When you’re working with a limited digital marketing budget and need to maximize your return on investment, being prepared to make informed decisions is key. And even once you reach a level of success that allows you to invest far more in advertising, cost-effectiveness will likely always be a top priority.
One of the most widely debated topics in online marketing is centered around SEO and PPC (search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising): which one is best? Ultimately, the answer is more complicated than a simple yes or no. Like most aspects of successful marketing, making the right choice depends largely on your specific strengths, limitations, and circumstances.
Before you start weighing the pros and cons of SEO and PPC ads, you’re going to need to understand exactly what each one is and how it works. Then, once you have the basics covered, you can begin to think about which one will produce the biggest payoff for your business. In this guide, we’re going to break down the SEO vs. PPC debate so that you can pick a path that will serve your goals – let’s get started.
What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
Search engine optimization, otherwise known as SEO, involves optimizing your website and related web pages in order to boost your rankings in the organic search results, specifically on search engines such as Google and Bing.
So, when an online user submits a search query that’s related to your business or the products and services you offer, a strong SEO strategy aims to land you as close to the top of the search engine results as possible. This way, users are more likely to see and visit your website.
One of the biggest challenges of SEO is that there’s no “easy” way to secure your spot in organic search rankings. You can’t simply buy a top-ranking position and call it a day. Instead, you’ll need to work on strengthening organic SEO, usually with the help of an SEO strategist.
Search engines like Google utilize complex algorithms to figure out the rankings of organic search results, assessing the relevance and quality of your web pages to do so. So, you’ll need to determine exactly what those algorithms value, then properly optimize your site to match.
SEO has some important advantages, including:
1. Organic traffic can be highly sustainable.
If you’re able to tap into Google’s algorithm to achieve a high ranking for your selected search keywords, then you gain the ability to direct a steady flow of traffic to your site. This makes SEO an outstanding option for long-term results.
In contrast, marketing strategies such as paid advertising and social media require a constant investment of time, energy, and money. Otherwise, any progress you’ve made can disappear very quickly.
2. SEO can end up being less expensive vs. PPC.
When you compare the website traffic produced by paid ads to traffic generated via SEO, it’s pretty easy to see just how cost-effective SEO can be. Typically, the cost of PPC is far higher than that of SEO when you measure it by the number of website visitors gained.
Keep in mind that there are plenty of other metrics by which you can assess marketing success, so this doesn’t mean that PPC isn’t worth the investment.
3. Usually, organic results have a better click-through rate (CTR).
PPC ads are less likely to earn a click from an online user, even when they are well-placed.
Of course, there are also some drawbacks to SEO, such as:
1. SEO doesn’t usually deliver immediate results.
They say that all good things take time, and that definitely applies to search engine optimization. From the time you integrate SEO into your digital strategy to the point at which you see notable improvements in your organic search rankings, a few months or even a year might pass by.
2. You’ll need to create unique, relevant, and authoritative content to achieve SEO success.
One of the many factors that can affect your search engine rankings (and your SEO results) is your level of expertise within your industry. Users would much rather consume content from trusted sources, and they will take the time to locate subject matter experts – and search engines like Google know this.
You’re more likely to gain ground in the search results when your content receives regular traffic, shares, and links. And to do that, you’ll be expected to be an authority on your subject. If you can honestly say that you have excellent expertise in your domain, then you might be the right person to develop content for your site. Otherwise, don’t hesitate to hand the task to a professional.
3. Your organic traffic might have a high percentage of users that aren’t quite ready to make a purchase.
It’s not unusual to see a significant amount of organic traffic coming in via queries that are rooted in informational purposes or pre-purchase research. And even though this traffic is still useful, you might need to spend additional time and effort guiding those users towards an eventual purchase. That’s an expected part of online marketing, but it might not be ideal for every business at all times.
What are Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Ads?
As you might guess from its name, pay-per-click (PPC) is a marketing model in which you pay for every click that brings a user to your website. These are the product ads that target customers that have entered search queries, including keywords related to the specific product or service. Generally, the PPC ad positions are directly above organic results.
PPC advertising is most commonly discussed in conjunction with search engine advertising providers like Google Ads. You can also use paid search marketing on social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, which largely rely on PPC as a primary business model.
Some benefits of PPC ads include:
1. For rapid results, PPC is a great choice.
Are you hoping to see results sooner rather than later? As we mentioned before, SEO takes time. But PPC, unlike SEO, can show off its success much more quickly. Setting up PPC ads is also a short and sweet process – in fact, you can click over to the platform of your choice and have a PPC campaign set up immediately.
2. With PPC, you gain the ability to target users according to highly precise markers.
Just because your website is getting more traffic doesn’t mean that it’s the right kind of traffic. In order to support your goals, you need relevant traffic, that is, users that are genuinely a good match for what you have to offer.
Enter your next PPC campaign, precisely calibrated to reach only the online users you want. You have the option to select specific audiences to include in a specific campaign and the flexibility to make changes on a granular level. So, your ad spend is used far more effectively because it’s only going towards users who are most likely to be potential customers.
No strategy is without its downsides, PPC included:
1. Depending on your industry, the cost of PPC can get pretty high.
The more competitive your industry, the more you’ll pay for paid search ads. For some businesses, these higher per-click costs can end up in them losing more money than they’re making.
2. PPC isn’t always effective in the long term.
In terms of scalability, PPC marketing is a fairly solid choice. That being said, scale effects can have a negative impact. A good example of this is “ad blindness.” When online users see your ads too frequently (perhaps because you have a long-running campaign), there’s a significant decrease in efficacy. This means that you’ll need to be prepared to constantly generate new ad copy and images, freshening up every PPC campaign on a regular basis.
3. You usually need to come to the table with a reasonable amount of money to start.
While it’s true that PPC results are usually faster than those of SEO, optimizing your campaigns can still take some time. So, not only will you need to invest in the startup costs of your campaigns, but you’ll also be spending money while you’re figuring out what tweaks to make. For small start-ups with little to no marketing budget, it might not be realistic to make PPC a first attempt at marketing.
Is SEO or PPC Better for My Business?
If you were hoping that we would settle the debate of SEO vs. PPC once and for all, we have some bad news: there’s not really a definitive winner. Ultimately, both SEO and PPC ads can be productive sources of quality traffic. Neither one can be described as better or worse than the other; they’re simply different.
However, there are certain scenarios in which one or the other might be a better fit:
1. You’re selling a particularly innovative and unique product or service.
Organic SEO only works if you’re targeting topics that users are searching for already. So, if you have a product or service that is completely new – something that nobody would know to look for – you probably won’t get optimal results from SEO alone.
Instead, you might want to consider using PPC on social media platforms to get the word out about what you have to offer.
2. You’re preparing for a limited-time offer or a big launch.
Let’s say you’re planning a one-time event, like a Kickstarter launch: you probably don’t want to risk your timeline by depending on SEO. As we discussed, it takes time to see results from SEO… what happens if your event has already passed by the time you start ranking in the search results?
Pay-per-click ads are probably a far better-suited option because paid results kick in much faster. Or, you could consider channels such as influencer marketing via your preferred social platforms.
3. Your goal is to promote commercial content.
Landing pages are an invaluable tool in digital marketing, but they generally don’t mesh well with SEO strategies. Getting a landing page to rank well in search engine results is tough and might take longer than you’re willing to wait.
An alternative option is to implement PPC advertising so that you can drive that traffic directly to your landing page(s).
Key differences between SEO and PPC
When you’re comparing SEO to PPC, there are essentially two fundamental differences to be aware of:
- Placement: Paid ads (PPC) are located at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs), whereas organic listings are placed directly below.
- Cost: Technically, the organic traffic generated by SEO is free (aside from the initial investment you made in the strategy), but you’ll be paying for every click coming from PPC traffic.
SEO and PPC: A Perfect Pair
What if, instead of talking about SEO vs. PPC, we focused on how these two strategies can work in tandem?
Both SEO and PPC naturally complement each other, so it makes sense to use them together. There may be certain situations in which you are forced to choose one over the other, but the best approach is often to leverage their combined power.
Use SEO to increase your organic traffic and PPC to target an audience with laser-level precision. Each one has its purpose, and both can be their best when they’re in action simultaneously within the same marketing strategy.
Launch a Customized Marketing Strategy with Our Help
Whether you’re leaning towards SEO strategy or PPC marketing – or a balance of both – you have your best chance at success when you have an experienced and knowledgeable team on your side.
V Digital Services is a full-service digital marketing agency that offers tailored strategies for online advertising, prioritizing the needs of our clients to deliver measurable and sustainable results. With the right plan, you can boost search traffic, increase conversions, and improve your site’s visibility and online presence. From strategy development and implementation to reporting and optimization, the VDS team is here to do it all.
Still not sure whether you need SEO, PPC, or both? That’s where we come in. Get more information about how both SEO and PPC campaigns can contribute to your business growth when you contact V Digital Services today.
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