SEO vs PPC – Which is Right for Your Business?
SEO and PPC are well-known abbreviations commonly used in digital marketing. SEO stands for ‘search engine optimisation’ and refers to everything that contributes toward gaining greater visibility and prominence in the organic search results. PPC stands for ‘pay per click’ which refers to digital advertising wherein the advertiser pays each time one of their advertisements are clicked.
Search engine optimisation is focused on the organic search results returned in response to submitted search queries. A huge range of optimisation strategies and tactics are employed including detailed technical enhancement, site design and architecture optimisation, content creation and optimisation along with promotion and link acquisition. Gaining higher rankings for relevant search queries is generally the desired aim of search engine optimisation. Ranking prominently means that more people will see and visit your site pages and clicks from the organic search results are entirely free. If you are engaged in e-commerce, SEO will bring more converting customers to your online store.
Pay per click advertising presents adverts in response to submitted queries. When using Google these paid advertisements are often presented above and to the side of the organic search results. The advertiser is charged every time someone clicks on one of their ads and visits the associated landing page. Google Ads, previously known as Google Adwords, is probably the best-known PPC programme, but Bing offers a very similar advertising platform and social media platforms offer their own PPC advertising programmes.
Before examining and comparing the pros and cons of each approach its worth reviewing the key considerations to bear in mind.
As noted, clicks from the organic search results are entirely free, whereas clicks from PPC advertisements can be very costly. This indicates that establishing and retaining a high level of organic search prominence will deliver traffic at a lower cost than driving the same traffic from PPC. But gaining high rankings, especially in very competitive search spaces, takes time and investment. Whereas PPC can potentially start to deliver valuable, converting traffic from day one.
As noted, gaining prominence in the organic search results does not happen overnight. It takes time to carry out the optimisation and promotion necessary to compete with other highly optimal websites. Whereas, by paying the right price for clicks, PPC will immediately start to deliver valuable visitors to a website.
PPC advertising is typically used to present advertisements to people who are ready to make a purchase. Targeted keywords would be terms that are commonly used when someone has already worked their way along the buyer journey and they are seeking a specific purchase opportunity. Search engine optimisation aims to target people at every stage of the buyer journey, from engagement to education, then research and evaluation before reaching justification and finally purchase. When a visitor comes to a site from organic search making a purchase may not be their primary objective.
Scaling up a PPC campaign is relatively simple. Increasing the allocated budget, expanding the range of targeted keywords and designing relevant advertisements and landing pages is all that’s required. Whereas scaling up an SEO campaign is more complex involving significant website and content development in order to expand the volume of indexed content and keywords.
To make the most of both SEO and PPC requires expertise and experience. It is generally agreed that it is easier to learn PPC than it is to learn SEO. SEO is a huge topic involving everything from detailed technical web server optimisation to web coding and promotional skills. But although PPC is easier to learn there is still a significant learning curve and each PPC programme has its own interface which can be bewildering to novices. Progress in both SEO and PPC is most efficiently and effectively achieved based upon experience.
Web Traffic Channels – Strengths and Weaknesses
SEO and PPC are fundamentally intended to drive more traffic to a website. These two primary traffic-driving channels have their respective strengths and weaknesses and in the context of PPC, there are various programmes, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses. Here’s a brief examination of just some of the most important pros and cons.
As noted, clicks from the organic search results are entirely free, but gaining prominence in the organic search results, especially for valuable search queries for which there is a high level of ranking competition, is difficult. Achieving these desired rankings takes time, planning and effort, which can be costly.
Gaining great rankings and deriving valuable visits from organic search is only part of the SEO challenge. Retaining search engine prominence over time can be very difficult. Google is continuously refining their search ranking algorithms and these changes can sometimes have a detrimental impact on rankings. And as noted, there are always competing websites also engaged in search engine optimisation, keen to achieve the same level of success. Retaining top rankings requires continuous, ongoing SEO which has an associated cost.
Another important point is that SEO takes time. While a lot of work may be carried out up-front in an SEO campaign to resolve issues, implement technical optimisations and embark on content and promotional strategies, all of these efforts take time to carry out and then even more time is needed for Google to detect and evaluate the changes. SEO is not ideal for quick results, but it’s great for achieving longer-term results.
Another important aspect of SEO that’s been mentioned is that, through SEO, audiences can be effectively targeted throughout every stage of the buyer journey. By conducting effective keyword research to identify the queries used by people at every stage and then presenting content that’s optimal for their search-intentions throughout the journey, prospective customers can be made aware of a brand way before they are ready to make a purchase.
Retaining top rankings is challenging but effective. Ongoing SEO will result in continuous, high-quality organic search traffic making SEO a very sustainable approach.
SEO will, over time, deliver a great return on investment (ROI). While the initial costs can be high, especially if major technical or site development issues need to be resolved, over medium to long-term SEO will deliver the best ROI.
Popular search engine based pay-per-click platforms include Google Ads (AdWords) and Bing Ads.
The primary, main advantage of using PPC on Google or Bing is that you can immediately see valuable traffic coming to your site from your advertisements. By targeting keywords that indicate buying-intent, presenting enticing advertisements and engaging visitors with the right landing pages you can immediately gain valuable conversions.
This means that websites with little or no brand equity can effectively compete with established, recognised brands.
One of the main issues with PPC is the cost. While it’s entirely possible to compete with established brands the cost-per-click (CPC) for some highly popular keywords can be extremely high which can expend a daily PPC budget very quickly.
But having complete control over your advertising expenditure makes PPC very cost-effective, as long as campaigns are optimally configured and managed.
PPC targeting is also very advantageous. Audiences can be selected based upon attributes including demographics, geo-location, language, time of day or device used. This helps ensure that advertising campaigns deliver what’s required.
Both the Google Ads and Bing Ads platforms provide detailed insight that offers real-time feedback on your return-on-investment. You can quickly see what’s working, where it’s working and importantly, what’s not working and where money is being spent ineffectively.
It’s important to note that PPC is not a ‘fire and forget’ weapon. You can’t simply set up your PPC campaign and expect it to run successfully without attention. Time, knowledge and experience are needed in order to optimise advertisements and hone campaigns to deliver exactly what’s required.
The term ‘social PPC’ refers to paid digital advertising on various social platforms. Much like the PPC advertisements presented by Google Ads in the Google search results and Bing Ads in the Bing search results, social PPC ads typically appear in a social platform users ‘feed’ or ‘timeline’.
Social PPC differs from search-based PPC primarily regarding audience targeting criteria. Social PPC may, for example, offer targeting based upon user-behaviour, how they use social media and who the user follows. Social PPC supports scalability via lookalike audiences wherein the social platform will identify additional groups of users who share attributes or look like a defined group.
Social PPC can be effectively used to build a social audience, which would otherwise take time to achieve organically. It’s also effectively used to drive traffic and conversions on a website. But social PPC is increasingly used to raise awareness, much in the same way that display advertising is used. Good examples are the social PPC campaigns used by political parties, candidates and causes. It’s valuable to consider social PPC as an awareness-raising channel, targeting people early in the customer journey contributing to improved conversion rates further along the journey.
Facebook users may see Facebook ads on their news feed or in the right-hand sidebar. It’s important to ensure that Facebook ads are fully responsive so that they render beautifully from mobile devices as over 95% of users access Facebook from their mobile devices.
A key advantage of Facebook advertising is the sheer size of the Facebook audience. Targeting, segmentation and testing will refine campaigns to make them most effective.
Another important advantage of Facebook advertising is the low cost. Facebook advertising costs are measured on a cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-thousand impressions (CPM) basis.
This chart demonstrates how much cheaper it is to gain a click from Facebook advertising than from other social platforms.
With over 300 million active monthly users Twitter is another powerful social platform with the potential to reach a large audience. The Twitter advertising platform is still relatively new and has not yet developed the refinements available from Facebook ads or Google ads. An important advantage of Twitter ads is that you can define the objective of your advertising and you only pay if a user performs that action. So if you run a campaign to expand your Twitter followers you only pay if someone clicks on your ‘follow’ button. Another key attribute of the Twitter ads platform is that it allows you to specifically target users based upon keywords and common interests.
The Instagram monthly user base exceeds 800 million, 67% of them are aged between 18 and 34 and one in five Instagram users are under 18. The same level of detailed audience targeting options is available from Instagram as are available from Facebook. A key advantage of the Instagram system is that the advertisement formatting means that potential customer only needs to click once to reach a sales page. This makes the platform a driver of sales, especially to younger age groups.
LinkedIn provides another social PPC opportunity. The platform has over 500 million worldwide members and around 260 million log in every month. Around 40% of the monthly user’s login every day. An important aspect of the LinkedIn audience is that it primarily consists of professional people. The audience targeting refinements are similar to those available from Facebook and advertisers pay for clicks or impressions. By far the biggest issue with LinkedIn PPC advertising is the cost.
Timing – Which Approach to Use and When
As noted, PPC advertising, via search engines or via social media platforms, can deliver immediate results. Whereas SEO takes time. This is an important consideration when planning a multi-channel digital marketing campaign.
PPC advertising via Google ads (or Bing ads) is the right choice when immediate results are required. This makes it ideal for product launches and promotions, event promotions, time-sensitive offers, special offers and wherever immediate returns are required.
PPC advertising is also ideal when highly targeted traffic is desired. Google ads and Bing ads can be targeted based on various audience attributes and social PPC platforms offer even higher levels of targeting granularity.
Importantly, PPC is particularly valuable when a website has not yet been optimised for search. Effective SEO takes time to achieve sustainable results but businesses can’t simply wait until they are at the top of the search results. This is where PPC advertising is particularly useful. By establishing and refining active PPC campaigns businesses can derive valuable revenue from digital marketing while search engine optimisation is carried out to gain top organic search rankings.
Benefits of Combined PPC & SEO
It is noteworthy that the negative aspects of using either PPC or SEO in isolation are almost removed completely when both approaches are used simultaneously. PPC can be relatively costly, but SEO traffic is cheap. SEO can be slow to deliver results whereas PPC can be very fast. PPC can be highly targeted whereas SEO is naturally untargeted.
By using both PPC and SEO together businesses will achieve greater results than would be gained by using them individually.
There is much that can be learned from PPC campaigns that can then beneficially inform aspects of the SEO campaign. For example, identifying valuable converting keywords which can be targeted through SEO. Similarly, elements from PPC advertisements which are driving leads and sales can be employed in SEO landing pages and site content.
High cost, valuable PPC keywords can be prioritised via SEO to gain rankings and therefore reduce the need for advertising.
By using both PPC and SEO it’s possible to dominate the search results. Search users will potentially see only links and advertisements from your website at the top of the results.
Social PPC campaigns have the potential to identify and reach highly specific audiences. Having identified a valuable group of people using PPC, onsite content and SEO can be employed to reach these people from the organic search results.
A question that is often asked is whether PPC advertising should be stopped when SEO success has been achieved. The three main considerations are:
- Will your visibility be maintained? – Remember, depending on the match type used in Google Ads, it is not just the terms your targeting where your ads will be appearing and potentially driving conversions. If you stop PPC, would you still have the same overall visibility? Likewise, organic rankings will do nothing to replace display advertising on social or 3rd party sites.
- Do the paid campaigns generate an acceptable return on investment? – If the paid campaigns are producing a positive and acceptable return, there may be little need to stop the ads running, unless you are concerned that the paid campaigns are cannibalising organic conversions
- Can the business’ cashflow sustain the ad spend? – For products/services with a higher lag time between enquiry and a sale closing, it may be more difficult to fund the ad spend, even if it is generating a positive ROI
Overall, running both PPC and SEO campaigns simultaneously often provides higher overall conversions, as well as providing resilience, mitigating the risk of either channel failing to deliver desired results.
Search engine optimisation and pay-per-click advertising each have their advantages and disadvantages but importantly, they work extremely well in combination. Social PPC is evolving and offers some great opportunities, often at very low cost. Using multiple traffic-driving channels mitigates the risk of traffic deterioration and the serious impact this can have on a business.