Grudge Match: SEO vs PPC

Written by: Drew Lyon   Austin, Texas

Posted on: August 29, 2015


Here’s a question we get all the time: SEO or PPC, which one’s better? Given enough budget, there are benefits to both and reasons for doing both at the same time. However, we know not all businesses have the budget for that, so we’d like to offer some advice on how to choose in the event you have to pick one…

First, let’s shed some light on the idea that SEO is more like buying a house, where PPC is more like renting. While it’s true that some site optimizations will stick around after you’ve stopped actively SEOing (Optimized Page Titles, for example, won’t be going anywhere), it should also be noted that ranking websites today is much different than it was only a few years ago.

Effective SEO now demands constant upkeep. Google is looking for sites that push out new content and generate backlinks on a consistent basis. Consistency is key. In some cases, a business that stops SEO may stay afloat in the rankings for a month or two, but shortly thereafter they can expect to be overtaken by competitors. What have you shown me lately? Google will say.

Pay-Per-Click (Google Adwords), on the other hand, is all about squeezing the most value out of a set budget. You know what you can afford to spend and you want to make sure you get a sizable return on that investment. Like SEO, profitable PPC requires constant attention—bid management, keyword updates, creative ad writing, etc. The difference being that the day you stop paying for ads to show up is the day they stop showing up.

Which brings us to the first big difference between SEO and PPC…

PPC Is Immediate

If you’re launching a new website or product or App tomorrow and you need generate traffic right out the gate, Pay-Per-Click is your best bet. There is some set-up required and writing ads takes work, but it’s entirely possible to have a PPC campaign up and running in less than 24 hours. Conversely, it’s usually a month or more before businesses will see a significant increase in traffic from SEO.

SEO Has the Higher Potential Upside

However, the potential return on investment for SEO is often higher because it’s not directly tied to how much you spend. Let’s say after a few months you’re ranking on the first page for 15 keywords (and dozens of variations on those keywords) that are each searched hundreds or possibly thousands of times per month. You only have to capture a small percentage of that traffic to cover your investment in SEO, and the rest, as they say, is gravy.

PPC Is Easier to Quantify

Thanks to advanced analytics, phone number tagging, and conversion tracking, PPC has a slight advantage over SEO in terms of measuring its direct financial impact on your business. This can be especially important for e-commerce sites and sites that are trying to get visitors to complete very specific goals.

But at the same time, being easier to track doesn’t always mean it’s the more profitable form of online marketing. A good website marketing company should be able to demonstrate how all of their services affect your bottom line.

It Comes Down to Competition

Sometimes the decision is made easier after a little competitive research. If all the websites that rank for your desired keywords are owned by giant corporations with tons of money to spend on SEO, you may be better off doing PPC—at least at first.

Then again, there’s always a smart way to approach SEO, even in competitive markets. Go after more specific keywords, for example. And same can be said for targeting notoriously pricey insurance keywords with PPC. It’s all about finding a way in and being smart about how you use your budget.

One Final Piece of Advice

Leave vanity and keyword envy at the door. SEO and PPC campaigns can both get derailed if you put too much emphasis on the first couple keywords that come to mind. These are the same keywords everyone else is going after and therefore they’re also the most expensive. It’s cool to be popular, but it’s way better to be profitable.


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