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SEO vs. PPC: How to determine which to invest in for your business

10 min

If you find yourself caught in a dilemma choosing between SEO and PPC for your marketing campaign, you’re not alone. 

Digital marketers working across different domains and industries are often faced with a choice between these two approaches. Both ultimately aim to improve your brand’s online visibility, bring in more traffic, and boost sales. But which is the right choice for your business?

Before we delve into a comparison of SEO vs. PPC, let’s find out what exactly they do and look at the pros and cons of both.

SEO statistics for 2019/2020.
Source: HEY Digital

What is SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of your website and web pages and helping them rank higher in a search engine’s organic results. So, when you use SEO you increase the chances of your target customers finding your business when they search for keywords related to your products or services. The higher the ranking, the better the chances of your website being found.

Most businesses concentrate on improving their rankings on Google’s organic search results. This is hardly a surprise because Google controls over 92% of the global search engine market share. While being aware of multiple search engine algorithms is important, focusing on Google is a strong digital marketing strategy.

But how does SEO actually help your rankings and what are some of its benefits?

SEO advantages

SEO is more cost-effective long-term

You can choose to do a large part of your SEO using paid tools like Ahrefs or Moz or use free tools like Google Search Console. Even if you do invest in an SEO tool, it works out cheaper than PPC marketing in the long run. The SEO model is such that when you create content that ranks on search engine results pages, it drives organic traffic to your website. So, you don’t have to continue to spend money to make your target customers see your content.

Unlike a PPC campaign which requires you to pay per click, when a customer clicks through to your website as a result of your SEO, this comes at zero cost. So ultimately you get a better SEO return on investment. This is particularly helpful for small businesses and start-ups that might struggle to invest in PPC campaigns due to small budgets.

Organic traffic is more sustainable

An estimated 70% of digital marketers consider SEO more effective than PPC. This is because organic traffic generated from SEO has been found to be more sustainable in the long run than traffic from paid ads. Once you rank high in search engines’ results your website will continue to receive traffic regardless of its volume.

However, with a PPC campaign, your website traffic will only be as good as your budget. You might get immediate results, but the moment you stop paying, your ad stops being displayed and – stops being visible. This is also true for social media marketing where most engagement is through paid marketing. When you stop paying, your engagement levels plummet.

This is why marketers prefer SEO strategies as long-term and scalable solutions.

Image showing the difference between organic and paid results in the search engine results.
Source: BlowfishSEO

SEO targets customers across your sales funnel

One of the biggest benefits of SEO is that it lets you target customers at various stages of your sales funnel with different landing pages or content. Typically, you’ll find different customers engaging at different stages of the sales funnel. Some may be towards the top of the funnel and just starting to get acquainted with your brand while others may be at the bottom of the funnel, ready to complete a sale.

SEO lets you target these different customers by creating customized content like guides, blogs, and case studies. The varied content type is directly aimed at addressing a customer’s needs at specific points in their sales journey. This level of streamlined targeting is not possible with PPC, whereas SEO tools help you focus on which keywords convert at different funnel points.

Editor’s note

Technically, you could use PPC campaigns to distribute content to your audience at different stages of their sales journey. However, most companies don’t invest nearly enough in top-of-the-funnel and middle-of-the-funnel campaigns. Instead, they focus mostly on the bottom-of-the-funnel campaigns, i.e. those that are most likely to result in an instant conversion.

Now let’s consider some of the limitations of SEO.

SEO disadvantages

SEO takes time

Before you launch your SEO campaign, you should be prepared to be patient. Don’t expect to see results overnight. This is especially true if your domain is new. In fact, according to a recent report you can expect to see results from your SEO strategy between 6 to 12 months. This is because there are a lot of factors that Google takes into account for ranking websites.

Some of these include the quality of your website content and the number of backlinks it has. This brings us to the second limitation of SEO…

SEO requires high-quality content

For content to be engaging and shareable, it has to be of high quality and provide value to the user. For example, if a person wants to research SaaS linkbuilding strategies, they’re obviously looking for very specific guidance. If potential customers click on your website after searching for relevant keywords and instead find a post on your company’s SaaS products, it won’t answer their original question. So, it’s unlikely that they’ll want to share your content.

In fact, chances are they’ll bounce from your web page very early. High bounce rates again can prompt Google to downrank your website. So you’re better off avoiding that situation. This is in fact one of the SEO mistakes to be avoided at all costs.

Creating high-quality content requires domain knowledge and expertise that you may or not have at your disposal in-house. In this case, you’d have to outsource your content writing to subject matter experts or SEO services which can become an expensive affair. Again, this is particularly limiting for small and medium companies without large marketing budgets. If you do, however, decide to create content in-house, you’ll benefit from using tools like SurferSEO to plan and optimize your content creation processes.

70% of businesses say that SEO generates more sales than PPC.
Source: FinancesOnline

Related: What Is the Cost of B2B Content Writing?

Let’s move on to PPC.

What is PPC?

PPC or Pay-per-Click is an online advertising model where you pay for each ad click to your website. One of the most common examples of PPC is Google Ads. Nowadays more and more social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram are using PPC as their primary advertising model.

With PPC advertising, advertisers pay publishers like Google only when users click on their ads. This means with PPC advertising, businesses are able to attract users who are already interested in their products and services and are therefore already in the sales funnel.

The cost of a PPC ad campaign varies across different industries and depends on the popularity of the keywords you’re trying to rank for. For the most part, PPC lets you get visibility in front of your target customers especially if you’re a new business and don’t have enough domain authority to get organic traffic to your website.

So what are some of the pros of PPC?

PPC advantages

PPC gives fast results

One of the best arguments in favor of PPCs, as opposed to SEO, is that they give fast results. For example – if your company develops apps, you could launch a PPC campaign on app retention today and start seeing results from your paid search ads in just a few hours. This is an obvious advantage over SEO which takes much longer to have any real effect.

PPC ads appear before organic rankings

Paid search advertising appears at the top of search engine results. Even before organic search results. So a customer searching for the best gardening tools in their area would first see the paid ads for these keywords.

Image showing the percentage of business that outsource SEO and those that have SEO resources in-house.
Source: FinancesOnline
Editor’s note

This is one of the most important reasons why companies invest in PPC ads – even bidding on their own brand terms. While it might sound counterintuitive, you have to keep in mind that your competitors will likely compete with you even for your own brand terms. That’s why even if your page ranks #1 for your brand name, you’ll likely also want to invest in a PPC campaign that’ll appear above the organic results so that your competitor doesn’t ‘steal’ your potential customers with their ads.

Related: Are Google ads worth it?

PPC advertising lets you streamline your target audience

With PPC campaigns you can literally pinpoint your target audience. From local searches to age, marital status, gender, and more, you can ensure your search advertising reaches them. This is a great way to avoid wasting time on groups of people who you know aren’t the right fit for your product or service.

Moving on to the disadvantages of PPC.

PPC disadvantages

PPC is expensive

One of the biggest drawbacks of PPC is that it can become increasingly expensive over time. Basically, without money, you can’t run a PPC campaign and each time a user clicks on your ad, you have to pay. So, while you’ll be bringing in search traffic, the rate could be as high as $40 per click. This can become prohibitively expensive in the long run and unsustainable.

PPC ads can get stale

PPC Ads run the all-too-common risk of ad blindness. You need to constantly refresh your content and visual product ads to make sure they’re interesting. After all, users skip ads they’ve seen too often! So if you’re running a PPC campaign for virtual numbers you need to make sure your ad copy has a significant edge over your competitors to be noticed.

So now the final question is –  what’s better for your business? SEO or PPC?

SEO vs. PPC which one you should choose

Comparing SEO and PPC is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. Both apples and oranges are two types of fruit with different nutritional benefits. Similarly, both SEO and PPC are marketing tools with different sets of benefits and limitations.

Most digital marketing gurus suggest employing a combination of SEO and PPC to boost your marketing campaigns. While a paid ad may be particularly useful if you’re introducing a first-of-its-kind product or service or running a limited-time offer, SEO is a long-term process and useful to businesses that don’t have such a large marketing budget.

Image showing paid vs natural click distribution.
Source: Rankpay
Editor’s note

At GetResponse, we recommend that you use both PPC and SEO. That’s the approach that we’ve chosen for ourselves and would recommend to anyone.

SEO vs. PPC or should we say, both?

In this article, we’ve looked at SEO and PPC and discussed the merits and limitations of both models. At the end of the day, you have to do your own, due diligence to understand the unique needs of your business and how best to market your brand. So whether it’s a guide on How to run Facebook Ads, a tutorial on Google Ads and keyword and conversion data, or the best practices to boost your SEO, do your research to see which of these models – SEO or PPC, or a combination of both – is right for your business.

SEO vs. PPC is one of many debates in the digital marketing world. From the effectiveness of influencer marketing to business process automation, opinions differ on most topics. So what’s a marketing trend that you don’t really see the point of but everyone seems to love or the other way around? Let us know!

Nick Brown
Nick Brown
Nick Brown is the founder & CEO of accelerate, a SaaS Marketing and SEO agency. Nick has launched several successful online businesses, writes for Forbes, published a book and has grown accelerate from a UK based agency to a company that now operates across US, APAC and EMEA.