The question of whether SEO or PPC is better for your marketing and for your business has been around since before I can remember. The debate has been like a seesaw for many years.
Sometimes SEO is at the forefront of online marketing, other times it’s PPC and, of course, don’t forget the power of social media…. But I’ll save that for another time.
Before I get into this article, I think it’s necessary to preface it by saying that both these marketing channels are effective in their own way, but your website is what ultimately sells.
SEO and PPC simply get visitors through the door. Without a properly optimised, user friendly, aesthetically pleasing website, both of these marketing tactics could be rendered useless.
Let’s look at a brief history of each.
The History of SEO
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) likely started in the early 90’s, before Google had even been created. Some of the earlier search engines, like Ask Jeeves and Yahoo, dominated the market.
Remember this guy!
Although the concept has remained fairly consistent, the earlier algorithms used to determine which pages ranked successfully were based upon on-page optimisation. With Yahoo, website owners had to submit their websites for indexing. Without being indexed first, websites would not appear in their search engine.
Until…. In steps Google.
Google changed the game. Google decided they’d had enough of poor content being shown to its users and strived to ensure that websites would be ranked based on their popularity.
However, in those days popularity was predominantly determined by how many people were linking to your website. Google thought that if lots of people were linking to you, then you must be popular and so its users would want to see your content.
There was once a point in time when the number of backlinks was all that mattered.
Now we reach 2019. Some say that backlinks are still the most important factor for your website ranking. Perhaps. But one thing that is definitely true is that the quality of the backlinks to your website is one of the most important ranking factors.
For example, a single link from a high authority website like forbes.com is much more valuable than 50 links from low authority websites. In addition, the relevance of another website is equally as important.
If you have a link from a high authority website in your niche, it’s considered much more valuable than a link from a similar authority website in a complete different niche.
In today’s world of SEO, we are all focused on User Experience. User experience is the current gold standard of SEO. Of course, keywords and on page optimisation will always be important, but with Google’s ability to track so much user behaviour, it is becoming much easier for them to understand which websites are popular.
So now, let’s take a brief look at the history of PPC.
The History of PPC
Pay Per Click (PPC) is a system used by many marketers and brands that enables them to pay a fee to Google every time a user clicks on their advertisement.
Before I started researching this topic, I didn’t think I’d have to go all the way back to 1996. I was 7, and the Sega MegaDrive was still hot!
But the first concept of PPC originated in 1996 with a web directory called Oasis Planet. People were skeptical of the concept at first, but by 1997 over 400 major brands were using this service at a measly cost of $0.005 to $0.25 per click.
Ah, the good old days.
In the year 2000 Google introduced AdWords, an advertising channel where users could bid on keywords using a CPM model. Cost Per Mile simply means you pay a fee for every 1000 times your ad is seen.
It wasn’t until 2002 that Google eventually introduced PPC as their advertising model.
In 2003 they announced AdSense, which allowed users to serve the right type of ads to the right type of customers.
However, in 2005 they found that click fraud was becoming a problem. Essentially, users would repeatedly click on ads in order to generate revenue for the host company, or increase costs for the advertising company.
So, they released Google Analytics. Google Analytics allowed advertisers to track their advertising campaigns and determine how successful they really are.
Fast-forward to 2013 and Google employed Dynamic Remarketing for E-commerce sites, allowing those sites to remarket products to people based on what they’d recently viewed.
In 2014 they introduced conversion tracking. This allowed advertisers to track factors such as phone calls made directly from ads, contact form submissions and e-commerce transactions, allowing for improved ad optimisation.
In 2019, the Search Engine Journal concludes that PPC will be focused on audiences rather than keywords, on automation plus human intelligence, as well as on known unknowns (or, in other words, we know stuff is coming, we’re just not sure what).
Should You Do SEO or PPC?
Both SEO and PPC have their benefits and flaws. SEO is a slow and gradual process. If you’ve ever read the book ‘Unshakeable’ by Tony Robbins, you’ll understand the benefits of compound interest. SEO is just that, it’s investing small amounts every month for a long period of time with marginal gain. But after 10 years of investment, you’re left with a pot of gold.
PPC, on the other hand, is day trading. You invest large sums with the intention of making your money back in quick succession. The more you invest, the bigger the returns and, potentially, the losses.
I think the best way to determine whether you should use SEO or PPC is to compare their strengths and weaknesses side by side. This way you can decide which works best for your marketing objectives and your budget.
To do this, I’ve cultivated a list of factors that might influence your decision on which marketing channel is better.
Which will boost website traffic more?
Both SEO and PPC are great for increasing website traffic. The more visitors you drive to your website, the more likely you are to convert them into customers. However, depending on the age of your website, SEO can take a long time (6-12 months) to generate organic website traffic. Whereas PPC can increase website traffic instantly.
The amount of website traffic you want to generate can also influence which method best suits your business. For example, a small local electrician, with low level competition, may benefit from some SEO work in order to generate more leads.
Let’s say that 200 people are searching for a local electrician. If 30% of those clicks go to the first ranked position, that’s 60 visits a month and, with a good conversion rate, maybe 30 phone calls. For a single electrician that could be all that’s required.
On the other hand, a new e-commerce business with high competition will find it almost impossible to rank in the organic listings, so PPC could be the only way to generate traffic from Google.
The big difference between these two comes down to the click through rate (the number of clicks per ad impression). Going back to our local electrician example, with an average CTR on paid ads being 3.7%, that results in a total of 7 clicks. You then have to factor in the website conversion rate (number of users that call or email). Although the cost per click (CPC) is likely very low, the overall traffic volume wouldn’t be enough to warrant relying solely on PPC in this scenario.
Which will increase your brand awareness more? This may seem like a strange question and something that baffled me a little too.
“Surely, if people see my brand, whether it be an Ad or in the SERP’s, it’s equally the same?”
A lot of SEO is based on content marketing. The purpose of content marketing, like this article, is to provide value to people. Not only that, but the more questions you answer, and value you bring to the world, the more likely you are to be seen as an authority.
If a user types a question into Google “How to bleach your hair?” and an article from a hairdresser comes up first, providing lots of guidance and information, people will instantly associate that article with that brand.
For instance, this article that currently displays first in Google’s search results from Vogue. Not only am I going to receive awareness through organic clicks, but by ranking highly bloggers and other sites are likely to rank to my article, creating more brand awareness.
PPC is most often used for sales pages or service pages. Having said that, I do believe that content advertising will become an increasingly popular strategy. Content advertising is the practice of using paid distribution channels to promote your content. It’s already a popular activity on social media, but it will likely increase using PPC as well.
Which is the more sustainable?
When it comes to sustainability, unless you can constantly make great ROI’s (returns on your investments) on your PPC campaigns, SEO will always deliver the best long term results.
The thing with PPC is that in order to make a great ROI, not only do your ads have to be well placed, but the Conversion Rate on page has to be excellent too. However, PPC does enable you to more easily adapt, to turn on and off campaigns, to laser target users by keywords, location, time of day and much more.
Long-term, SEO wins hands down. The reason being is that once you start ranking pages at the top of Google, they can become pretty difficult to knock off. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but the amount of work required to keep them there is much less than the amount it takes to get them there.
The best way to keep your blog posts ranking is to recycle them. Once you have a good ranking piece of content or page, ensure that you continually add to it. That way, you can not only keep it there, but you can rank for additional keywords that you weren’t ranking for previously.
In his article about Updating Old Content, Neil Patel discusses how it’s much easier to rank old content for more keywords than it is to write completely new content, especially if that content is already ranking.
Tim Soulo at Ahrefs decided to make minor changes to one of his articles, only to see an uplift of 468% in traffic.
Return on Investment
Which will provide the biggest ROI?
Ultimately, when you’re looking to undertake any kind of marketing campaign or strategy, the end result comes down to ROI.
The first question is, can you make a positive ROI?
If the answer is yes, the second question should be how can you increase your ROI?
As mentioned previously, SEO is a long term investment. The benefits of SEO are most likely to mature after 6-12 months. That’s not to say that you will never see short term results, but business owners shouldn’t rely on this method to generate immediate profits. In the long term, SEO is likely to yield a longer lasting ROI.
PPC can definitely produce immediate results and begin driving traffic to your website within hours of setting up. It can also be optimised over time and adapted depending on your ROI. PPC is great for testing landing pages or website conversion rates.
Although PPC can yield lasting results, the question of whether you still want to be paying long term to acquire customers, or have enough organic traffic, is up to you.
Should You Do SEO & PPC?
Should you use SEO and PPC together?
I think the answer to this question is yes. SEO is a long term process. It takes time to build results and everlasting traffic. Therefore, I think PPC is a great way for generating traffic early in your marketing campaigns.
PPC is great for testing when you’re not ranking. A lot of online marketing is about testing. Whether you’re testing different landing pages, different sales pages or even keywords, you can learn a lot from PPC.
You can use the data collected from your PPC ads to improve your keyword title tags and meta descriptions. Let’s say you run two ads for the same keywords, with different titles and descriptions. By testing which one works better, you can optimise your SEO title tags and meta descriptions accordingly to get more organic clicks.
It’s also beneficial to use PPC for targeting keywords that you’re not currently ranking for. It takes time for your content to rank, therefore by driving traffic using PPC you’ll get the user experience benefits, contributing to increased Domain Authority.
All the while, with an ongoing, content driven SEO campaign you’ll slowly be building trust and authority with Google.
I think it’s clear that most businesses should use a combination of SEO and PPC in their marketing. It may not be necessary or relevant to every business, like our trusty electrician, for example, but for growing businesses looking to expand or grow rapidly, I recommend using both.
What marketing strategies have worked best for you?
I’d love to hear your answers, so let me know in the comments below.