Ultimate SEO vs PPC Comparison for Marketers
Google processes 3.5B+ searches every day. 40,000 per second. How are you going to get your brand noticed? Your website ranking above your competitors? SEO vs. PPC – the two best search engine marketing methods to generate sales and increase traffic.
Search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising – what, how, pros, cons, ROI, working together. Ready?
A successful marketing strategy takes time and money. Choosing whether to do both pay-per-click ads and search engine optimization is not a decision that can be made without fully understanding both.
We feel there’s no need for the debate, and so we’re writing this one article as the ultimate comparison of SEO and PPC. Read this one, and you’ll see no need to find any other on the subject.
In fact, we won’t even try to keep you tagged to the end of the article before you get to know what we know is the right option for you. There’s just no need for that suspense. Let’s get you that answer right now:
If you want quick but temporary results, choose PPC. If you want slow but lasting results with much higher traffic (CTR), go for SEO. If you’re really smart, mix them together and get the best of both worlds.
- 1. What Are SEO and PPC?
- 2. What’s the Difference Between SEO and PPC?
- 2.1 SEO Basic Elements
- 2.2 PPC Basic Elements
- 3. Which is Better for My Brand – SEO vs PPC?
- 3.1 Time-Restricted Promotion or Event
- 3.2 Unique Product
- 3.3 Downloadable Content
- 4. What’s the Difference in ROI – SEO vs PPC?
- 4.1 SEO
- 4.2 PPC
- 5. What is PPC?
- 5.1 Text Ads
- 5.2 Social Media Ads
- 5.3 Display Network Ads
- 6. PPC Pros
- 6.1 Maximum Brand Visibility
- 6.2 Budget Control
- 6.3 Targeted Users
- 6.4 Page Ranking
- 6.5 Total Control
- 6.6 Visual Product Ads
- 6.7 Immediate Results
- 6.8 Marketing Insights
- 7. PPC Cons
- 7.1 PPC Requires Ongoing Investment
- 7.2 Not Everyone’s a Fan of PPC Ads
- 7.3 PPC Ads Lose Effectiveness
- 8. What is SEO?
- 9. SEO Pros
- 9.1 Brand Awareness
- 9.2 Drives Relevant, Targeted Traffic
- 9.3 Trust and Credibility
- 9.4 Cost-per-Click – CPC
- 9.5 Return on Investment
- 9.6 Click Through Rate – CTR
- 9.7 SEO Keeps on Giving
- 9.8 It’s Free Advertising
- 10. SEO Cons
- 10.1 Shift in Ranking
- 10.2 SEO Never Stops
- 10.3 SEO Requires Patience
- 11. Organic Search Still Wins on Click-Throughs
- 12. Visibility VS. Authority
- 13. Costs VS. Value
- 14. Mix Them Up?
- 15. The Verdict
The rest of this article talks in considerable detail about why we know what we just told you. It’s mostly just statistics and data from some of the most reliable institutes in the data analysis industry and online marketing.
Something like this: Forrester Research, a leading market research firm, and Forbes predicts the US market’s total spending on digital marketing will reach $118 and $120 billion, respectively.
Those are big numbers, we’ll say. Here are some more big numbers for you.
The picture above allows us to have a look at how much the US retail sector will be spending in the coming years. Retail is the biggest spending business sector when it comes to digital marketing.
eMarketer produced these predictions. While the image is quite self-explanatory, you can see the budget for digital ad spending increases from around $11 billion to over twice the number between 2014 and 2020, with the sector maintaining a consistent 22% approx. of total money predicted to be spent on digital advertising.
What Are SEO and PPC?
In case some of you are new to the concepts of SEO and PPC, let’s begin by showing you what these terms mean.
PPC, or pay-per-click, is one technique for advertising your business online. You pay a search engine, such as Google, for every click you get on your ads based on the keywords you picked to pay for.
You pick the keywords you want to attract customers with, make your ads around them and pay the search engine every time those ads are clicked on when they’re showed in the said search engine’s search results.
In contrast, SEO, or search engine optimization, is the collection of all techniques you use – starting with proper web design, integrated customer support, high-quality content, going all the way down to guest writing and building formidable backlinks to reach the top of search engine results without spending on online advertising.
When you search for a keyword in a search engine’s text box, you get suggestions in return, which are a mix of paid ads and organic results that are laid out in a particular manner.
With Google, the usual layout of the first SERP (search engine results page) has a few ads on top, followed by what Google calls a featured snippet, which is followed by a list of organic results. Many SERPs contain more ads at the bottom.
This is what the picture looks like:
These paragraphs should give you a perspective on how there may be debate over SEO and PPC like they’re mutually exclusive choices, and the reason there’s a debate is the fact that incredible amounts of money and commercial activity are involved in these two phenomena.
What’s the Difference Between SEO and PPC?
In a nutshell, SEO involves driving organic traffic to your website by optimizing web pages, and PPC ad campaigns are a paid promotional push to appear at the top and bottom of the search engine results pages or SERPs and show your business’s ads on other websites.
In search engine optimization, content that will increase your visibility, credibility, and relevance is included on your website.
On-page optimization includes:
- H1 tags that include the keyword you’re looking to rank for
- Teasing meta descriptions with the relevant keyword towards the start
- Alt text behind all images that are descriptive and include your keyword
- Natural inclusion of your keyword in your content
- Titles – H2, H3, H4 – that include your keyword
When a search engine crawls your website, it’ll understand what your site is about, identify whether it’s trustworthy, and recognize it as a valuable source for users performing searches. It will then move up in the ranking.
Off-page optimization – off-page SEO – are methods used away from your website that will also improve the ranking, and includes:
- Backlinks or inbound links – search engines use backlinks as proof of the quality of a website’s content. The more high-value backlinks, the higher a site will rank. High-value links come from sites with high domain authority and/or domain extensions, such as .GOV, .EDU.
- Social media marketing– sharing content on your social media channels.
- Guest blogging
- Influencer marketing
- Business directories – to prove authority and authenticity, posts, reviews, etc.
- Linked and unlinked brand mentions – in articles, press releases, guest posts, reviews, etc.
- Internal linking on the website to help users navigate your site
- Included in listicles
- Links from customer review sites – user-generated content is free marketing that’s considered trustworthy by consumers.
Don’t go mad, though. Include too many search terms, fake pages, irrelevant content, and Google will question your intent.
Word of warning. It might seem obvious, but don’t include important keywords or content as part of an image and expect it to count towards SEO. Search engines won’t recognize it.
Every time someone clicks on your PPC ad, you pay a fee. Your ads can be targeted towards users’ interests, geographical location, gender, age group, profession, etc. They can promote a special deal, event, product, downloadable content.
PPC ads are placed at the top and bottom of the search engine result pages. Above and below, organic search results. Or display ads and remarketing ads that appear on other appropriate websites.
PPC ads bring immediate results, unlike the waiting game that is SEO. Of course, if you pause your ads, you’ll stop getting clicks.
The most popular platform for PPC ad campaigns is Google Ads. You’ll be able to measure ROI and identify which ads are performing and those that need work. How many conversions you’re getting, and, how much you’ll need to bid, so you’ll appear at the top of the paid ads on page one.
Which is Better for My Brand – SEO vs PPC?
It depends on what you want.
- Do you want leads now, for an event, etc.?
- Are you prepared to wait for results?
- What’s your budget?
- Do you have high domain authority?
- How do your competitors rank in organic search?
If you’re a small business or a start-up, you may not have the budget for paid advertising. With little competition, your SEO strategy could increase online visibility in local and organic search results.
As a long-term strategy, SEO won’t break the bank, and once you’re ranking, traffic will be constant.
Your market may be niche, which means that you could find a keyword that’s relevant, has low competition, and a good monthly search volume. Get in there fast and develop your SEO strategy to rank for this keyword before someone else does.
If you’re an ecommerce site looking to compete with the likes of Amazon, your website is going to struggle to outrank in organic search results. PPC paid ads would kick start your brand awareness campaign.
If your business has a generous advertising budget, get the PPC ads live now. You’ll see results immediately.
You can also target specific audiences, unlike handing over big bucks for a billboard, only relevant to 10 out of 100 passers-by.
SEO and PPC are efficient methods of driving traffic to a website. Proven to bring results, working separately or together. But, there are some instances where one wins over the other.
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Nope. SEO isn’t going to hack it. Get those PPC ads live. ASAP!
Earning organic traffic is about publishing content that users are already searching for. Optimizing your product page – travel books for America – with your keyword, synonyms, and variations.
Including your H1, H2s, meta and alt tags. As your ranking increases, your traffic increases.
But what if your business has launched a unique product, like cheese-flavored ice cream. It’s unlikely that anyone is searching for cheese-flavored ice cream.
You won’t have any trouble ranking, but your traffic will be severely limited. A PPC ad campaign will raise awareness and introduce your new, cheesy product.
Your team has written a cracking gated report and created a landing page. Now it’s time to promote.
Given the fact that landing pages generally don’t rank well – short content, no backlinks – it’s a big ask to get organic traffic to landing pages.
You could write a blog post, teasing the content of the report and offering it as a free download.
But then you still have to get the post to rank in SERPs.If you’re looking for quick results, use PPC to drive traffic straight to the landing page. Then, start counting those clicks.
What’s the Difference in ROI – SEO vs. PPC?
SEO can be a slow burner. After your keyword research, you’ll optimize your website. Write blog posts. Create internal links.
Earn backlinks. Post guest blogs, etc. On top of this, you’ll have to wait to rank in SERPs. You could be looking at a few months.
Your site will grow. Quality will improve. Authority will increase. Search engines will recognize the credibility and relevance of your content and send more traffic to your website.
You can’t wave a magic wand and get page one ranking immediately. You can’t pay for position one. It’s a waiting game. And while you’re waiting, continue updating and improving your website.
It’s free. It takes time. It wins in the long-term.
PPC is quick. You’ll see results almost immediately. But, when you stop paying, search engines will pull your ads. Also, depending on how much you’ve spent, your ad might be shown to a limited audience. Search engines will judge your ads, as they do with SEO.
This is why monitoring, testing and tweaking your ads and/or budget is crucial, so you don’t waste money. Define your goals and set your budget accordingly. For instance:
- You want to generate 700 site visitors per month
- The cost-per-click – CPC – of your keyword is $1.50
- Your monthly budget needs to be $1050
What Is PPC?
Pay-per-click – PPC – brings immediate results and traffic from search engines. Set up a PPC paid ad campaign, and your website will quickly receive traffic.
It’s a form of paid advertising – Google Ads is search engine advertising – where you pay for clicks on your ads, driving traffic to your website. Social media channels – Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Quora, etc. – use PPC as part of their business models.
26% of users that click on Facebook ads end up buying the product. In 2017, a CMO survey predicted that brands would double their paid social budgets by 2023.
Once you know how to set up your PPC ads, it’s simple. But, if you want winning results, you’ll need a PPC strategy.
A big advantage of PPC marketing is that you can target the users that you want to visit your site – location, age, income, background.
For instance, if you’re looking to set up ads on social media for effective targeting, you’ll need to use a social analytics platform. You’ll be able to analyze your social media accounts and pull out data that identifies the demographics of your audience. What content they’re engaging with.
PPC costs vary, depending on the keywords you bid for. A highly competitive keyword can drive costs up to the hundreds. But, keep your bids too low, and you could miss the top spot on the first page of search results.
The ranking of your PPC ad depends on how much you bid on keywords, the quality and relevance of your keywords and ads, and the landing page you’re directing visitors to. There are several types of paid advertisements.
Text ads appear in results when a user performs a search that includes a specific keyword. They’re easy to spot, as they’re labeled ‘ad’.
To create social media ads, you’ll need a headline, a description, and you can include call buttons, location info, CTAs, and links to landing pages on your website.
Display ads are the banners you see on websites that sell space to advertisers. Display ads can be placed on sites that you, as a marketer, consider relevant to your brand.
They can also be used for retargeting potential customers, the ones who visited your site but left without making a purchase.
Why would you want to splash the cash when you can earn high click-through rates and trust through an organic search?
Let’s check out the benefits of PPC advertising.
Paid ads allow you to rank above organic search results, so users will see your brand before they see your competitors’ content.
You can also pay to display your PPC ads on relevant websites. To ensure your PPC is cost-effective, aim for a strong Quality Score.
Set your goals and how much you’re prepared to spend per day. Set your budget, and stick to it.
Trying to get your content in front of the right people is a cinch with PPC ads, as they can be targeted by keywords, demographics, location, language, device, time of day/week, and previous visitors. You only pay for the users you want on your website.
You’ve seen them – even if you don’t click – every time you do a search in Google. Above the fold. Above and below organic search results. Ad. Ad. Ad.
PPC ads are versatile with regard to the assets you can include – targeted geography, links to your site, call buttons, bullet points, pricing.
It’s your choice where you send users that clicked your paid ad. It’s your choice what you show them on your landing page.
These are super cool if you’ve got a pretty product. Google lets you create product listing ads – PLAs – for your brand.
Not something you can do in organic results. Your click-through rate – CTR – will improve as users can see what they’re searching for, rather than having to guess.
Optimizing content for search engines and achieving a page one ranking is the long game. Paid search engine ads can be built and live within a day. Results come through instantly.
Being able to earn clicks so quickly is beneficial if you’re promoting a product launch or event.
Use Google Analytics and Keyword Planner to track conversion rates, which keywords convert, and their cost. Use this data to boost your paid ads and your content marketing strategy.
Now you know the benefits of paid advertising, we should take a look at what can go wrong in a PPC campaign.
Once the money stops, the ads stop. When the ad stops, the traffic stops. Of course, you can control your spending, but optimizing your campaign can take time, and the cost will quickly mount up, especially if you’re targeting a highly competitive keyword.
It’s clearly an ad because there’s an ad tag. As a consumer, are you a clicker of ads? Or are you blind to them – scrolling down to the organic results? Maybe you just don’t trust them? 70 to 80% of users ignore paid ads and go straight to the organic results.
Run your ad campaign too long, and it’ll stop working. Ad blindness is a reality. Worst case scenario?
If your ad starts to irritate people, they’ll use ad blockers. Keep your ads fresh – new copy, images, CTAs, etc. Try not to bombard people.
What is SEO?
SEO involves optimizing website pages – title tags, image tags, meta descriptions, keywords, internal links, earning backlinks. Search engines – Google, Bing, etc.
– will also check the structure of a website, design, navigation, user behavior, domain authority, and more.
Ranking results will start to show once a web page has been crawled, indexed, and identified as relevant and trustworthy by a search engine.
Achieving good SEO results takes time. On the plus side, once you get a higher ranking, it’s more than likely that you’ll stay there.
If you don’t feel confident, there are SEO agencies you can hire to do the work for you, but costs can escalate.
If an SEO agency promises top of page one ranking in 24 hours, walk away. No. Run away. It’s no longer possible to trick search engines. There is no magic bullet. You will lose money.
Unlike paid ads, you can’t pay a search engine to appear at the top. Search engine algorithms determine the ranking of your website, blog post, etc. It’s up to you to work out what a search engine is looking for.
Remembering that a search engine’s goal is to present the most relevant, high-quality results to searchers.
It’s important that when writing your content or optimizing existing pages, you’re talking to humans. Never, ever write for bots.
There are about 200 SEO ranking factors that influence how Google places a website in its search engine. The factors are secret to prevent marketers from playing the system.
But, some are obvious, like the value of inbound links, domain authority, relevance, up to date content, site structure, loading time.
Let’s look at some of the pros of your business investing time in search engine optimization:
If you’re on page one, at the top, your business is in the face of consumers. Lots of eyeballs.
Using long-tail keywords – 3-5 word phrases – as part of your SEO strategy increases traffic from consumers further along the buying funnel.
Having your site rank higher in organic results can influence your perceived authenticity with an audience looking for your services. Many users skip ads and trust organic results more highly.
Being visible gives your brand a big, fat stamp of approval.
Including strong reviews and reputation signals on your site – user-generated content/UGC – will further strengthen trust. 90% of consumers say that user-generated content influences their purchasing decisions.
All the traffic your website receives that’s organic is free. Yes – apart from the time it takes to optimize your site – it’s free!
ROI from SEO-earned traffic is higher than paid media. Pretty obvious, as SEO is free.
More users click on organic links in search results. You’re going to generate more clicks than you would with PPC ads if your website ranks above the fold on page one.
Roughly 40% of total ecommerce global traffic comes from search. 35% is organic. 4% is through paid ads.
To get the best of SEO vs. PPC, I’d suggest you use paid ads according to your budget and optimize for page one ranking. You’ll maximize your clicks and – if you win the game – push your competition below the fold.
Stop throwing cash at your ads, and your traffic stops. Take a week away from your desk, and you’ll continue to get organic traffic to your website. Long after you’ve stopped your ads, your website will continue to receive traffic.
You don’t have to pay to rank organically in search engines. You don’t have to hand over cash to get people to see your content.
Consumers hunt you down in Google search results. You’ll need to do continual optimization. Find new keywords. Update content. Earn backlinks. Create new pages.
Unfortunately, there are drawbacks to SEO. Yes, a high ranking will bring a ton of traffic. But, it does take time to attain that high ranking, so the traffic can be slow to arrive.
If you’re a newbie and the keywords you want to target are highly competitive, you could find yourself competing with big brands. Time for an SEO strategy rethink.
Here are other SEO minefields that you should be aware of:
The higher you rank, the more traffic your site gets. So when your ranking drops a few places, it’s frustrating. When it plummets, there’s cause for concern.
Once you’ve optimized your website, it must be maintained to increase or keep your page ranking. Updated content to keep it relevant, keyword research, link building – internal and backlinks, adding new content.
With PPC, you’ll immediately start to see results. An increase in page ranking can take months to kick in after you’ve optimized your site. If you’re trying to make an impact quickly – product launch, for instance – PPC would be quicker.
Organic Search Still Wins on Click-Throughs
It might sound improbable after all the data you’ve just seen, but organic searches are still more profitable to businesses, and there are a number of reasons for that.
The most important of those reasons is the click-through rate (CTR), which is simply the rate at which visitors on SERPs click on either paid ads or organic results.
In 2016, SimilarWeb conducted a detailed study on global online shoppers and came up with some very interesting results.
One of the first simple facts that the report shares with the reader is that only 5% of the click-throughs on a SERP are on paid searches or PPC ads in Google.
Furthermore, when the researchers studied traffic sources for the studied shopping websites, the results showed organic results to be the biggest source for any website’s traffic while PPC remained the smallest source of traffic.
While almost 39% traffic to shopping websites came from organic searches on search engines, only 1.3% of the total traffic came in from paid ads.
So, among all the measures, CTR, which is the most prominent measure in gauging search engine users’ interests and preferences, speaks in favor of organic search and SEO.
You might be thinking of how that could be possible when we just showed you all those graphs with incredible amounts of money being spent on PPC year after year. Are those businesses crazy? Or just plain ignorant?
But the answer isn’t so difficult to understand. Answer this: How many times have you ever looked beyond the first page of any search you ever did on Google? Hardly ever.
Take another one: How many times have you ever clicked beyond the first few results on the search results page? Probably never.
This behavior is yours as a consumer, and it is independent of what the search engine might be trying to achieve through a search.
This consumer behavior is the main reason SEO is still winning and might always win when it comes to quality and lasting relationships.
Then, why do businesses spend such huge piles of money on paid search? You’ll find your answer to that question in the discussion below.
What becomes evident from this table is choosing between SEO and PPC is actually choosing between visibility and authority.
When you pursue PPC, you’re putting up ads over organic search results that will be visible over everything else.
They might make a visitor click through to your website, but there’s no guarantee they’ll purchase your service or product, but you will pay for that click regardless.
Also, you need to remember what we showed you earlier: Only 5% of searchers ever click on paid suggestions in SERPs.
Assuming these figures are true for searchers in all industries while spending a ton of money on paid search, you’ll be neglecting over 95% of the people looking for services for your target keywords (how could that be prudent?).
Another problem with paid suggestions on SERPs is there’s no guarantee of expertise. Anybody with a website can pay a certain amount for their ad and have it placed over organic results for a given period of time.
Visitors know that. To them, every paid suggestion in the SERPs can get them in as much trouble as it can do the work right.
They know it’s risky business (why do you think such a huge majority of people simply ignore these ads?), and everybody likes to reduce risk when they’re paying money.
On the other hand, if you’re on the top of organic results, visitors on the page already take you as an expert in the field, and half expect to end up purchasing your offerings because their mind is already expecting to be impressed when they click through to your website.
In short, while you’re spending more money to get instant visibility, you’re actually making searchers wary of your service. That doesn’t sound cost-efficient to us from any angle.
When going for PPC, you’re looking at high advertising costs. Let’s break it down for your ease:
When you choose your search engine, you’ll place bids for your selected keywords according to what price it suggests.
Depending on your CTR history, the bids you get might be higher or lower than the search engine’s average suggestion for the keyword.
Either way, you set a price for every click your ad will get. What happens after the click’s done is none of the search engine’s concern. You pay for the click, not for your visitor buying your offerings.
Here’s another tormenting fact: a lot of those clicks can actually simply be mistaken clicks. A visitor clicking on a paid ad just because it was more prominent or because they weren’t paying enough attention to tell paid ads and organic suggestions apart; that happens more often than you’d think. We know that for sure for over 50% clicks on banner ads on mobile devices.
Even if Google fixes this problem completely and you don’t have to pay for such clicks, you’ll still be getting false clicks.
Discussing the matter of paid ad costs in detail, Wordstream recently discovered Google AdWords had recorded an average CTR of less than 2% across 16 industries (which is to say about 2 out of every 100 searchers who see your ad will click on it).
More importantly, the study showed an ad in any of these industries costs $2.32 per click on average. Have a look at the data in this image:
 Although Google is taking care of this problem (https://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2015/07/06/mobile-clicks), it isn’t completely fixed yet.
So, while paying more than a dollar for every click you get on your ad, where there’s no guarantee the visitor will actually buy your product or service, you’re also losing value for your offerings since most searchers either won’t click on your ad or will click thinking you’re probably not an authority in your field. That sounds really bad.
On the other hand, with organic search, the matter of cost is much more complicated than evaluating value fluctuations.
Since there are a number of modes for setting an SEO project fee, such as monthly, hourly and per-project scales, which are widely practiced in the industry, it’s hard to establish statistical data on the matter.
Another reason for the lack of data is the wide price range of SEO professionals and agencies (Rand Fishkin of Moz conducted a detailed study of the industry).
However, the matter of understanding of how SEO is more cost-effective than PPC is quite simple when it comes to the basics of it.
You see, once you’ve done your part of creating great quality content, promoted it, earned quality backlinks from authority sites and found your way to the first SERP on Google, you’re most likely to stay there for a long time and reap the rewards even after you stop paying for any SEO services.
You’ll keep getting non-stop traffic for all the SEO you did, and as long as searchers click on your links and pay for your offerings, Google will keep you close to the top.
NOTE: We don’t recommend letting go of your SEO service even after you’ve reached the top place in SERPs since it’s a constant race between you and your competitors.
You may stop paying for SEO, but your competitors on the same page won’t become so complacent. In fact, it has been our experience that the more successful an organic SEO campaign is, the more aggressive business owners become to get found for even higher conversion keywords!
Since SEO is much more than just reaching the top of the organic search results, it encompasses many more advantages that last, while PPC offers that one moment of attention where the visitor may or may not choose to click on through to your website.
This is a complex thought, but a valid one. People have tried this technique, and it works, if done right, which is again something a professional or an agency could guide you with more effectively.
These are differences that we at SEO Resellers Canada always discuss with clients asking us to help them with optimization. As honest, customer-oriented business people, we believe it’s the client’s right to know their options before they decide what they want us to do for them. Then we deliver precisely that.
Every business has a couple of goals that span industries. To grow and increase sales. With the Internet came huge opportunities for brands to market.
To advertise their products. To sell their products. To achieve this, they need to drive traffic to their websites. This SEO vs. PPC guide is to help you decide which is best for your business. Do you choose one or both?
If you don’t bother with SEO, or your efforts are second best, you’ll have to spend a fortune on paid ads to market to consumers.
I believe that SEO is the primary method. While you wait for your search engine optimization to kick in and your web pages to start ranking, use PPC to reinforce your marketing.
If you have a product launch, promo, or event, get your PPC ads live and grab some immediate attention.
Working together, SEO and PPC will get eyeballs on your content. You’ll rank higher than your competitors. You’ll boost sales.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on August 08, 2017, and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.