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SEO vs PPC Explanation of Search MarketingThe great Chinese philosopher Confucius once said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

Since its advent over 17 years ago there has been a lot of confusion over how Search Engine Optimization (SEO) really works and what its role in marketing should be.

I want to use some analogies that everyone is familiar with to draw some parallel comparisons so you get a much better understanding of the whole SEO process. It’s not as mysterious or difficult to understand as many people think. Like many things it is easy to understand at its most basic form.

Definition of SEO

SEO is the process of making your website more accessible for the Search Engines to find and evaluate and more relevant to what the searcher is looking for.

As you dive deeper into SEO and understand its idiosyncrasies you’ll start to realize there are 200 to 300 factors that interact with each other on varying levels that contribute to how accessible and relevant your website is. People that understand its idiosyncrasies of SEO get much better results (ie. Rankings, Traffic, Sales) than those that don’t.

So what’s the risk of not understanding search engine optimization?

Many companies don’t really understand how SEO works and as a result don’t know how to either (a) buy it from an SEO provider or (b) implement it properly throughout their Digital Marketing strategy. If you purchase SEO based on low cost or low effort your search results generally suffer in the long run.

Rather than trying to complicate SEO even more than we should (a Google search for “SEO” returns 205 million pages!) let’s break it down and compare it to something we all know, a produce store.

Understanding Search Engine Results with an Analogy:
Starting a Fruit or Vegetable Stand

Since SEO is often referred to as organic or natural search I am going to use how fruit and vegetables grow organically in nature to explain search engine optimization for you and to compare its counterpart, Pay Per Click Marketing.

We all go to the produce store on a weekly basis. Do you wonder where this produce comes from? Sometimes it’s a local farm, sometimes it’s imported in from California or Mexico and sometimes it’s from the produce store owner’s fields out back.

Consider if you owned a fruit or vegetable store and you needed to supply your store with produce for people to buy. There are several methods to accomplish that:

  1. You could buy the produce wholesale OR
  2. You could grow your own.

You would likely do varying combinations of each at different times of the year depending on availability and demand. Ultimately you want to have maximum control over your supply and costs in order to earn the best profits.

Buying Produce Wholesale (the “PayPerClick” Approach)

PayPerClick (PPC) closely resembles buying your produce or products wholesale. PayPerClick is a general term that often refers to as Google Adwords or BING Search Marketing, but can also extend to paid Social ads and Google Display Network ads.

You can control when you purchase the ads, who you purchase from and some control to negotiate the price you pay for the produce or products. You have control over how the product is presented and the selling price etc. You also can control what regions your produce or products are offered depending if you have 1 store or multiple stores.

There is also some control with PayPerClick:

  • Choose when the ads will run (including the day of the week and time of day)
  • Maximum cost per click you are willing to pay
  • Maximum price per day you are willing to pay for ads to run
  • Appearance and text of the ad
  • Landing page the visitor is sent to when they click on your ads
  • Regions the ads are shown

You can even choose specific times of the year to run the ad or you can even shut the ads off when you don’t want them running. For example it is common for contractors and trades to stop running their ads when their schedule is completely filled up or when weather conditions are not conducive to new projects.

Keep in mind that with the Pay Per Click approach you become dependent on the wholesaler (AdWords, Bing Ads) for your traffic. As soon as you skip a purchase your crop or traffic will be non-existent. In this way you are always have to pay a price for each visitor.

Growing Your Own Produce (the “Organic Search” Approach)

Search Engine Optimization (often referred to as organic rankings) has a lot in common with growing produce yourself. Obviously if you grow your own produce you have even more control over the size of the crop and the quality of the produce. Depending on what you grow your crop takes time before you can harvest the crop and some produce like apples can take a number of years after planting the tree before you get the first harvest.  The quality of the soil, environment and weather conditions have a definite effect on the time it takes to grow.

SEO takes time to develop as well:

  • Search rankings are earned and do not occur overnight or even within a month.
  • Rankings are never fully developed right away but you will start to see improvements over a period of months.
  • Over time your flow of traffic becomes heartier and produces more.

Just like farming and harvesting SEO takes work. There is a lot of manual labor that goes into optimizing a website which all needs to be implemented into the website before the search engines will apply the credit for the changes. Skipping any key step in optimization is like storing the water in tanks next to your crop but failing to water or buying pruners but never trimming the crop back at the end of the season.

You can control how wide spread the search rankings are by the number of hours spent in optimizing the website. Just like farming, the attention to detail on the search engine optimization and approach will affect the quality of the results in the long run.

Although the initial work for SEO takes time to sow and nurture the seeds the harvest can be abundant and long lasting.

Which Search Marketing Approach is Right for You?

Is direct and fast access to search traffic that could cost more in the long run the answer for you?

Or do you prefer a sustainable strategy for growing your own search traffic over time?

Consider the following:

  1. Do you need results right away or are you planning for the long term?
  2. Are you willing to face increases in the cost of Paid Traffic in the long run or would you rather have control over your costs through SEO?
  3. If you are leaning towards organic growth with SEO, are you willing to be patient?
  4. Will you be tempted to speed up the natural growth of your SEO with “fertilizers” such as paid links and black hat strategies that could potentially harm your long term production? Are you willing to forego a pure natural product and use pesticides and fertilizers?
  5. Will you consider purchasing Paid Search Traffic in the early years while you grow your Organic Search Traffic, with the intent of relying only on your own organic traffic in the future?

The choice of direction is yours to make.

If you need additional help evaluating your Search Marketing in terms of SEO and PPC and what combination will work the best for your business and goals give us a call at 888-262-6687 or email our experts at


Chris Genge

Chris Genge is the Founder and CEO of 1st on the List. Since 1997 he has helped hundreds of companies across North America with his technical expertise and practical upfront approach to Search Optimization and Digital Marketing. As a pioneer in his field, Chris has the ability to help clients set goals and achieve results all while fostering growth and teamwork amongst his incredible team of SEO experts and Web Designers.