I get questions all the time from people asking whether they should spend money on SEO or PPC, as if it were an either/or situation. Or they wonder which is better for their website. The fact is there is no easy or correct answer – it’s like asking me which one of my children I like better. Both are highly valuable (and in the case of my children, both wonderful and also occasionally frustrating) in different ways. Here are some of the key differences and my reasoning on why investment in both is important.
Timeline. SEO is a long-term strategy. It does not happen overnight or immediately – and any company that tells you they can instantly improve your page rank or bring you to the top of the page results is lying. As a result, if you want immediate results, you have to engage in pay per click advertising (whether using Google AdWords, BingAds, Facebook ads, etc.). PPC provides a way of instantly bringing your site to the forefront of the sponsored search results. This is one of the main reasons they complement each other so well – one is short-term and one is long-term.
Cost. PPC stands for pay per click, making its costs pretty easy to ascertain. You pay for each click you receive (not based on impressions, actions, sales, or anything else). SEO is much more difficult to price. If you are paying a company to provide SEO services, they can bill you hourly, for particular services, on performance and how much your ranking improves, or some other metric entirely. As a result, quantifying SEO is significantly more difficult, particularly since the strategy is a little less straightforward than with PPC.
Procedure. While there are a number of different ways to work on SEO, the main focuses are on content optimization, link-building, and site architecture and functionality (tags, titles, images, load time). Building an SEM campaign is very similar to any other marketing campaign, just with character and content restrictions that are unique to the web. You can optimize based on click-through rates, manage conversion data, and the cost per click. The immediacy of results and metrics that you get from PPC is one of its most valuable characteristics, setting it apart from more traditional marketing efforts like TV or radio ads.
Despite the main differences, SEO and PPC work best when used together. Studies show that organic search receives as much as 70 percent of total clicks from search results. But having both a paid and an organic listing has proven to increase the amount of total traffic by as much as 66 percent and influence a consumer’s purchase consideration by as much as 8 percent. (See this AdWords case study on the combination of organic and paid search results). So if you’re considering investing in one or the other, see if you can balance spend on both, managing short and long term and increasing your presence in the search results.