The Great Debate: SEO vs. PPC – Finding Your Winning Formula


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3D Isometric Flat Vector Conceptual Illustration of SEO vs PPC

3D Isometric Flat Vector Conceptual Illustration of SEO vs PPC

When it comes to generating traffic and boosting sales, search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) marketing are two of the most effective strategies you can implement.

The main focus of SEO is driving organic traffic to your website. On the other hand, PPC advertising focuses on displaying paid ads on search engine results pages (SERPs). 

(Learn more about these when you book your free SEO or PPC strategy call today!)

Each strategy has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. For instance, SEO typically demands a lesser investment compared to PPC, but the trade-off is the time it takes to manifest results. Conversely, the impact of a PPC campaign can be observed within hours! 

So, which strategy is better for your business? 

In this SEO vs. PPC comparison guide, we cover everything you need to know about both tactics, from their pros and cons to how they compare in terms of ROI and which one you should choose.

Let’s jump right into it.


Overview of SEO

Search engine optimization is the process of improving your digital footprint so that it matches the standards of search engines and the needs of consumers.

Investing in SEO increases your chances of getting discovered by your target audience when they make a search query that’s relevant to the product or service you provide. 

Four Main SEO Categories

On-page SEO

This refers to the strategic optimization of individual website elements to enhance their visibility and ranking on search engines. These elements include title tags (which define a webpage’s title), URL structures (making them easily readable and relevant), meta descriptions (which provide a brief overview of the webpage content), images (optimizing file size and alt attributes), and internal linking (creating logical connections between different pages on your site). All these efforts improve the relevancy and comprehensibility of your content for search engines, boosting your site’s search visibility.

Off-page SEO

This encompasses all external activities that boost your website’s traffic and reputation. It’s the process of earning credibility and authority from other reputable websites and platforms. Key strategies include backlinking (acquiring links from other websites pointing back to your site), brand signaling (increasing brand awareness and mentions across the web), and encouraging positive online reviews. These efforts increase your site’s reputation, which search engines consider when ranking your site.

Technical SEO

This area of SEO focuses on improving the technical aspects of a website that contribute to its ability to be crawled and indexed by search engines. This includes practices like sitemap submission (providing a map of your site structure to search engines), ensuring mobile-friendliness (optimizing your website for mobile devices), and speed optimization (reducing loading time). These efforts ensure your website is accessible, quick, and easy for search engine bots to crawl, improving your site’s visibility in search results.

Local SEO

This SEO strategy is vital for businesses that have a physical location or serve a specific geographical area. It involves optimizing your website to appear in regional search results, thereby reaching local customers. Strategies may include optimizing for local keywords, claiming and optimizing your Google My Business listing, collecting and managing local customer reviews, and implementing schema markup for local SEO. These efforts increase your visibility in local search results, helping you attract and connect with local customers.

Why Use SEO?

There are many reasons why SEO is a prominent marketing channel. For starters, SEO is all about driving organic traffic; nowadays, 53% of all website traffic is organic. On the other hand, paid traffic accounts for only 15%.

Further, unlike most other digital marketing channels, SEO is sustainable. With a paid campaign, traffic ends the moment the campaign ends. With good SEO, however, you’ll always garner traffic.

seo concept with bulb and gears

Pros of SEO

75% of digital marketers believe that SEO is an extremely effective inbound marketing strategy, and it’s not hard to see why when you consider the following factors:

1. SEO Is Cost-Effective

SEO is one of the most cost-effective forms of digital marketing. Even though SEO services require an investment, delegating your SEO needs is typically less expensive compared to conducting an extensive PPC campaign.

With PPC advertising, you pay for every click your website gets. With SEO, on the other hand, you don’t have to pay to gain visibility. You just need to create high-quality content that ranks. 

2. Builds Brand Authority

Most people view high-ranking websites as credible and trustworthy. Good SEO can help you rank higher on the SERPs, which will translate to greater credibility and domain authority.  

The higher your domain authority, the more backlinks you’re going to get from other trusted domains, creating a snowball effect that will result in exponential growth.  

3. Long-Lasting Results

The staying power of SEO is more potent than that of PPC. Once you’ve secured high rankings on Google, you’ll continue attracting consistent search traffic.

This isn’t the case with PPC, though. The moment you shut down your PPC campaign is the moment your traffic dies. So, when it comes to sustainability, SEO is the clear winner.  

4. Targets Different Funnel Stages

There are four stages to a typical sales funnel: awareness, interest, desire, and action. Content-wise, a visitor’s needs in the awareness stage are different from those of a visitor looking to take action.

The great thing about SEO is that it enables you to meet different segments of your target audience exactly where they are via different types of content. So, SEO is perfect for supplementing all four stages of your funnel.

Cons of SEO

SEO brings a lot of benefits to the table, but it needs to improve in quite a few aspects when compared to PPC. Consider the following disadvantages before spending your marketing dollars on SEO:

1. SEO Takes Time

The most notable drawback with SEO, as opposed to PPC, is that it’s a long-term game. A study by Ahrefs shows that 78% of high-ranking web pages are more than a year old.

It can take several weeks or even months before you start seeing significant results with SEO. So, if your window for making an impact via marketing is short, SEO alone won’t cut it.

Learn more about the timeline of SEO results.

2. Algorithms Change Rapidly

Google’s algorithms experience both minor and major changes over time. So, if you’re looking to stay on top of your SEO game, you’ll have to monitor and adapt to algorithm changes.

This entails optimizing your website and content on a regular basis. For instance, you might need to update old or outdated content. You should also get rid of expired links.

3. The Competition Is Fierce

The competition can be extremely fierce depending on your niche and your target keywords. After all, you’re not the only one trying to secure high SERP rankings.  

Beating the competition requires a lot of experience and know-how, which can be hard to acquire while trying to run a business. In this case, outsourcing your SEO needs may be your best bet.


Overview of PPC

PPC acronym

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is a specific type of online marketing, particularly within the realm of search engine marketing (SEM), where advertisers pay a fee for each click on their ads.

The most prevalent type of PPC ads is search ads, typically facilitated through Google’s advertising platform, as highlighted by Investopedia. These involve advertisers paying Google each time their ad is clicked. Additionally, there are social media ads where platforms such as Facebook and Instagram charge for clicks, as outlined by Social Media Examiner.

One of the main strengths of PPC, as highlighted by Search Engine Land, is its precision targeting. This ensures that the people you’re attracting are not just interested in your product or service but are also ready to engage.

The PPC model also offers extensive customizability, allowing advertisers to focus on specific demographics based on geographical location, interests, age, and more.

Furthermore, PPC’s flexibility, as highlighted by Forbes, extends to promoting specific deals or products, which is particularly beneficial for small businesses that may not have the resources to continually update their websites with new sales and promotions.

However, it’s crucial to understand that PPC, unlike SEO, does not contribute to your organic search rankings. Instead, it puts your ads directly in front of potential customers at the very moment they’re searching for a product or service that you offer.

Pros of PPC

Did you know that 65% of small to mid-sized businesses have run a PPC campaign? This can be attributed to the following benefits of the PPC model:

1. PPC Is Fast-Acting

The PPC model is much faster than the SEO model. With SEO, it can take months for you to see notable results. With PPC, you’ll notice an increase in sales in a short period of time.  

That’s not to mention that PPC is easier to master and scale than SEO. Don’t get us wrong; it’s still hard, as there are a lot of things that can go wrong. It’s just less complex than SEO.

2. Laser-Focused Targeting

The PPC model allows you to be as specific as you want with your audience targeting. You can target potential customers based on age group, marital status, interests, and more.

This granular approach to audience targeting makes PPC advertising extremely cost-effective, as it puts you on the radar of people who are actively searching for a product or service like yours.

3. High Visibility

Though a PPC advertising campaign won’t improve your organic search rankings, it will position your ads on the first search engine results page, above organic rankings.

Once your PPC campaign ends, your ads will no longer sit above organic rankings. Also, note that Google makes it quite obvious to users when the top results are paid ads.

4. Measurable and Testable

There are many traffic, conversion, and revenue-focused PPC key performance indicators (KPIs) that you can use to measure the efficiency of your campaign and the return on investment (ROI) it’s generating.

What’s more, the PPC model allows for quick experimentation. You can run A/B tests on your PPC ads to figure out which variations garner better results.

Cons of PPC

Despite offering quick results and outstanding audience targeting, the PPC model isn’t without its faults. Below are some factors to consider before investing in PPC advertising:

1. Understanding the Cost Dynamics of PPC and SEO

When weighing the costs of PPC and SEO, it’s crucial to understand that PPC advertising, while highly effective, can become a significant expenditure over time. Unlike SEO, which involves upfront investment primarily around content creation and website optimization, PPC operates on a cost-per-click (CPC) model.

With PPC, every click on your ad incurs a charge. The average CPC for search ads can hover around $2, but this figure is by no means a maximum. In industries where competition for keywords and ad placements is fierce, the CPC of a PPC campaign can skyrocket, reaching heights of $30-$40 per click.

For a small to mid-sized business operating on a tight budget, maintaining a PPC campaign at such costs can quickly become unsustainable. Conversely, once the initial investments are made, SEO can continue to drive traffic over time without the need for constant financial input.

However, it’s essential to remember that each has its unique advantages, and the best strategy often involves a balanced combination of both PPC and SEO.

2. Clicks Don’t Equal Sales

A PPC campaign can help drive a lot of traffic to your website in a short period of time. That doesn’t mean every click will convert, though. Your product or service must provide value to convert clicks into sales.

On top of that, your website needs to be well-designed, user-friendly, and trustworthy. Your sales copies need to be on point, and you need to display testimonials and take reviews seriously.

3. You Must Keep Paying

While SEO is a long-term game that ensures a consistent flow of organic traffic for a long time, PPC advertising is reliant on your budget and offers short-term wins.

The moment your budget dries up is the moment your PPC wins will come to an end. That’s not to mention that you might lose some money in the beginning while trying to optimize your ads.


SEO vs. PPC: Which Strategy Is Better?

SEO vs. PPC - Which is better?

Having read the pros and cons of SEO and PPC, you’re probably wondering which strategy is best suited for your business. Unfortunately, there isn’t a straightforward answer here.

Both SEO and PPC are effective sources of traffic, and we champion using the two together. That said, there are situations in which one strategy may offer better results than the other.

When to Use SEO

Here are some situations in which SEO may be better than PPC:

1. Establishing High Authority

If your goal is to become a credible source of information within a particular niche, a well-designed SEO strategy that’s centered around high-quality content is the way to go.

Increasing website authority is all about sustainable traffic generation, and the best way to sustainably generate traffic to your website is through effective search engine optimization.

2. Creating TOFU Content

If you’re currently creating top-of-the-funnel (TOFU) content or targeting informational keywords that aim to educate, there’s no point in running PPC ads at this stage.

TOFU/informational content doesn’t convert very well, so the return on your investment will be low if you decide to invest in PPC ads. In this case, SEO is the better option.

3. Attracting Consistent Traffic

Though getting to the first results page on Google can take a lot of time and effort, once you get there, you can expect long-term benefits such as sustained traffic and high domain authority.

A smart SEO campaign is the only way to climb your way up the SERPs ladder and increase your organic traffic. Running PPC ads won’t affect your organic rankings and traffic.

4. Running on a Low Budget

If your goal is to improve your brand awareness but you don’t have the budget to run paid ads, creating high-value content and sticking to a smart SEO strategy is your best option.

This is especially the case if you’re a small to mid-sized business trying to make it in a hyper-competitive industry where the cost per click of PPC ads is really high.

When to Use PPC

Here are some situations in which PPC may be better than SEO:

1. Seeking Immediate Results

As we’ve mentioned earlier, the PPC model delivers results much faster than the SEO model. As soon as your PPC campaign is approved, you should start noticing more traffic within hours or even minutes!

With that in mind, if your window for making an impact is short, opt for PPC. Note also that it works nicely with squeeze pages, seasonal promotions, product launches, and event-focused marketing.

2. Highly Targeted Traffic

If you’re looking to narrow down potential customers based on demographic data such as age group, interests, education, gender, income bracket, and marital status, invest in PPC advertising.

Keep in mind that the PPC model isn’t limited to search ads. You can run paid social media ads on platforms like Facebook and Instagram as well, which can widen your reach significantly.

3. Promoting Commercial Content

If your site isn’t content-rich or designed with SEO in mind, chances are you’re trying to promote product pages, landing pages, and other types of commercial content.

The thing about commercial content is that it doesn’t garner a lot of backlinks and doesn’t rank high on the SERPs. PPC advertising can help your commercial content garner more visibility.

4. Maximizing Visibility

If you’re trying to get your name out there and increase your brand awareness, PPC advertising can be of great help. After all, it will help situate you above organic rankings on the SERPs.

Keep in mind, however, that the messaging of PPC campaigns can become stale and lose its effectiveness after a while. So, you’ll need to constantly refresh elements such as images, copy, and headlines to maximize ad potential.


Strategize Your SEO and PPC

It’s safe to say that SEO and PPC are both effective in their own right. Choosing one strategy over the other boils down to your business situation and needs.

If you’re looking for quick results and high visibility, PPC is your best bet. On the other hand, if you’re looking to increase your authority and garner consistent organic traffic, SEO is the ultimate strategy.

If you have the resources, we recommend combining SEO and PPC to get the best of both worlds. You can use PPC to get your name out there and increase brand awareness.

Then, you can utilize SEO to increase your organic traffic. And as your organic traffic continues to grow, you can gradually reduce your use of PPC advertising.

Need help with your marketing strategy? Book your free strategy call today.

About the Author

Sam Romain

Sam Romain

Digital marketing expert, data interpreter, and adventurous entrepreneur empowering businesses while fearlessly embracing the wild frontiers of fatherhood and community engagement.

Sam Romain

Sam Romain

Digital marketing expert, data interpreter, and adventurous entrepreneur empowering businesses while fearlessly embracing the wild frontiers of fatherhood and community engagement.

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