to auto-generated videos.

SEO content + paid search = virtuous circle

When you combine your paid search strategy with your SEO content strategy, you can help elevate both. “When both of those are working together, they actually improve the efficacy of both,“ Ben explains. “You’re paying for those keywords and driving traffic to your website, so you’re getting more traffic, and that traffic is signaling back to Google that you’re becoming more of a trusted source.”

When that traffic lands on your site and sticks—because you’ve optimized it for speed, conversions, and lower bounce rates—Google sees your site as a more trustworthy, high-performing destination that adds value to consumers.

“Google, or search engines in general, rewards you by increasing your SEO rankings, and as those organic rankings increase, you get even higher-quality traffic, which then boosts your ‘quality score’ on the paid advertising side,” Ben says. “The higher your quality score, the lower your CPCs become, and the more optimal placements you get. That means with the exact same amount of money, you get more and more traffic when you stack SEO and paid search together.”

Want to dig deeper? Check out the top SEO techniques to get the right traffic to your site and omnichannel marketing tactics to help drive growth.

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Kelby Johnson