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SEO vs PPC: Which is Better and Where Should You Invest?

By Darren DeYoung

Securing top placement in search engines can be very lucrative and rewarding for a business of any size. But there is always the question of SEO vs PPC: Which one is better? And more importantly, which one is best for my business?

With pay-per-click (PPC) you can simply buy your way to the top of the search engines. Or, you can reach the top by cultivating an organic search engine marketing strategy through search engine optimization (SEO). Deciding where your marketing dollars should be spent is a difficult decision. In order to make an informed decision, one must understand the advantages and disadvantages of both SEO and PPC.

SEO vs PPC: Which is Better and Where Should You Invest?

First Things First

If SEO and PPC are under consideration there are some obvious first steps that need to be taken to have success. Creating a user-friendly, search-friendly, and technically sound website that is visually and aesthetically pleasing is priority number one. In this instance, simple may be best. Having these basics in place will be the foundation for any business to step up its marketing efforts. In the absence of a finely-tuned website, any SEO and PPC efforts will not reach their full potential, making your efforts all the more difficult. Set yourself up for success and get your website in order with the help of a professional). Then, as you step into SEO, PPC, or both, you won’t have to worry about them under-performing because of a sub-par website.

The Advantages of Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO is the ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ way to generate leads from search engines. It covers the biggest part of search marketing and if done right it can provide results far into the future.

SEO can provide great ROI if done correctly. But this is easier said than done. In industries that have low competition and where the competition is less harsh, you can get by if you are prepared and continuously improving your knowledge. But, you must have the time to do it well and the skill set to do it right, to see a positive ROI.

If you are building an authority-rich website in a highly competitive environment and need hundreds of articles, editors, and a content marketing team, doing it alone will be very difficult. But you can still experience a positive ROI for your digital marketing investment by employing a knowledgeable team that executes a great strategy.

SEO is also long-lasting and stable. A properly optimized campaign can maintain a high position in search results without the help of a PPC campaign. This provides stability, unlike PPC campaigns which are subject to many outside factors (e.g. competitor entrance/exit or competitor budget increase/decrease).

Plus, organic search drives drastically more traffic than paid search. Although paid traffic likely consists of more qualified visitors that are interested in your product or service, the vast majority of traffic is from organic search. Check out this graph from Sparktoro where Rand Fishkin analyzes Organic vs Paid Click-Through-Rates.


Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Disadvantages

There is no sugar coating it, SEO is slow and it is hard. In a world where instant gratification is the norm, SEO will test one’s patience as it takes many months to see any significant result. PPC, on the other hand, will get traffic in the door very quickly.

Striving to be SEO optimized is a lofty goal and it is a never-ending goal at that. Creating a fully “optimized’ website is continual--always adapting to new changes in technology, user preferences, and algorithm updates. The silver lining for those striving for SEO perfection is that your future rankings will be better for it and you can reap the rewards of your investment in SEO.
Creating a fully “optimized’ website is continual--always adapting to new changes in technology, user preferences, and algorithm updates.
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Additional knowledge of sitemaps, indexing, redirects, language issues, character limits, and algorithms will also be necessary to fully comprehend the intricacies of SEO.

Because SEO is slow, it is also time-consuming, especially if you decide to do it alone. There are SEO tools and SEO experts that can help, but that will cost money--which may be worth your time so you can run your business.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advantages

The advantage of putting your company in front of a consumer when the consumer searches for a specific keyword and paying for it only when they click on your ad is pretty cool, and for some, priceless. When you use PPC as a marketing strategy you can see the results right away (as long as your website is user-friendly, search-friendly, and technically sound). In a matter of days, ranking in the top three with PPC is doable; while ranking in the top three with SEO is virtually impossible.

PPC is more controlled. You set the budget that works for you and watch the results come in. If it is too much to handle, you can reduce your budget. If it isn’t enough, you can spend more. This helps a business estimate an accurate budget for their marketing.

PPC marketing normally involves spending money with Google, and when you spend money with Google you have the luxury of receiving support from Google employees. This support can help you get your PPC campaigns up and going which is a huge advantage if you are new to PPC. But this definitely isn’t the case for SEO where you are on your own to master the field.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Disadvantages

The obvious downside is that you pay to play. For every click, whether it leads to a conversion or not, you are paying for it. And these clicks only lead to traffic, they don’t guarantee any sales. Having high conversion rates is where success is measured and that goes back to having a website that is user-friendly, search-friendly, technically sound, AND, setup for converting users. With competition in the PPC market always growing, you will likely have to pay more in the future for the same results you are getting today.

Just like SEO, PPC has a significant learning curve. You must understand campaigns, ad groups, keywords, negative keywords, budgets, bids, CTR, CPC, tracking pixels and much more. Once you have these down, something will change or a new feature will evolve. Continual learning and staying up-to-date is half of the battle for succeeding in PPC marketing. Failure to stay up-to-date can lead to significant waste.

As mentioned, SEO is slow, but the results will last longer. PPC is fast but the ROI can be lower. When the PPC budget is turned off and you stop paying, you also stop playing.

Which is Better?

SEO and PPC are two massive tools that makeup search marketing--one being organic and one being paid. These tools encompass the entire user journey starting with the discovery phase all the way down to sales and conversions. And these tools work incredibly well together, so long as the foundation is set (i.e. possessing a user-friendly, search-friendly, and technically sound website that is also visually and aesthetically pleasing).

Can I Do Both?

Both methods are effective in marketing your products or services. But if you have big goals and a limited budget, the best solution for your business is to make sure your SEO improvements are sound, before moving to a PPC approach.

Having good SEO practices will allow your business to maintain while splurging in PPC when the timing is right.

Executing both--a natural SEO strategy and a well-structured PPC campaign--simultaneously will lead to the best results for your business. This is difficult to do, but partnering with the right agency will lead to impressive results that can only be attained when a business owner's insight is combined with the insights of digital marketing experts. Having a team of experts on your side who can align the campaigns to work in unison, will deliver SEO and PPC success. And when both are effective, the ultimate goal of growing your business is achieved.

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