Comparing SEO & PPC Keyword Research Strategies

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Keyword research is a pivotal process in both SEO and PPC marketing. This is because keywords are the underlying core of how these processes work in relation to search engines. 

Keywords are used in SEO so that your content appears higher on search engines when people search for those terms. Similarly, keywords are used in PPC ad copy so that when people search for the phrases, your ads are more likely to be displayed.

While the usage of keywords seems incredibly similar, there is a major difference in things like intent, profitability, and content usage which in turn, means that there is a difference between SEO and PPC keywords and how you research them and this is what I explore below.

Understanding the Difference Between SEO & PPC Keywords

Before we can jump into research strategies you have to understand the difference between SEO and PPC keywords in a similar way that you differentiate between PPC vs. CPC.

Use in content

The most basic difference is how SEO and PPC keywords are used in content. SEO keywords can be used in a myriad of different content including blog posts, website pages, social media posts, email newsletters, whitepapers, and press releases.

In contrast, PPC keywords are typically used in the ad copy itself, and the landing page that the ad links to.


The intent behind the keywords differs vastly from SEO to PPC keywords and understanding this helps form the basis of your research. Intent relates to what the customers are intending to do when they are searching for something.

Typically, PPC ads utilize high-intent keywords and aim to attract customers who are further down the buying funnel. For example, someone searching for “the best SEO and PPC consultant” is far more likely to take action as opposed to someone who searches for “SEO consultants”. 

In contrast, SEO will also utilize low-intent keywords that attract customers who might be seeking information about a subject or are only just entering the buying funnel. They do not necessarily want to make an immediate purchase.


Profitability relating to the results of your SEO and PPC strategies differs too. With PPC, a business typically wants instant results – they want an ad click to result in a sale. This means that keyword research has to be done in a different way and you have to approach it from a different point in the buying funnel.

In contrast, SEO is not just about generating instant results and sales. SEO campaigns also aim to increase website traffic, boost brand awareness, and keep customers on your site. The results are less urgent and as a result, a broader selection of keywords are often used at different points in the buying funnel.

SEO Keyword Research Strategies

SEO concentrates on increased volume. This could be an increase in website traffic, email newsletter sign-ups, or contact form submissions, for example. It’s not solely concerned with sales although that is a desired end result.

Keyword intent

When researching SEO keywords, you must consider the customer intent. Why may a customer be searching for your company? To find information? To make an enquiry? Understanding their intent helps you find matching keywords. 

Oftentimes with SEO keyword research, the intent is not as immediate because customers are often just researching which means broader keywords are used as opposed to the direct ones in PPC marketing.

Stage in the buying process

Intent also relates to the buying process and where the customer is at and this affects keyword research. 

SEO keyword research often concentrates on customers who are not ready to make a decision but instead want to fact-find. This can result in more generic keywords and shorter phrases.

PPC Keyword Research Strategies

PPC concentrates on getting results. This is typically a direct sale or enquiry. You are not as concerned with volume but want the best CPC because, in a PPC model, you pay for every click made whereas SEO isn’t as directly cost-driven.

Keyword intent

Keyword intent is just as important for PPC keyword research but usually, it involves a different approach. PPC ads want to capitalize on customers who have a specific intent – a more urgent and defined intent. 

For example, they may have already done their research using your SEO keywords, and now they are ready to make a purchase.

Stage in the buying process

Likewise, that intent translates to customers being further down the buying process. Your PPC keyword research should reflect this and oftentimes PPC keywords are more focused with more words and phrases. You have to get in the mindset of someone wanting to make a purchase and think about what you would search for.

SEO and PPC Keyword Research - Volume vs Results

I hope you have found this article interesting and that you now have a better understanding of how SEO and PPC keyword research differ. The main contrasts are what you want to achieve from each process, the customer intent, and where they are at in the buying process.

Typically, SEO aims to deliver increased volume – the volume of website traffic, clicks, page views, etc. Customers are also not necessarily intending to make an immediate purchase, but may simply be conducting research.

In contrast, PPC aims to deliver results – conversions and sales. Customers are much further into the buying process and are more likely to intend to make a purchase. These differences ultimately must be reflected in your keyword research.

Article by:

Joshua George is the founder of ClickSlice, an SEO Agency based in London, UK.

He has eight years of experience as an SEO Consultant and was recently hired by the UK government for SEO training. Joshua also owns the best-selling SEO course on Udemy, and has taught SEO to over 100,000 students.

His work has been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur, AgencyAnalytics, Wix and lots more other reputable publications.