The age-old question… “SEO vs PPC, which is better for my business?”
The difference between search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) is:
SEO is a long-term strategy of getting traffic to your website organically, while PPC focuses on getting paid traffic through search, display, shopping, and other advertisement placements.
Deciding which strategy is best for your business can be challenging as both have their advantages and disadvantages.
In a perfect world, most businesses should do both. But, we understand that there may be budget and time constraints that may prevent you from doing both.
In this article, we will provide you with the information you need to make a decision on whether to invest in PPC or SEO.
What is SEO?
Let’s start with the basics.
SEO stands for search engine optimization. SEO is the process of optimizing your website to rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs). Google is a popular search engine that most businesses spend their time and budget attempting to rank higher on due to the high search volume on Google Search.
There are 4 primary SEO categories you must get familiar with to increase your rankings:
- Keyword Research – Determining the correct keywords to target for your business
- On-Page SEO – Building pages that display content that your users are looking for
- Off-Page SEO – Improving your website’s trust and authority from other websites
- Technical SEO – Ensuring search engines can crawl and index your content
Fun Fact: As of September 2023, Google owns 91.58% of the search engine market share world wide.
Keyword Research is the process of understanding and finding the words or phrases that your target audience may look up on search engines.
Here’s an example of how Google’s Keyword Planner works:
- Open Google’s Keyword Planner
- Log into your Google Ad account or create one if you have not already
- Click on “Discover New Keywords”
- Type in your list of keywords or insert your website URL
5. Analyze the results provided by google and create your own list of keywords your business should target based on the monthly search volume, competition, and relevance to your business
On-Page SEO is all about creating webpages with the type of content your target audience would find useful and valuable.
In order to do this well, you need to have a good understand of why a user would search for the target keyword. This understanding is also known as search intent.
Search intent is only the beginning to on-page SEO. There are many other factors on your page that influence your rankings.
For example, you need to ensure that your keyword is in your title (H1) and in at least one of your subtitles (H2).
You should also optimize your URL to keep it short and to the point. Make sure your URL does not exceed 75 characters.
These are just some of the aspects of on-page SEO, but as you can see, it all involves the content and what is going to be displayed directly on the screen when a user clicks on your website.
Off-Page SEO involves everything you do outside of your website to show Google that your website is worth ranking high on the SERPs.
One of the most important parts of off-page SEO are backlinks. Obtaining links from authoritative sites (Like .gov sites or well-known sites in your niche) is one of Google’s top ranking factors.
Building quality backlinks can help increase your rankings on the SERPs. Google needs to know that your content is of good enough quality to receive links from other sites that they consider to be leaders (or at least trustworthy) in your niche.
Some other notable off-page SEO techniques are reviews, business listings, citations, and more. This is especially true for local businesses looking to implement SEO.
Technical SEO is typically the area experts consider to be the most boring (and we agree).
Technical SEO involves ensuring that search engines can find your content so they can crawl and index it. In other words, search engines need to be able to get to your website to scan the content and rank it on the SERPs according to the ranking factors in their algorithms.
If a search engine can’t find and crawl your site, you will never rank for anything.
Pros and Cons of SEO
Since we just covered the basics of SEO, let’s cover some of the pros and cons of SEO.
1. SEO can be a cheaper option
Although SEO does require some investment (writers, developers, agencies), it can end up being much cheaper than other forms of advertising online.
If you can rank for a keyword that is highly relevant to your business with monthly traffic of 20,000 for the cost of a few employees, you will likely spend less than if you paid for PPC ads to get the same traffic in a month.
2. Turn your website into a digital asset
SEO can turn your website into a traffic generating machine that lasts for years in the top rankings, bringing new clients and leads even after your stopped optimizing it.
Google’s algorithms do change, and it is important to stay up-to-date to make sure that you keep your rankings, however, they do not change that much. Chances are, if you can ranking high for a keyword, you will stay in that spot with little to no additional work required.
3. The quality of organic traffic is better
Organic traffic can be more valuable than paid traffic. Why? Because potential customers tend to trust sources that come up organically over sources that paid to show up in front of them.
While paid traffic has a 1.5x higher conversion rate when compared to organic, organic traffic has an 8.5x higher click-through rate, which more than makes up for the higher conversion rate.
Many users tend to skip over the advertisement section of the SERPs and jump straight into the website that is organically ranked on top.
This quality is even more pronounced for local companies that can benefit from ranking their Google Business Page high on the local map pack.
1. Some keywords can be competitive
Certain keywords can be extremely competitive, making it hard for new websites to rank for. For example, if you’re an eCommerce business that sells running shoes, you’ll likely struggle to rank for the keyword “running shoes” because you’re competing with established companies like Nike, Adidas, and Amazon.
Although some keywords are extremely competitive, you may have better luck ranking for alternative versions of your keyword or long-tail versions of your keyword. An example of a long-tail keyword for the previous example would be “best running shoes for cross country athletes”.
Don’t be discouraged by the competitiveness of keywords, it will just take time for Google to recognize your website as worthy of ranking high for them.
2. SEO takes time… (sometimes, a long time)
One of the biggest downsides to search engine optimization is that it may take some time before you start to see any results from your efforts.
This simply goes to show that an article you publish tomorrow will likely not rank on Google’s top 10 anytime soon. SEO is a long-term investment and requires refining and updating pages constantly over time to get closer and closer to that #1 position.
We understand this may be discouraging, but it gives you time to create many quality posts in this time period that can become lasting assets for your business. As some say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”.
3. SEO is constantly changing
SEO is an ever evolving subject. Google often releases new updates that change the way the algorithm ranks pages.
Additionally, social trends change! Ranking high for the word Sillybandz was a money making machine in 2010, but now, that well has dried up.
SEO requires constant learning and staying up-to-date with news, updates, trends, and strategies.
A positive to the constant changes happening in SEO is that if you are able to learn and adapt to the changes early, you can benefit hugely. First-movers advantage plays a large role in rankings as the goal is to always outperform your competitors. Adapting quickly to changes in Google’s algorithm and social trends can be a powerful competitive advantage.
What is PPC?
PPC stands for Pay-Per-Click and its a form of marketing where you pay a fee each time someone clicks on your advertisement. The cost of the fee increases and decreases depending on the competitiveness of the keyword. Search ads are Google’s most common PPC strategy, but there are also display ads, shopping ads, and social media ads.
Pay-Per-Click ads in their most basic form involve the following:
- Audience Selection – Targeting the ad to your target audience
- Keyword Research – Finding the keywords your target audience is searching for
- Ad Creation – Creating a captivating ad
- Analytics – Analyzing the results and adjusting the campaign
Every marketing campaign starts with a clear definition of who the target audience is. This selection is tricky.
You don’t want to be too broad since not everyone is your target audience. If you do this, you’ll likely have to bid for more expensive keywords.
You also don’t want to go too narrow where only a very small select number of people are interested in what you are advertising. This will result in no clicks on your ad.
There is a nice middle ground that you need to find that fits the campaign you are going for.
Similar to how keyword research works in search engine optimization, you need to find the best keywords for your campaign based on the goals of your campaign and the user’s intent.
You’ll want to target keywords that your target audience is searching for. Going back to the previous eCommerce store example, you’d likely want to target they keywords “best running shoes”, “running shoes for cross country”, “affordable running shoes”, etc.
During the ad creation stage, you will need to create compelling copy that entices the searcher to click on it. You’ll want to use the keywords that you’re bidding for in your campaign while also using language that is appealing to your target audience.
Once your ad starts to get some clicks and hopefully some conversions, you can begin to analyze your campaign to find areas to improve. You can use the analytics provided to you directly on Google Ads or you can set up Google Analytics 4 for a more detailed view of your campaigns.
The analytics step is very important since this is where you can optimize your campaigns and fine-tune them to perform more effectively.
Pros and Cons of PPC
Just like SEO, there are a few pros and cons to PPC that you need to be aware of.
1. Quick Results
PPC basically allows you to pay your way up to the top of the SERP, meaning you get the benefits of ranking high almost immediately.
Apart from Google PPC, you can also see quick results with other types of PPC campaigns on other platforms such as Meta, and LinkedIn.
2. Specific audience targeting
Another benefit to PPC ads is that you can be specific in your audience targeting. Most platforms allow you to specify who you want to see your ads based on their interests, recent search history, demographic information, geography, etc.
This can be extremely advantageous if you want to target a specific type of person and can create a compelling ad that speaks uniquely to that avatar.
3. Campaign optimization through analytics
Remember how me mentioned analytics as being an important step in the PPC process? This is because PPC platforms allow you to run detailed tests and gather specific information that you can use to optimize your campaigns.
For example, you can run A/B tests that can help you determine which ad copy you used resonates more with your target audience. You can use sophisticated analytics platforms to gather detailed data and quickly update your campaign to better match your goals.
1. PPC is expensive
PPC typically requires a large budget to make sure that you get the most data possible. With small budgets, you won’t know if a campaign is actually effective or not because you won’t have enough data on the clicks, conversions, etc.
Apart from this, targeting highly desirable keywords can be a huge budget drain. In these cases, a few clicks on those competitive keywords can completely drain your budget and may not result in any conversions. No conversions means no profit.
2. PPC can be short-term focused
PPC campaigns can start to lose effectiveness over time due to the ad being seen too many times by your target audience. This requires constant campaign management and time dedicated to optimizing and changing the ad to make sure that the message is always fresh and effective.
This very issue means that a campaign can’t just be created and left alone. Eventually it will stop producing results (if it ever was) and you’ll just be wasting your budget. This makes PPC a difficult long-term strategy for most businesses.
3. You can lose money doing PPC
The only way you can do PPC is by investing in your campaigns. This means that you need to already have an established budget and be willing to potentially lose that budget for many months until your campaign is fully optimized and profitable.
In the PPC space, the saying “it takes money to make money” is taken literally.
SEO vs PPC: Which Is Better For Your Business?
The short answer is that both avenues are great ways to generate traffic for your business.
Ideally, with an infinite budget and time, you should be doing both at the same time to get the best results.
Ultimately, the decision on which one to choose is dependent on your business and your goals.
Let’s take a look at some unique scenarios and talk about whether SEO or PPC is the better option.
You sell an innovate or unique product/service
If your company offers a unique or innovative product, it might be best to go with PPC to bring attention to it. This is primarily because no one knows your product/service exists. PPC campaigns can bring awareness and generate traffic that wouldn’t otherwise come organically.
Take DoorDash as an example. Before food delivery services were popular, DoorDash and other similar service providers had to run PPC campaigns to let people know that their service exists. Users don’t know what they don’t know, meaning they won’t search for something they don’t know exists, you have to make them aware it exists.
You’re a local business looking to get local clients
Let’s say you’re a local law firm and you want to become a well know firm in your area. The best thing you can do is invest in SEO. Over time, you will start to rank for keywords like “law firm near me” for people searching in your local area.
This can be extremely valuable to rank for since the difficulty to rank for those keywords is much easier than other more broad keywords like “law firm”.
The best part is that you are investing in a solution that will be effective long-term. The pages on your website ranking for these keywords are likely to maintain their rankings for a long time, especially if you continue to update them. This means that those pages are essentially digital assets for your firm which bring in revenue at no incremental cost.
SEO and PPC are both viable marketing strategies that can be extremely profitable if done correctly.
Of course, our recommendation is to use both effectively to generate the best results for your business. They compliment each other and achieve different goals which can multiply your results.
If you had to choose one, you need to choose the strategy that best aligns with your business model and the goals of your business.