The SEO vs PPC debate has been raging for years. Which is better: buying your way to the top of search engines through a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign or cultivating your organic search engine marketing strategy through search engine optimization (SEO)? Deciding where your digital marketing budget should be spent is a difficult question for many business owners and can leave you wondering which is the “better” strategy.
SEO or PPC: Which is Better? Do I Need Both?
In an ideal world, you would have a marketing budget for SEO and Google Ads, however, for some businesses it is just not possible. For a business that can afford it, we would always recommend pursuing both SEO and Google Ads, but if you’re working within a tight budget you may be left with a bit of a Sophie’s choice. If that’s where you find yourself then this is the blog for you. But first, to make this decision, you have to understand the pros and the cons of both SEO and PPC.
What Is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimization. The term is ubiquitous in the digital marketing world for good reason because being found via search engines is critical for all businesses these days. SEO involves improving the visibility of your web pages in search engine results and means ensuring that search engines can crawl and comprehend what is on your site in order for you to outrank your competitors. Because of the ever-changing Google algorithm, the meaning of SEO continuously evolves, however, it always boils down to having a website that accurately communicates what your company does and gives both Google search crawlers and human visitors helpful content.
SEO aims to optimize all aspects of your web presence – both on and off your site – to give you the best chance of ranking well with Google. There are no guarantees with SEO because you can’t control Google’s algorithms and rankings. That being said, we know the main factors that Google looks for in a website, and following SEO best practices, will increase the likelihood of ranking well.
What is PPC?
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is when you buy visitors or “clicks” from Google or other search engines via ads. PPC allows you to swiftly harness search engine traffic by bidding or paying for keywords linked to your product or service. Google Ads are a way to bypass SEO, rankings, and algorithms and land your business at the top of the search engine results pages. But there is a catch – you have to pay for that spot (and some industries have to pay a lot!)
Google Search ads give you the ability to target very specific searches to drive qualified and relevant traffic to your website. These paid placements sit above and below organic search results. You bid on keywords, but there are no guarantees that you will always appear on the first page of SERPs, as a competitor could outbid you. Google also assigns Ad Quality Scores for each ad, which along with your bid, determine which position your ad will end up. For some, these ads may be a cost-effective strategy to attract site traffic and customers, however, the cost of bidding on certain words and phrases differs greatly across industries and while some keywords can be pretty cheap; others may cost 10 times more for each click due to the intense rivalry.
The Pros of SEO
Here are reasons why you might want to choose SEO:
- Lower Cost – Although it can depend on the level of competition in your industry and location, generally speaking, SEO costs less than Google Ads. In addition, if you’re on a tight budget, you can invest in a one-time SEO project and still get some lasting results from that. However, as soon as you stop paying for Google Ads, your ads stop showing away and you stop generating traffic, which brings us to our next point.
- Continuous Traffic – Although Google’s algorithms change frequently, at the core, they’re always the same: Google rewards quality content from trustworthy sources. If you invest in SEO you’re likely to get a continuous source of traffic. Tweaks and changes may be needed to adapt to changing standards from Google, but good content will always have value.
- Larger Potential Audience – Because more people click on organic results than on ads, SEO can allow you to target a broader audience – one that you may not have the budget to reach with Google Ads.
- Builds Trust – There’s a portion of consumers who will click on the first result on Google, no matter what it is. Then, there’s another portion that will scroll past the ads and go straight to the organic search results. Ranking highly through organic efforts can win you more trust from potential clients and customers.
- It’s an Asset – Your SEO is an asset that will grow over time. As you continue to invest in SEO, you will see higher rankings that drive more traffic and conversions.
The Cons of SEO
Here are some of the downsides of pursuing an SEO-only strategy:
- Results Take Time – SEO is very slow compared to PPC. It can take months to start seeing results, whereas PPC will start getting you traffic/sales/leads immediately.
- It’s an ongoing process – Your site will never be 100% “optimized,” it will only get more and more optimized as you put more work into it. The good news is that in the future your rankings will be better and you will hopefully be reaping the rewards SEO investment.
- It’s Time Consuming – SEO is time-consuming, especially if you choose to do it yourself. You have the option to purchase SEO tools or to hire someone to do SEO for you, but that will end up costing real money, not your own time.
The Pros of Google Ads
Here’s why some businesses choose Google Ads over SEO:
- No Waiting: once your PPC campaign starts, you’ll immediately start to see more traffic, clicks, and conversions. SEO can take months before you start to see your site moving up the search engine results.
- PPC is scalable and controllable – you set your budget and track how many conversions they are driving. This helps you estimate an accurate budget for your ads. SEO is not so cut and dry, and it can take longer or require more money if the industry or location you want to rank for is very competitive.
- Using PPC means you don’t have to worry about a search engine’s algorithm impacting your position. You’re bidding on the top spots so your organic rank isn’t going to matter. With SEO, you have to ensure that you’re optimizing your site to Google’s standards of best practice or you could lose rank or be penalized for black hat tactics.
The Cons of Google Ads
Here are some of the downsides of advertising with Google Ads:
- You have to pay to get good results and, ideally, the more you money, often the better the results. The competition for keywords has never been greater and this is often reflected in cost/click.
- Researching and selecting effective keywords to bid on is very time-consuming. Managing what you’re spending on keywords, measuring returns, adjusting how much you spend, and intelligently running a PPC campaign can be a full-time job. Either you’ll spend time doing it yourself or you’ll have to hire a PPC specialist to run them for you.
- PPC is like a tap: once you turn it off, it stops providing you leads. If you suddenly have to divert your PPC budget to something else, can you survive with the leads that you’re getting naturally? SEO is long-lasting and while it’s never truly done, once it gets some momentum up, there’s no stopping it.
- “Click Fraud” is still a problem as some companies use manual clicks or damaging software that simulates human clicks from different IP addresses around the world. Your competitors can rapidly rack up your click charges. Google can detect some of this fraud but there are ways to evade this detection.
PPC or SEO? If You Only Had to Pick One…
It will take a longer time to see results from SEO, but once your efforts start to be rewarded, you’ll generate continuous traffic over a longer period. Good SEO increases brand awareness, and it builds value for your website. We recommend SEO if your budget is smaller, if you already have an established business, and if you don’t need immediate results. Google Ads is an excellent choice for newer businesses that want to focus on sales and leads. They’re also a better option for anyone who wants faster results.
Can SEO and Google Ads Be Used Together?
Of course! As mentioned above, the two strategies complement each other. If you’ve reached a point where you can devote an adequate budget to both SEO and Google ads, we recommend using ads to test which keywords convert best, then focusing your SEO efforts on these keywords.
Need help with Search Engine Marketing? At GlowMetrics, we specialize in both SEO and Google Ads Management and provide one-time projects, as well as monthly management services and audits.