While search engine optimization and pay-per-click marketing are both incredibly powerful tools, they are not an ideal solution to every situation.
There will often be times when a business owner needs to choose one of the two to prioritize or needs to fall back on one option to fix mistakes they made with the other.
While SEO vs PPC is not a long-standing debate across the industry, it is a question that newer business owners need to ask themselves on a regular basis.
While most businesses need a mixture of both to succeed, there are some times when only one of the two might solve your current problem.
But what are the main factors in the SEO vs PPC decision, and how can you decide which of the two is right for any given situation?
Table of Contents
What is SEO?
SEO, or search engine optimization, is a range of techniques focused on improving your website’s visibility in search engines, giving you more brand awareness and incoming organic traffic.
Search engine algorithms prioritize specific things, and SEO focuses on using these elements to push sites higher in search engine results pages.
For example, if a user looks up “furniture,” Google would present them with the best and most relevant pages focused on that term.
Search engines work on a ranking system, with higher-ranking sites appearing higher in search engine results pages.
However, relevance is also a huge factor, and sites can only rank well for keywords and key phrases that are highly related to their site and the content within it.
SEO involves optimizing your site for better online visibility within the specific niches you are targeting.
This draws more targeted traffic to your website and ensures that you are appearing in relevant search engine result pages – usually meaning ones tied to terms that your potential customers are going to be using.
Is Search Engine Optimization Only For Google?
Search engine optimization applies to most search engines, although Google is still the most popular search platform by a wide margin.
In a technical sense, SEO is just about working with the search engine algorithms of any platform that you want to be optimized for, from Google to Bing and Yahoo.
Since Google is the main target of most search engine optimization, doing it well requires an understanding of both the categories of SEO and the algorithm behind Google itself.
Like most search engines, it has a huge (and not fully public) list of ranking factors that influence how well it ranks different sites.
The Benefits of SEO
When it comes to choosing SEO vs PPC, there are simply some things that SEO can do incredibly well.
The hard part is making sure that you can apply the right skills and knowledge to get the results that you need.
SEO Costs Less
While SEO can be costly in terms of both time and money, it is often much cheaper than a PPC campaign.
This can make it an affordable way to drive more organic search results traffic to your website for a relatively low price, especially if you are using low-cost SEO strategies.
A lot of SEO involves either free or near-free techniques, such as creating new blog content or optimizing your page at a technical and code level.
While there are still ways to spend money on SEO, it is entirely possible to have SEO campaigns that cost no money to run directly.
SEO can also be very easy to scale with your business, and you do not need to pay to maintain your organic rankings.
However, you do need to keep an eye on them in case other websites manage to overtake you using an even more optimized SEO campaign.
SEO Allows Precise Targeting
Search engine optimization is based on using specific keywords to direct your website to the right places, and that makes it surprisingly easy to target different groups of users in distinct ways.
Not only that, but you can often make unique sub-campaigns to capture different audiences entirely.
This is most obvious with your sales funnel.
It is easy to create content that specifically targets different parts of your audience, such as tutorials for inexperienced first-time users or specialized marketing content for any users who are on the verge of deciding which products to buy.
SEO allows for a huge amount of flexibility, as well as a quick adjustment that does not necessarily cost anything.
This means that it can be adapted on the fly to target whoever it needs to target, regardless of how niche that audience might be.
SEO Is Stable
SEO success is usually a long-term thing unless you completely ignore major changes to Google’s algorithm or do something to get your SEO penalized by search engines.
Most search platforms are looking for things like relevance and value to the user, which should remain stable (or increase) in the long term.
This means that there is no need to constantly change up campaigns that work.
Unlike regular marketing, SEO is always running and will always provide you with benefits as long as you have managed to put it into a good starting point. Even mediocre SEO provides a consistent boost to your site’s rankings.
SEO Makes You An Authority
One of the side goals of SEO is to become a recognized authority within your chosen niche.
This can be an incredibly powerful alternative (or supplemental tool) to a regular digital marketing strategy since it makes an audience more aware of your website and more willing to trust it.
This means a higher portion of traffic to your website, greater word-of-mouth marketing opportunities, and an overall better position in whatever markets you are trying to target.
While this might sound like only a small benefit, it can be significant, especially if you are trying to capture a very niche audience.
The Downsides of SEO
While SEO can lead to some great results, actually getting those good SEO results also means taking a risk.
Whether it is due to a mistake you made or just due to a mystery with the algorithm, SEO will not always be as perfect as it sounds.
SEO Relies on Algorithms
Search engine algorithms often change, especially if the search platform itself is getting any major updates.
While these changes are usually just small things that might shift organic search results a bit, it only takes one unfortunate change to completely ruin your initial SEO strategy.
SEO Requires Regular Checks
Keeping an eye on your search engine results page rankings is important.
Not only can the algorithm change, but you will need to make sure that every new page and piece of content fits with your SEO strategy – and you may need to keep revisiting older pages to optimize them even further.
SEO Takes Time
SEO does not provide immediate results. Search engines crawl sites on a slow cycle, and you will not know how well your targeted search keywords work until you see the statistics for yourself.
This means that it can take a while for an SEO strategy to provide the results you are looking for.
SEO Takes Skill
While some parts of SEO are relatively simple, actually targeting the right organic search audience and optimizing your site for relevant organic search engine results page listings can be incredibly difficult.
Doing SEO well requires skill, knowledge, and often a few risky decisions.
What is PPC?
PPC, or Pay-Per-Click marketing, focuses on advertising.
PPC ads are paid search ads placed on search engines and targeting specific audiences or demographics, with the advertiser paying for each click that their paid ads get.
In theory, this means that a PPC ad only actually costs money if somebody clicks, allowing for cheaper paid advertising.
Through this, PPC marketing provides a direct way to market on search engines, often taking up special ad slots at the top of the page above the organic search results.
When you search on Google, you might notice that the top three pages are sometimes marked as ads.
These are PPC ads that are specifically paid to appear on the Google Ads program and appear above other results. As you might expect, this is a direct marketing strategy that is basically the direct opposite of SEO.
The cost of a PPC campaign can vary wildly, especially across different industries.
However, Google ads still use the same keyword system as SEO – PPC ads, and often, the wider PPC campaign is built around targeting specific keywords that are relevant to the business and its audience.
The Benefits of Pay-Per-Click Advertising
In the SEO vs PPC debate, PPC ad campaigns are sometimes seen as the “blunt instrument” to SEO’s “scalpel.”
However, paid search ads can be incredibly powerful, often providing guaranteed success where relying on a less direct digital marketing strategy would not.
PPC Ads Get Results Fast
A good PPC campaign can get almost immediate results since the ads will usually start running within only a few hours of confirming them.
This makes it much easier to see how your ads are performing straight away, and it makes adapting them on the fly a lot simpler if you ever need to.
This speed also means that ads can be a much better option for advertising very limited-time promotions or events.
These paid search advertisements can be placed in front of your audience within less than half a day, which is great for promotions that only last a few days.
PPC Ad Always Take the Top Spot
Paid ads are always placed above organic search results when they appear.
If you manage to get PPC ads ranking for an important keyword, your PPC ad will always appear at the top of the search engine results page, which can make brand awareness much easier to build.
With the right ad copy, it can even lead organic traffic to your website simply because you are one of the first web pages that users see.
While some users ignore paid search results entirely, others are more than willing to click on paid ads if they seem like the best place to turn for what they need.
PPC Ads are Easy to Target
Just like SEO, PPC ads are heavily focused on keywords.
However, Google Ads and other search engines’ ad platforms allow even more focused targeting, using details such as demographics to aim at specific kinds of organic traffic.
This can make it one of the best digital marketing strategies for capturing niche audiences.
Using multiple paid ad campaigns can make it incredibly easy to send different parts of your target audience to different landing pages, each designed to appeal to them specifically.
PPC Ads Make Testing Simple
PPC advertising has the often-overlooked benefit of letting you quickly run A/B paid ads testing.
This means that you can have two PPC ads running concurrently, testing to see which of them does the best for the same target audience.
This makes it much easier to experiment with ad copy and also means that you do not have to take as many risks with your ad budget.
If one paid ad is clearly better than another, you can instantly switch to using only the best-paid ad for an immediate results boost.
The Downsides of PPC
PPC campaigns are incredibly powerful when handled correctly, but that does not make them perfect.
Not only do they have their faults, but using them incorrectly can often lead to your PPC advertising causing more problems than it solves.
Paid Ads Can Get Costly
PPC campaigns obviously require money to get them rolling, but the amount that each paid ad costs can vary wildly based on a range of factors.
Since you are trying to outbid other businesses, highly-competitive keywords can quickly become incredibly expensive to target in the long term.
Even when going for lower-competition keywords and audiences, you still have to keep a budget set aside for your paid search results ads.
Without any ad spend, you can’t keep your ads up, and that leaves you relying solely on organic search results.
Paid Ads Have Lower Profit Margins
PPC ads cost money to run, and that means that paid search advertisements are eating into whatever profits they generate.
While you might get more paying customers than organic search results, you are also having to pay for the ads, so your total takings could still be lower.
This does not make them bad, but it does mean that money becomes much more of a factor that you need to consider. Unlike SEO, you can’t get banner ads for free simply by optimizing your site.
PPC Ads Need Constant Tweaking
Like most other digital marketing strategies, competition is common.
PPC requires ongoing investment and care to get the best results – not just keeping your ad bids high but also making sure that the advertising copy is still good and that your ads are still drawing attention to them.
It is common to see users skip ads if they begin to get stale or if the meta descriptions used in them are outdated.
There is also the chance of other websites simply paying more to surpass your ads or focusing on other ranking factors that might bump their lower-spend ads higher than yours.
SEO and PPC – Which is Better?
The SEO vs PPC debate is not really a “debate” as such. Using SEO and PPC alongside one another is the best way to ensure that you create content and promote your brand to a wider range of users and are not lacking in either area when it comes to driving traffic to your website.
However, SEO and PPC are meant for very different things.
While SEO tools capture non-paid search results, PPC paid ads place you on the Google Display Network and get you into places that organic listings cannot.
Both SEO and PPC have their own specific use cases, as well as some benefits that the other does not.
It is important to understand when SEO and PPC are useful – and over time, most marketing specialists eventually develop a second sense to know which is the right tool for each job.
When to Use SEO
SEO is most useful when you want to stick to a low budget, want to specifically rank higher on organic search results, or just generally want to make search engines more willing to rank your site well.
SEO provides the most direct benefits in terms of brand authority and identity and avoids the potential stigma that sites get for over-advertising themselves to a specific community.
Perhaps the biggest benefit when comparing SEO and PPC is the fact that SEO can be almost entirely free if handled well. Even using paid techniques can still be much cheaper than paying for ads.
For example, technical SEO focuses on improving your own web pages, something that can be done with no actual direct costs involved.
A focus on organic rankings also makes SEO much more “natural,” which can be a surprisingly effective way of building up a better reputation if you are targeting one specific audience or niche.
In other words, SEO is a great way to drive free traffic to your website through nothing more than boosting your organic rankings, helping you target a wider base of potential customers without spending much money.
When to Use PPC
PPC ads provide quick results, and doing it right will always place you at the top of search results. This allows you to earn organic traffic and search traffic specifically gained through paid advertisements.
While competition can be a problem, just like in SEO, PPC provides a very effective way to throw money at the problem and boost your rankings.
Even with a smaller budget, a business in a niche can often see great success by simply advertising better than its competitors.
PPC also is not a blunt instrument. While it can be used to brute force marketing, it works incredibly well alongside existing SEO techniques since the same quality factors that influence rankings also influence how likely Google is to choose your ad over a competitor’s.
This means a lot of targeted traffic that can be advertised to in whatever specific ways work best without having to wait for organic traffic to trickle in.
In general, PPC works fantastically for bypassing the uncertainty and delays of on-page and off-page SEO, giving you faster results that can complement whatever SEO or promotional campaigns you might already be running.
Using SEO and PPC Together
SEO and PPC work best alongside one another. They occupy two different niches but also overlap enough that boosting one can help boost the other.
This means that having both SEO and PPC working well for your business can give you a huge range of potential customers to target, as well as plenty of data to draw from.
By using them together properly, you can secure a level of marketing that is not possible with either on its own.
Be Appealing to Search Engines
The most important step for any marketing strategy is to focus on SEO first and foremost. Google and most other search engines really care about pushing good and trustworthy sites to users.
This means that if your site is poorly made, has a bad landing page, or is full of irrelevant content, you are going to see worse results for both SEO and PPC.
Google will not allow your paid advertisements to reach targeted traffic if your site is awful – it does not matter how much you are paying.
This makes it important to consider SEO results as the baseline of any marketing that you do.
You want landing pages to be optimized, sites to run well, and metadata to make sense of the content on the page.
Use Organic Search Results Data
The data gathered from organic results, especially through tools like Google Analytics, can be invaluable for knowing who to target.
Your organic results are a good indicator of who is finding your site, how they are finding it, and whether or not they are staying for long.
Both SEO and PPC rely on having an audience to target, as well as relevant keyword research that can point to target keywords worth using.
Use data from your organic results to build up things like keyword research and demographics information, and use that to bolster the rest of your marketing.
Even something as simple as landing pages can benefit from a few tweaked keywords, and those keywords might be easy to find if you are looking at what kind of organic results your site keeps appearing in.
Use SEO and PPC to Complement One Another
Whether you are doing everything yourself or hiring an SEO agency and marketing specialist to get the work done, you should not think about SEO and PPC as being two separate processes.
Just like how social media ads are still part of a paid marketing campaign, both PPC and SEO benefit each other in a way that requires some careful thinking.
For example, if you are trying to outline new social media ads and PPC ads as part of a larger campaign, consider how you could tweak your SEO to potentially boost the end results even further.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is focusing exclusively on one element or another without actually taking the time to understand why they are so different and how they benefit one another in the wider marketing world.
If you are not careful or you do not spend the time to understand this, you can easily create a situation where your PPC and SEO are not supporting one another.
This creates two sub-par marketing strategies instead of a solid core strategy.
Keep Learning More
Whether it is details on how to optimize a landing page or specific paid marketing methods, you want to keep yourself up-to-date on techniques that work.
SEO and PPC are ever-evolving fields that can be full of unexpected algorithm changes or new techniques that come out of nowhere, and that means that you need to keep yourself well-prepared.
This also applies to your own data, too. If there is any more useful information you could glean from past marketing data, do not be afraid to look through it. PPC and SEO are diverse fields where a lot of different tactics can work, but this also means that you have a lot of information to work through.
Never be afraid to explore new options or try tweaking things slightly, especially with SEO, where there is no inherent cost associated with most of the changes you could make.
For PPC, A/B testing options make it even easier to trial a new version of a landing page to see if it stacks up against your existing landing page or to experiment with new advertising copy ideas.
The more information you can gather about both your own marketing and new marketing strategies as a whole, the easier it becomes to bring new ideas to the table that might secure you a better spot in search rankings and your target demographics.
SEO and PPC Are Both Important
SEO and PPC are vital if you want to really push your business to the highest possible tier of success you can, and that means taking the time to learn it better than most people do.
Whether you’re starting off with tutorials or jumping straight in and learning by trial and error, picking up some SEO basics can dramatically improve all of your marketing going forward.
Alongside that is the starting point for PPC, which usually means creating some advertising copy and getting an idea of how a good ad is structured.
It’s very, very important to not focus too much on one part of your marketing at the expense of everything else, or pressure yourself to chase success that would be impossible to achieve right away.
Slow down, examine your marketing options, and start planning something that uses the best of both PPC and SEO to secure your business a new level of success that would be impossible otherwise.
Remember, there are no catch-all solutions to either SEO or PPC. Something that works well for one business might not even fit with the strategies of another, and that’s a problem that you need to deal with on your own terms.
Searcharoo is a Link Building & Content Marketing company run by SEO’s based in the UK.
Our goal from the start has been to provide premium links and content services, at fair and affordable prices.