SEO vs. PPC, Which One Is For Me

Clients ask about SEO vs. PPC, which is better. Like so many things, the answer depends. Before we look at the question, let’s be sure we are on the same page regarding what SEO and PPC are.

SEO Definition

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, refers to the activity focused on getting a web page to show up on search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo!, or Ask.

Actions such as changing the content on a page or creating new pages are typically referred to as “on page” optimization. These activities attempt to align the page content with the phrases people use when searching for the subject matter of your page.

Then there is ‘technical optimization.’ There are several aspects to this, but the most frequently addressed is site speed. Site owners also have to be sure nothing is taking place that inhibits the search engines from getting to the site and indexing the pages. Each site is unique, and the focus of ‘technical optimization’ will adjust accordingly.

Once the core of on page and technical optimization are addressed (they always need to be monitored and adjusted), SEO then focuses on off-page SEO.

Off-Page SEO are the activities related to having other websites create links to your pages. Off-Page SEO involves outreach to webmasters of other sites for links within current content, writing guest posts for other sites, making topic recommendations to other sites, and developing web 2.0 / social links. The bulk of activity and the greatest impact (assuming no on-site issues), comes from the off-page activity.

PPC Definition

PPC, or Pay Per Click, as the name says, is paid advertising. In PPC, your ads are shown to people on a website, and you pay only if a person clicks on the ad and comes to your site. While there are many media channels or sites with a PPC ad model, when people talk about PPC, they are usually referring to advertising on search engines like Google, Bing, or Yahoo!. This is the focus of our discussion.

PPC on search engines involves creating groups of keywords that are related to a product or service and creating ads that appear when a user searches for one of those keywords. These are called ad groups. The keywords should be closely connected so that the ad simultaneously relates to all keywords in the group. Depending on the product or service, there can be dozens, hundreds or even thousands of ad groups.

PPC advertising, when properly implemented, also extends to the page that users see when they click on an ad. The page should be closely tied to the keywords in the ad group. PPC marketers optimize the PPC program to an action or conversion event on the site. The form submits, document download, email signup, product purchase are all types of conversions.

Now, which is the way to go, SEO or PPC

Keep in mind that SEO and PPC are not mutually exclusive activities from a technical perspective, though budgets may force a decision.

Each channel has benefits and drawbacks. When considering the priority of PPC vs SEO, some things to consider:

Objectives, are they short term or long term
SEO takes time. Results of activity may be 3+ months from the start of the effort, and maximum results will take longer to build.
PPC can be up and running quickly. Well structure PPC campaigns can be launched within weeks. Down and dirty implementations can take place in days.

Sustainability of budgets
PPC programs can be adjusted quickly to budget fluctuations. The impact is short term.
SEO requires ongoing effort. Pausing or reducing a program’s resources can set it back significantly.

Degree of certainty
PPC allows for a very close connection between activity or budget with your outcomes. When properly setup, the tracking ties spend to goals closely.

SEO activity shows up in overall lift of site or page traffic as well as improvement in keyword ranking or position in search engines. However, there can be no guarantee (be wary of absolute “top of page” promises). SEO is susceptible to competitor activity as well as changes implemented by the search engines.

If budgets force a choice between PPC and SEO

When we discuss budget allocations with clients and the place that SEO or PPC take, we will look consumer activity related to the business as well as the above factors.

For products or services that are sought nearly year round, and for which our client has long term plans, we typically recommend SEO to build up the organic search presence. For high volume or high-value seasonal items, SEO can also play a substantial role (remember the foundation for organic results is set months in advance). SEO remains the long game of digital marketing.

For product or services that spike, or for which the organic landscape is so competitive as to make it too challenging to break into page one rankings, PPC may become the medium of choice.

PPC and SEO, a 1-2 punch

As mentioned at the start, SEO and PPC are not mutually exclusive. We run programs that target the same products and services with both. With most goods or services, there is a pattern of shopping behavior that influences where individuals click, organic results or paid ads.

Based on the state of searc roundup from MOZ, organic search still generates the most clicks. However, each company needs to consider its customer, shopping cycle, and short vs. long term objectives.

Today, people are doing more research. Even on a small purchase, the habit of using search engines for research is strong. This lends strength to and SEO implementation.

The argument for a concurrent PPC program is the increase in mobile usage. With the smaller screen, the paid ads (PPC) consume a disproportionate amount of screen space. It is also telling that Google is pushing site owners to make their sites mobile-friendly, and changing the AdWords ad layout to be geared toward mobile.

SEO or PPC: It depends

I say this often, and I see on my clients’ faces a reluctant understanding. The answer to SEO vs. PPC is not always a simple calculation. There are opportunity costs with going one way versus the other. But, the first step is working with senior management to address the three elements of objectives, sustainable budgets, and required degree of certainty

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