SEO vs PPC

SEO and PPC are two different processes with the same purpose: To affect the online visibility of a website in a web search engine (Google, Bing, Yahoo).

They both belong to what is called SEM (Search Engine Marketing).

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. SEO is about getting your website to rank higher in natural/organic search results for target keywords.

PPC stands for Pay Per Click. PPC is about paying for advertising space for specific target keywords.

Say you’re looking for a service and need to hire someone. What will be the first thing you do? Google it.

The results you’ll see first is the result of PPC. The ads paid to be at the top of the results for every time a user is doing a search for various targeted keywords.

On the other hand, what you see below the ads, and every result that follows, is the result of SEO. If it weren’t for PPC, these would be in position #1. If you’re like most businesses, you can’t afford an ad campaign to infinity (more on that later).

Google’s mission is to deliver the most relevant and best possible results based on the user’s query.

In order to be in those sweet first positions, you have to convince Google’s bots that you are relevant enough (SEO). How to do that is a whole different topic though, but thankfully, we’ve got that covered as well.

However, there is an easier way to be among the first spots: buy your way through the top (PPC). Easy – yes, cheap – no.

The most significant part of PPC advertising occurs via Google AdWords – which is what you saw in the example above – and social media networks. AdWords will represent PPC for this battle.

SEO vs PPC Statistics

PPC

  • The top 3 paid advertising spots get 46% of the clicks on the page. According to Power Traffick, the top three links on a search engine results page (SERP) capture almost half of all traffic for that keyword. This data supports the PPC method as it involves buying ad space at the top of the SERP.
  • Businesses make, on average, $3 in revenue for every $1.60 they spend on AdWords. PPC is a relatively inexpensive way to experiment, and there is a solid average ROI for investing in paid search ads.
  • More than 615 million devices use Adblock. As a consumer, Adblock is amazing: it stops all those eerily targeted ads from popping up on your Facebook feed. However, as a marketer, it can be frustrating to invest in PPC if huge numbers of your target consumers will never see your ad. Additionally, this number is growing quickly: ad blocking has grown 15-30% in the last four years.
  • PPC Ads can boost awareness by 80%. In spite of ad blockers, PPC is still effective in increasing your brand’s reach and awareness.
  • Google’s algorithm updates don’t affect PPC. While not a stat per se, a big benefit of PPC is that it’s immune to Google’s changing SERP ranking algorithm. In 2018, Google reported that they had updated their algorithm 3,234 times! If you’re using the SEO method, you have to adjust your content optimization to rank better according to the updated algorithm requirements.
  • 63% of people reported that they would click on a Google ad. A high CTR is the goal driving both PPC and SEO, and if the majority of surveyed consumers report that they would click into a paid search ad, it is a compelling statistic for investing in PPC.
  • 75% say it’s easier to find what they’re looking for from paid ads. The reason the first page of search results — especially the few few hits — get the vast majority of clicks is due to the combination of ease of use and finding what the searcher is looking for. Bidding on target keywords through PPC accomplishes both of these needs: the paid ads are easy to find at the top of the SERP and they answer the question of the searcher.

SEO

  • Nearly 80% of users ignore paid ads in search results. People tend to prefer organic links more than paid ones, and of the links search users click, about 70% are organic.
  • Search is the #1 driver of traffic to content sites, beating social media by more than 300%. Organic search is one of the most effective marketing channels, often being a consumer’s first point of contact with an organization.
  • SEO drives 30% of traffic, and 20% of revenue. SEO ROI accumulates over time as content creators establish authority and visibility. Prospects often visit a website more than once before filling out a form or making a purchase, so ranking higher for more keywords increases the likelihood of conversions over time.
  • 36.2% of consumers recognize links that are paid advertisements, but don’t click on them. Many search users aren’t able to differentiate between paid ads and organic links — in fact, only half of searchers correctly identify ads. In spite of this, consumers are still preferring the organic links over the PPC ones.
  • 88% of searches for local businesses on a mobile device either call or visit the business within 24 hours. Local SEO has excellent SEO — the number of local searches are increasing by 900% in two years, and by optimizing content and web pages for nearby audiences, organizations can see remarkable growth.
  • One in ten blog posts are compounding. This means that organic search increases their traffic over time, and as the number of visitors aggregates, so does the number of conversions. Historical content is a critical part of both SEO and customer acquisition strategy.
  • Organic SEO is about 5.66 times better than paid search ads. HubSpot’s co-founder, Brian Halligan, ardently believes in an organic-first strategy for its longevity and strong conversion performance. According to HubSpot’s inbound marketing philosophy, paid outbound marketing interrupts audiences with outreach they don’t want, whereas organic optimization draws in consumers with content they love.

Let’s examine the pros and cons of each model.

SEO

The Good

Click Through Rate: Organic search is the channel through which, more often than not, users will find out about you. You can, and should, invest in paid search and social media, but you should keep in mind that organic search is essential.

Organic: Earned search engine results
Direct: Manual address entry or unidentified search engine sources (e.g., a PDF link)
Referral: Link to a site from another site
Paid Search: Paid search engine results

As shown in the graph, organic search will be your primary channel for your traffic.

Ranking: Once you get high rankings, it’s easier to maintain those rankings. You gain authority status and build the trust of users and search engines.

Authority: Being organically on top suggests that your website, and as a result your business, is an industry leader in your niche. The audience prefers doing business with a credible leader in their field.

Strategic advantage: Once you have established yourself in the organic results, the only way competitors can compete with you is by spending money on something you don’t have to.

Cost: In our SEO vs PPC battle, make no mistake, SEO comes at a price. SEO is more like an investment. However, once you’ve made that investment, you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Each impression and click after that sweet spot in the search engine rankings comes at no charge and thus it will cost you nothing.

Cost-effectiveness: SEO is considered to be more cost-effective than all other marketing tactics for delivering brand awareness and relevant traffic to your website.

Return on Investment: Organic search engine traffic can provide an improved ROI over traditional forms of paid media.

Verification: Your ranking position is one of the best and reliable ways to extract information about your site’s performance. The hard work you put in optimization, or the lack of it, can be measured from the position your webpage sits in and thus act accordingly.

Sustainability: Organic traffic does not dry up in a short period. As such, when marketing spend is cut, traffic will keep flowing in. SEO shines in this SEO vs PPC round.

The Bad

Effort: An effective SEO needs a lot of effort to build and maintain. SEO is an ongoing process that involves 3 different action fields: Technical, On-Page and Off-Page SEO. All three require certain know-how on your part or the part whoever will be in charge of the SEO strategy of your business.

Implementation time: For the same reason, SEO building will consume much of your time. It’s not only the time someone has to put on gaining the appropriate expertise, but it’s also the time one has to put into executing everything that’s needed.

Stiffness: You can’t just ‘try something new in SEO.’ SEO is a mechanism that must be approached holistically, thus in the SEO vs PPC battle, PPC is the winner here.

Indirectness: You can’t see the outcome of your optimization immediately. Action to result can mean months and traffic can be slow to come by.

A tough battle overall: Playing the SEO game is not easy. If you are just starting out, there is a possibility that the keywords you are targeting can be targeted as well from titans of your industry. If you are selling books, you shouldn’t expect to win the SEO battle against Amazon.

PPC

The Good

Position on the page: A paid ad can be in different places, including the one at the top. It can dominate the above-the-fold content, which practically means a close-to-100% chance to be seen before the first scroll down or finger movement. With typically four ads on desktop and three on mobile, a user can’t miss you. Position on the sweet spots provides you with brand awareness.

Brand awareness: Even if the user’s hand didn’t click on your business, their eyes received the information of your existence. That visibility will pay dividends to your marketing – for $0 since they didn’t make that click.

Improved user experience: Google wants to give an incentive so you can give Google your money (business is business, as always). The incentive being more control and more space for your marketing message. Let’s see this example where I google for ‘sofas.’ This is the bottom of the screen:

Look at the difference between the first 3 and last 3 results. The latter have more space at their disposal and businesses can include more information, thus create more engagement. Google even provides a ‘More’ button as an option for further additions.

Visual product ads: What we’ve seen so far is optimization and ads through letters, numbers, and symbols. Google though brings through PPC the champion of selling: Visuals.

Visuals improve the click-through rate by offering a feature not available in organic search. If you want a JPG, you gotta give some USD. A PPC exclusive, ladies and gentlemen.

Budget control: PPC allows for tight control of your budget. You can determine how much you are willing to spend per day, any day, and set that fixed limit. You can set up your PPC account and manage it in a way to be low-cost and generate leads for your business.

Targeted campaign: Ads can be targeted by search keywords, time of day, day of the week, geography, language, device, and audiences based on previous visits. SEO doesn’t have so many options, not by a long shot.

Speed: A PPC campaign can be created in days and flourish in weeks. It’s the fastest way to approach your audience.

The ability to experiment: Us growth hackers love experimentation. We won’t set up an AdWords campaign and then “let it do its thing.” Your AdWords campaign should be treated as your 5-year-old, not your child you are sending away to college. Is a particular ad not generating enough clicks? Change the copy in an instant and see what comes. Repeat until you get the results you want. Tune your ad up according to your needs.

The Bad

Click through rate: Paid listings have less credibility with search engine users. Organic rankings will get more click-through rates for “top of funnel” keyword search queries. The best possible CTR from PPC will always be less than the best possible CTR from SEO.

Cost: Well, it’ called Pay Per Click for a reason. If you are targeting different audiences and personas, those clicks quickly add up.

Momentary: The moment you stop your ad campaign is the moment your leads generation ends. PPC requires constant investment. Thus it’s difficult to rely exclusively on PPC.

Easily copyable: AdWords is not a TV or a radio spot. There isn’t much freedom for creativity, so it’s only words and numbers most of the time. If the competition likes your copy, well, they will copy it. Who said that digital marketing is easy?

Skills: We mentioned how demanding SEO is, but neither is PPC a walk in the park. If you want a successful PPC campaign, as in high CTR and cost-effectiveness, you have to manage and optimize each and every campaign.

Uneasiness: With PPC, you need to keep an eye out. It is not unusual to get into bidding wars with rival businesses, which can drive costs up. You have to keep an eye open at the results often.

Distrust: Consumers don’t always trust paid ads and often avoid them. They place more trust in organic rankings. As a result, you should expect a low click-through rate.

Is there a clear winner?

SEO & PPC have pros and cons and work best when supporting each other, creating synergy. The benefits of running SEO and PPC together, instead of SEO vs PPC include:

  • Keyword and conversion data from PPC can be fed into your SEO.
  • You can increase the total volume of traffic by targeting clicks in paid and organic for high-performing keywords.
  • High-cost keywords, high-volume or low-converting (yet still important) keywords can be moved from PPC to your SEO.
  • A/B testing of ad copy and landing pages can be fed into your organic listing and landing pages.
  • Remarketing allows you to stay in front of visitors after an initial touch via organic search and customize messaging around their engagement with your site.
  • You have the ability to test your keyword strategy in PPC before committing to long-term SEO strategies.
  • Through keywords, you can target users at all stages of the customer journey, from research to comparison, to lead and sale.
  • You can increase confidence and awareness by having both strong organic and paid visibility.

Ultimately, whichever strategy you choose will depend on your business’s needs, budget, and mission. Oftentimes, organizations will invest in both to see which strategy will help them grow better.