PPC or SEO? It’s an age-old debate in the digital marketing era.
Everyone wants to know which strategy is best for their company and website. This is one of the most common questions that I hear when I’m consulting with new clients.
Both PPC and SEO have the same goal. At the end of the day, you’re trying to drive more traffic to your website. But how do you get there?
I have tons of experience with both of these strategies, so I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t.
Over time, I’ve learned that there are lots of misconceptions about both of these digital marketing methods. So many people out there seem to either be on one side of the fence or the other.
PPC has a reputation for being expensive. While SEO has a reputation for being a guessing game. Neither of which is true.
I created this guide to clear up any misconceptions or confusion about PPC and SEO.
It’s tough to definitively say which one is better. The answer depends on a wide range of variables for each website. But for those of you who are deciding between the two tactics, be sure to continue reading to find your answer. You might be surprised to hear how you should proceed.
What is PPC?
PPC stands for pay-per-click. As the name implies, this method involves paying for website traffic.
I’m sure you’re familiar with search engine advertisements. When you search for something on Google, the top few results are usually paid ads—those are PPC campaigns.
Here’s an example of what this looks like when I search for lawyers in Boston.
As you can see, the top two results on the page are both paid ads.
The position of these ads on the page is arguably the biggest benefit of running a PPC campaign. Even though the users know they’re viewing sponsored content, they’re forced to look at it because of the prominent position above the fold.
Once you set up a Google Ads account, it’s easy to quickly launch your first PPC campaign.
But with that said, your ads won’t necessarily be successful if you don’t know what you’re doing. So don’t rush through the process.
In addition to search engines, you can also run PPC ads on Google partner sites like YouTube. Social media networks like Facebook and Instagram have their own versions of PPC as well.
No matter what platform or advertising network you use, the concept of PPC remains the same. Each time someone clicks on your ad, you pay for that website visitor.
How much does this cost? Take a look at some industry benchmarks for the average cost per click of a Google Ad.
These benchmarks are a good indication of which industries are the most and least expensive for running PPC ads. But with that said, the price will definitely vary based on the keywords that you’re targeting.
If you’re running PPC ads for long-tail keywords or local searches that are less competitive, the pricing won’t be as high.
What is SEO?
Search engine optimization, better known as SEO, is the process of driving organic traffic to your website.
As opposed to paying for ads or clicks, you’ll run campaigns designed to boost your website’s organic position within SERPs.
Most people think that the biggest difference between PPC and SEO is that PPC costs money and SEO is free. That’s not necessarily true. SEO is not free. It doesn’t cost you money per click or visitor, but there are other costs associated with SEO.
SEO can be broken down into two categories; on-page SEO and off-page SEO.
On-page SEO consists of things like:
- Title tags
- Site structure
- Page loading speed
- Internal links
Examples of off-page SEO include:
- Domain authority
- Page rank
- Social media marketing
All of these elements cost money, or time (which is essentially money). For example, let’s say you’re blogging as part of your on-page SEO strategy. Whether you’re producing this content in-house or outsourcing it, you still have to pay for that content.
Let’s say you’re making changes to your website to improve the structure and architecture. You have to pay someone to do that for you or take the time to do it yourself.
According to a recent study from Marketing Charts, here’s a look at some of the most common SEO priorities that companies are focusing on.
While social media marketing leads the way, no single category is dominating the share of responses.
Every website needs to find ways to improve their organic search visibility. The way that you approach this will vary based on your resources and goals.
What’s the Difference Between PPC and SEO?
As I’ve already explained, the biggest difference between PPC and SEO is not the cost. Neither is free.
There are two major differences between these digital marketing strategies.
First, is the time until you start seeing results. Second, is what you have to show for your efforts. Allow me to explain each in greater detail.
With a PPC campaign, you can start seeing results immediately. SEO, on the other hand, is a long-term game. It may take anywhere from 6, 12, or 18 months until you see a noticeable impact for your efforts.
However, you’ll always have more to show for your SEO strategy than you will for your PPC campaigns. Here’s why.
Your PPC campaigns are only going to deliver results when they’re run. You literally get what you pay for. Once you stop paying for ads, you won’t get traffic from those sources anymore.
With SEO, you’ll own the content forever. Sure—it might cost you some money now to pay for blog posts or a web designer. But in two, three, or five years, you’ll still own those blogs and the website is still yours.
SEO requires ongoing work and a budget. However, you’ll still see benefits from that work even after you those initial campaigns have stopped.
When to Use PPC
PPC is best for those of you who want to see immediate results. If you have the funds in your marketing budget to spend on paid ads, it’s definitely worth using PPC.
I like running PPC ads for local searches and niche keywords. By targeting areas that aren’t as popular or competitive, it increases the chances that your traffic will convert.
Paying for highly competitive keywords will come at a higher price. Plus, there’s a chance that you’ll end up getting unqualified leads, which you’ll still have to pay for.
Advantages of PPC
- Immediate results.
- Easy to implement.
- Total control over your budget.
- Scalable based on your resources.
- Don’t have to worry about search engine algorithms.
Downsides of PPC
- Must pay to get results.
- Competition is high for certain keywords.
- Results stop when spending stops.
- Still have to pay for unqualified leads.
When to Use SEO
SEO is better for companies who have a tighter budget. But with that said, even websites with a high marketing budget still need to focus on SEO.
If your website isn’t ranking high in organic search results, then you need to take steps to improve your search visibility.
It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, how big or small your business is, or how long you’ve had a website for—SEO is for everyone.
Advantages of SEO
- Cost-effective way to generate website traffic.
- Effects of SEO last long after campaigns stop.
- Don’t have to bid for keywords or pay for clicks.
- You own your content forever.
Downsides of SEO
- Takes a while to see results.
- The process is constantly ongoing.
- Difficult to measure ROI.
Combining PPC and SEO
Neither PPC or SEO is perfect for your website. As you’ve just seen, they both have advantages as well as some other factors that need to be taken into consideration.
The best results are seen when PPC and SEO are used together.
89% of websites use some combination of both PPC and SEO for driving website traffic.
I’ve tried PPC alone. I’ve tried SEO alone. I’ve tried both together.
Layering PPC and SEO is not only best for my websites, but it’s also the best approach for all of the websites that I consult for.
When you use both, you get the advantages of each. You shouldn’t have to pick whether you want results today or results in the future. Why not get both?
Your website can get immediate traffic with PPC campaigns, while simultaneously building on a long term SEO strategy for organic search.
Final Verdict: Which is Better?
So, what’s the obvious choice between PPC and SEO? If you didn’t realize it by now, this is a trick question.
Anyone who tries to convince you why one is better than the other has never tried to combine the two.
Sure—there are scenarios when using one is more appropriate. For example, if you need a surge in website traffic this week, then you’ll need to use PPC. But if you have a tight budget and prioritize content creation, then you’re better off with SEO.
Choosing to proceed with PPC and SEO is the easy part. Implementing effective strategies is an entirely different conversation.
That’s why your website should consider working with a digital marketing expert. Find someone with a proven track record who has helped companies increase their traffic using PPC and SEO.
Here at McDougall Interactive, we can help you allocate your budget appropriately between PPC and SEO to ensure that your ROI is maximized.