Which is better SEO or PPC? We get asked this question a lot. Our answer? It depends on what you’re looking for: a short term quick hit or long term success.
We like to think of it in terms of apples: do you have the time and patience to grow an apple tree for a constant supply of apples for years to come? Or do you want instant gratification: one apple right here, right now, no matter how much it costs, knowing full well that it’s here now and gone in a few bites?
The apple tree – that’s SEO.
Or, a few-chomps-and-it’s-gone apple – that’s PPC.
So how do you like them apples? Is it going to be SEO or PPC, or an integrated, holistic approach that utilizes both (plus social media marketing – SMM – and other online marketing strategies)?
The best way to decide is to understand what each is, and then stack them up against each other, looking at the differences, pros, cons, advantages, and drawbacks of each. Which is exactly what we’re going to do for you!
What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is the process of getting traffic from the ‘free’, ‘organic’, or ‘natural’ search results on search engines using a combination of skill and magic to get there.
SEO: The Pros
Over the long-term, implementing SEO or PPC or both together can have different benefits.
SEO can help improve organic, sustainable, relevant traffic to your website, and your business, exactly the kind of traffic you need, by boosting your search engine success. The knock-on positive effect of SEO-built-better-rankings in SERPs shows itself in multiple ways:
- SEO helps build brand awareness. By making yourself more visible in search engine results you are putting your business in front of your target audience – i.e., your potential customers – in much the same way as if you were paying to advertise.
- SEO helps build trust, credibility, and authority. If most Internet users are anything like us (and studies show they are), they tend to skip the ads and trust organic results far more, to give them the best answer to their search query. SEO can give you those ‘trusted’ organic results. This, in turn, improves your credibility and places you as an authority on a particular subject, product or service. Trust. Credibility. Authority. The trifecta of business success. All achievable through excellent SEO.
- SEO improves your click-through rate (CTR). Related to that whole trust thing, studies show that a higher percentage of users click on organic listings than they do on paid placements.
- SEO is budget and bottom-line friendly. Traffic to your website delivered via SEO is free, whereas traffic from PPC has a cost for each click. In other words, your cost per click for traffic generated by SEO in organic search is, effectively, zero. Nada. Nothing. Free. Yes, developing a great SEO strategy takes time, and time is money, but there is no ‘physical’ charge for each click. With the ‘free’ nature of SEO, your ROI (return on investment) on organic traffic is obviously much higher than that of traditional and other online forms of paid advertising or marketing (including PPC).
Bonus: once you’ve put in the time and effort to implement your SEO strategy (and, yes, money if you use professional SEO services to help), your investment will be rewarded forever after. SEO success doesn’t stop the minute you stop paying. Yes, it requires ongoing monitoring and maintenance, but SEO is a sustainable, affordable form of marketing that pays off even when budgets are being slashed everywhere else.
- SEO improves your basic understanding of your customers. By doing all that research on your target audience in order to hit the bullseye in search, you are effectively learning everything you need to know about your core customer – online or otherwise. Your customer is your business. Knowing exactly who he/she is can only improve business overall.
SEO: The Cons
When you’re just starting out in search engine marketing, using SEO or PPC can feel a little like pitting your turtle against the hare. Bringing a knife to a gunfight. With SEO, organic traffic and excellent rankings can be slow to come. Moreover, you need to pick your keywords and develop your content carefully to make sure you stand out from the crowd and stack up against the big guns. (Think Amazon et al.)
In other words, SEO requires time, patience, research, and effort.
SEO also requires a certain amount of know-how and skill.
Some of it can be fairly easy to implement for the beginner, but much of the technical stuff is much better fobbed off on the professionals. Also, Google and other search engines keep changing their algorithms on us… for your SEO strategy to keep up and keep giving you the results you need and deserve, you need to keep up too. Often the best way to do this is to enlist expert support which, yes, does involve some financial output upfront. (The payoff long-term is worth it though. #justsaying)
What is PPC?
PPC stands for Pay Per Click, which is the online advertising process of developing a campaign whereby you pay a fee each time one of your ads is clicked. It as a way of “buying” visits to your site, rather than attempting to “earn” those visits organically. PPC advertising can be used on search engines (search engine advertising – eg., Google or Bing) as well as on social media sites (eg., Facebook or Instagram advertising).
PPC: The Pros
SEO or PPC…the pros for each can vary. With the pros of SEO, in particular, the fact that brand trust, click-through rates, and overall cost-effectiveness are heavily weighted in favour thereof, why would you even consider the quick-but-potentially-expensive-fix that is PPC? Well, here are the pros of PPC:
- PPC offers quick results. Feel the need for speed? A quick injection of traffic to boost your brand and overall visibility? When it comes to driving customers to a particular product or piece of important content in a particular space in time, PPC can really pay off. As mentioned, SEO takes time and patience to build results. A PPC campaign, on the other hand, can be created in hours and you will see results in just days. There is no speedier method of getting your customers’ eyes on you in that actual moment when they are searching to buy something.
- PPC offers highly-targeted, 100%-relevant visibility and traffic. We’re talking laser-focus here. Your ads can be targeted by demographics, geographics, time of day and day of the week (timeographics?), search keywords, language, device, audiences based on previous visits and more. SEO is more of a touchy-feely type of targeting.
- PPC dominates prime position on SERPs. Paid search ads dominate above-the-fold content – i.e., they are nearly always seen in the top half of the page in search results. In other words, they appear at the top of the page, above the organic listings influenced by SEO. Even if searchers scroll past them, they will have seen them. And seeing really is believing – and remembering – brands, even if subconsciously.
- PPC offers highly-targeted content drivers. With PPC ads you can add all kinds of useful extensions, which will take searchers to exactly where they want to go. You can include ‘call now’ extensions, your location, specific site links, and more. PPC also offers the chance to place visual product ads. And we all know the power of a picture: a picture paints a thousand coins, erm, words and all that.
- PPC offers excellent profit potential. Studies have shown that businesses can make $3 for every $1.60 spent on Google Ads.
PPC: The Cons
Which one has the worst cons, SEO or PPC? PPC is not all profit and high-paced results. For one thing, if you’re not careful costs can add up quickly. For another, the minute you stop paying and your ads stop running, that’s when your clicks stop coming and your results dry up.
For another, even if your PPC ads are paying off big time, they are easy to copy. Other advertisers can see your genius, copy your genius, and, if they are smart about it, raise your genius and steal all your clicks.
Then, just like SEO, PPC also requires a certain amount of know-how and skill. For your PPC campaigns to be successful and profitable, you do need to have somebody skilled in managing and optimizing your ads for you. You will need to monitor bids, Quality Scores, positions, and click-through rates, to name just a few balls in the air. Sound like a lot to handle? Yeah, you’re not alone. Best you bring in the experts.
SEO or PPC: The Differences
So, let’s do a recap:
Long-term vs Short-term
- SEO is a long-term strategy and can help your website rank higher for longer. While it can take time to get ranking results, those results offer sustained traffic.
- PPC is a short-term strategy. Results are instant and can be helpful for a specific time – for example if you have a sale or limited-time promotion coming up. But those results disappear as fast as they came once you stop running the ads. Here today. Gone tomorrow.
Trust vs Targeting
- SEO can help build brand awareness and authority which, when you start ranking higher in search results, will quickly start translating to brand trust. Studies show SEO can help you increase your brand awareness by up to 80%.
- PPC allows you bring in highly-targeted, relevant traffic immediately, in the very moment they are searching buy something specific. This is an audience primed to buy/do right now, rather than one researching trust-worthy brands. It’s a quick hit for an audience searching for a quick fix.
Clicks vs Conversions
- SEO means more clicks: organic search results generated by SEO are 8.5x more likely to be clicked on than paid search results. (Moz via Enquisite) This means increased visibility and brand awareness.
- PPC means more conversions: paid search results generated by PPC are 1.5x more likely to convert click throughs from the search engine. (Moz via Enquisite) This means more immediate, visible results on your bottom line.
- If you do the math, then, this means that, on paper, “the opportunity from organic search is 5.66x that of paid search”. (Moz via Enquisite)
SEO or PPC: An Integrated Approach
What can we take from all this?
Ultimately, whether SEO or PPC, both have real value in getting your business to a successful place in the world of search. Ideally, then, your search engine marketing (SEM) strategy could go full-service and use a combination of both SEO and PPC. (Speaking of which, you probably want to throw some social media marketing (SMM) and advertising (SMA) in there too for good measure, but that’s a story for another day, another blog.)
Forced to pick either SEO or PPC by time and/or budget constraints?
Ultimately it comes down to your goals. Do you want to generate traffic and brand authority for long term success? Pick the SEO slow burn. Do you need a quick influx of visitors, ready to convert, during a limited-time sale or promotion? PPC for the win.
You can also base your choice on the type of business you run.
If you are a service-oriented company, it’s highly unlikely that PPC is going to be a good use of your budget. Instead, you’re going to want to focus on becoming a trusted voice in your niche. SEO is your friend if you are product-based. If selling is ultimately your goal, then PPC via Google or social media ads is the obvious choice.
Finally, remember our apples analogy: do you want an apple to eat right now (PPC) or do you want to grow an apple tree that will give you an endless supply of apples come harvest time (SEO)? Or do you want to have your apples and eat them, forever after, courtesy of a fully-rounded, all-inclusive search marketing strategy? All three are options but given the choice, we’re always going to be greedy and go for the whole orchard.
Still not sure if SEO or PPC is the one for you? Keen to develop a holistic search engine strategy designed to win at SEO, PPC, social media, and the entire worldwide web?
GENERAL FAQs ABOUT SEO VS PPC
1. What is better SEO or PPC?
SEO is a great long-term strategy which can help your website rank higher in SERPs for the long-term. PPC is a great short-term strategy which can deliver excellent conversions on clicks for limited-time promotions or sales.
2. What is PPC and how does it work?
PPC stands for pay per click and is a term used for a type of paid online advertising campaign in which advertisers pay Google (or whichever online platform the ad is running on) every time someone clicks on their ad. PPC ads nearly always appear at the top of search results pages.
3. Is PPC part of SEO?
PPC and SEO are two separate things but both are part of Search Engine Marketing (SEM) which is one of the tools you can use as part of your overall online, internet or digital marketing strategy.
4. What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It is the process of getting traffic from the ‘free’, ‘organic’, or ‘natural’ search results on search engines by optimizing your online content, as well as website structure and technical background, in a way that search engines (like Google) can find it easily.