SEO Vs. PPC: Which is the Right Choice for You?

This is an all too common question that businesses have to grapple with when developing marketing strategies. Making the right decisions about how to allocate your marketing budget can be difficult for a variety of reasons, including:

  1. There are a lot of misconceptions about SEO and PPC.
  2. The majority of the information on the web is biased.
  3. Both of these techniques are constantly evolving, so it is hard to keep up with the latest trends.

Fortunately, we have put together the definitive guide that will provide you with the latest information, so that you have the facts and insights you need to find the right balance between SEO and PPC.

Some Basic Definitions

Before we get much further, let’s take a moment to clear up any confusion about these two terms. While they are often mentioned in the same sentence, they represent two very different strategies. Here are some basic definitions:

Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Essentially, SEO works to increase the number of relevant visitors to your website through organic search engine results. This means, that you aren’t paying for advertising. Instead, search engines, like Google, Bing and Yahoo, are displaying your site in search results because you are publishing informative content that is relevant to keywords the visitor typed into the search engine.

The challenge of SEO is to get search engines to recognize your content and present it to users. This is where the optimization part comes in and things can get a little technical, but we will save more of that till later …

Pay-Per-Click (PPC): This strategy involves paying a publisher, such as Google, to display a link to your site. The publisher gets paid every time someone clicks on the link and your get more traffic to your website. PPC ads are littered throughout websites and commonly appear in the top spots in search engine results. They have become such a commonplace feature of the internet that 60% of consumers don’t know a Google advertisement when they see one.

PPC involves bidding on certain keywords and crafting well-written ads like the ones pictured above. It tends to be a more data-driven approach that requires a fair amount of tracking and monitoring.

The Challenges of SEO

Now that you know the basics, we can begin to get into some more detail and discuss why SEO is becoming increasingly difficult. In the early days of the internet, it was a real wild west. Websites would practice keyword stuffing and simply cram their pages with keywords that wanted to rank for. Search engines cracked down on this by adjusting the algorithm that ranks sites and rewarding good sites that were actually trying to provide information to readers.

Over the years, as marketers found new ways to beat the system, search engines continued to refine their algorithms and penalize companies who were employing black hat practices. Today, even inbound marketers who diligently employee white hate SEO strategies can still be hit by an algorithm update, which are becoming increasingly frequent in an effort to keep up with technology. Weathering these algorithm storms can require a significant time commitment, making it difficult to keep up with changes in SEO.    

Here are just a few of the elements of your website that fall under the umbrella of SEO:

  1. High quality content
  2. Links to authoritative sites
  3. Social media presence and engagement
  4. Image alt tags
  5. Meta descriptions
  6. Length of text
  7. Meta tags and descriptions
  8. URLs and redirects
  9. And the list goes on …

It can be a lot to keep up with even if you do decide to hire an outside agency to handle your marketing.

SEO is also facing the added challenge of the introduction and prevalence of mobile devices. The vast majority of consumers do their shopping and browsing on a mobile device that has a limited screen size. Most people don’t bother scrolling down, which means that they are only viewing the PPC results and not even making it to the organic results. All that SEO work may overshadowed by PPC ads.

Dispelling a Myth: SEO Isn’t Free

Just because you aren’t “paying” for advertising, doesn’t mean that SEO is free. It takes a long time and a lot of work to earn top rankings for specific keywords. Whether you hire an SEO company or use in-house writers and marketers, there will be a significant investment in man-hours to earn links and increase your website’s visibility. You can’t simply purchase quality links to authority sites; you have to network with writers, build relationships and offer high quality guest posts. All of this takes time and effort.

Even if you do achieve high rankings, you may run into problems optimizing keywords for different countries and there is no telling when the search engines will slap you with another update that instantly undoes a lot of your hard work.  

SEO can be tough, in the trenches kind of work, that takes time to pay off. It is a necessary part of our digital world and doing business online, but it isn’t the only solution when it comes to driving high quality traffic to your website.

Paid Search and PPC

Some people assume that PPC is the ultimate workaround to SEO, but it isn’t that black and white. While PPC first started in 1996, the market collapsed in 2000 as part of the Dot.Com bubble. It was at that point that Google Adwords launched and slowly started to become the PPC leader. Part of their success has been their ability to continually weed out fraudulent PPC practices, which ultimately allow them to earn more per click and safeguard the industry.  

Today, PPC continues to become an increasingly important part of a comprehensive marketing strategy, no matter what industry you work in. Even more impressive is the fact that digital marketing is expected to grow by 24% over the next three years. PPC is showing no signs of losing momentum. This means that businesses who aren’t taking advantage of paid search opportunities are at serious risk of being left behind.

Let’s take a closer look at the numbers to get a better feel for just how important PPC and digital advertising are in the modern business world.

Experts predict that by the year 2020, half of all global advertising dollars will be spent on digital advertising. That means that PPC and paid search will account for the same share of the market as TV, print, billboards, etc, combined. In dollars and cents, that amounts to $291 billion in expected digital advertising spending by 2020. It is also important to note, that currently, 63% of all digital advertising dollars are spent on mobile ads, making phones the primary avenue for serving ads to consumers   

While Adwords continues to be a popular choice, PPC campaigns can vary more widely, allowing for better flexibility and targeting. A few options include:

Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and other social media sites

Yahoo, Bing and other search Engines (These can also vary according to country. For
Example, in Russia, Yandex is the leading search engine.
Google Display Network, Google adwords.

Outbrain and PRNewsWire allow for paid content promotion

There are also options when it comes to shopping and remarketing campaigns

The Advantages of PPC

  1. Speed. Unlike SEO, which can take months to see results, with the right PPC strategy, you can be ranking for any search term, in any country, in a matter of days..
  2. Budgetary control. You set the parameters of your budget. There are no limits on how little or how much you can spend each day and campaigns can be paused at any time.
  3. Google Analytics and other tracking programs allow you to instantly view keyword performance data. You can see how a keyword is performing on a specific day and location and even view which leads converted to a sale from what kind of device.
  4. You have the ability to protect your brand by bidding on certain keywords and outdoing your competition.
  5. You can even undermine your competitors by bidding on their brand name. As long as you don’t mention them in the ad copy, you don’t be violating any policies.
  6. Serve ads to certain demographics, i.e. gender, age, marital status, hobbies, etc.

Does this mean that you should stop investing time and effort in SEO and go all-in on PPC? Absolutely not, but PPC can be an important tool that helps you boost visibility while SEO efforts gain traction, especially if you are looking to rank well in multiple countries. PPC also provides a more stable source of traffic because it is not subject to the same algorithm slaps that can bring SEO traffic to a screeching halt. Ideally, you will utilize SEO and PPC for a comprehensive strategy that takes advantage of all the available avenues for boosting rankings and visibility in a way that will send high quality traffic to your site.

An Important Reminder

Keep in mind that PPC does cost money and working with an experienced PPC agency also costs money. This makes it important that you are constantly tracking performance and making sure that you are receiving the maximum ROI for your PPC investment. Don’t put everything on autopilot or you may find that you end up spending too much and you aren’t adjusting to constantly evolving markets.

Your Turn

Tell us about your experience with SEO and PPC. Which strategies have worked best for you? How have you managed to find the right balance between these two important tools?



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