SEO vs PPC is a question that is often raised by my clients. Depending on who you speak to, some people will entice you with the “dark art” of obtaining quality visitors through Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Others will say that PPC (Pay-Per-Click) in the right hands is like watching a skilled surgeon at work…
Fortunately, I provide both SEO and PPC to my clients so I don’t favour one approach over the other – it really depends on my clients’ needs.
In my opinion, both are useful and complementary: ppc is quick and precise, SEO takes longer but you are building inherent value into your website. Here’s my full list of things you should consider when making your own decision about SEO vs PPC:
Speed and control
Sometimes I’m impatient (or my client is). It might be an immediate business requirement such the need to bring sales into this quarter or a product launch. Perfect for PPC as it’s rapid: a new campaign or new keyword(s) can be up and running in any location around the world in about 15 mins.
SEO is the medium/long-term game; it requires planning and application of SEO best-practices throughout your website (on-page) and externally (promoting content and attracting links). Once these changes are made, you’re in the hands of the gods (aka the search engines).
With SEO it makes sense to focus on your primary and secondary keywords. Trying to get all the keywords known to man crammed into your site is not good for your brand, your business or your visitors. Paid-search keyword inventory does not need to be restricted in this way so it can include long-tail keywords i.e keywords that may be lower in search volume but that are more likely to result in a conversion.
Good online marketing is all about testing and measurement. Rotation of messages (ie advert copy) in PPC is a powerful feature allowing comparative performance of creative. New adverts can be posted within minutes. By comparison, the organic search results equivalent is the meta description – the snippet of page information that appears in the search listing – this is more difficult to change and needs the search engines to update their indexes to take effect. Even then, trying to determine which organic search call-to-action works best is difficult.
Through contextual advertising eg Google’s AdSense, you have access to an additional audience: visitors on the content network (i.e. 3rd party websites showing adverts). This contextual advertising network is good for branding and can yield very high conversion rates from information-led surfers (with the right offer of course).
SEO should be a relatively fixed cost whereas PPC can be variable. PPC budgets can be set but it’s a keyword auction. If the competition raises its bids, you must do so if you wish to maintain your position. If your PPC budgets are cut, so is your traffic!
Target your competitors
You are allow to bid on competitor brand terms and trademarks in the UK providing these terms do not appear in the advert copy. This type of tactical marketing cannot ethically be delivered by SEO.
Targeting your competitors brand terms is good for your branding and, in my experience, the sales you can generate compared to the cost of acquiring the business can be attractive.
Visitor purchase preference
There are times when an organic search listing may be preferred by a searcher. If they’re looking to buy a product online, they might lean towards clicking on an advert but if theyre looking for information on a medical condition or doing some background research early in their purchasing cycle, they may prefer to click on on organic search result.
PPC will improve your SEO
The performance data you can get from PPC will help take your SEO to another level.
When planning your SEO campaign, keyword tools can only take you so far; they are, at best, estimates and they cannot tell you which keywords will convert into leads or online transactions. With PPC performance and conversion data, you’ll know with much greater confidence which keywords you should be monitoring and feeding into any SEO programme.
Another major consideration is that, in October 2011, Google started hiding the search-queries from some organic searches so they couldn’t be seen in Google Analytics (or any analytics app for that matter). They claimed this was done for privacy reasons. Interestingly, this search-query data is still available to Google AdWords advertisers who are paying to see it…so much for privacy concerns. This means your Google AdWords campaign is the only way to expose much of the search-query data that you need to optimise your website for organic search.
Finally, in all the Client campaigns I’ve managed, I’ve noticed that including specific keywords in PPC often results in the Client’s organic rankings for those keywords improving too. Why? Well, the most likely reason is that some of the new visitors from PPC will link to the landing page or share it across social media. More (quality) links can improve the authority of that page which helps push it up the rankings.
Another reason is that Google is using click data from PPC to influence it’s organic search rankings. Now, Google has always maintained that PPC and organic search have no influence on each other: just because an advertiser pays to get clicks should not mean that they get any preferential treatment when it comes to organic search results. Makes sense. However, a click on a paid-search advert in response to a specific search query says something about relevance. If that paid-search visitor doesn’t bounce from the landing pages (ie an exit after just viewing that page) that says something too about the quality of the content. If Google has that insight into relevance and quality, wouldn’t it be tempted to use it irrespective of whether that data came from paid or organic search? I would.