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SEO vs. PPC: Which Is Better?

a bearded guy looks confused between seo and ppc
Hemant Sharma

Hemant Sharma

One of the most sought-after questions in the digital marketing world is – should you invest in SEO or PPC?

As a marketer, it’s natural to get confused between these two robust traffic-generating methods.

In 2017, I was working with a start-up.

With a small marketing budget – I had to choose either SEO or PPC.

With a little exposure in the marketing world and some flair for creating content – I chose to go with SEO. And started implementing strategies I learned through various sources.

Luckily it worked for me. And I managed to generate some traffic for the site.

But I was still having doubts about the decision I made to go with SEO. Would it have been better to go with PPC? I don’t think I’ll ever know that.

Nevertheless, after investing 4 years in SEO and PPC – I am better qualified today to help you make the right decision.

Let’s dive into it without any delay. 

 

Before getting into the nitty-gritty – you should know about the other popular term used here very frequently – SEM. 

Right, SEM! SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing. Though the term SEM gets interchangeably used for PPC.  But there’s a difference.

SEM is an umbrella term that encompasses PPC but is not only limited to it. It references any activities that make it easy for your website to be found in search engines. 

Hence, SEM is both paid and unpaid, PPC, or SEO. 

Table of Contents

What is SEO

SEO is the process of ranking higher in the search engines and generating more organic traffic for the keywords relevant to your site. 

How SEO Can Help

  • Traffic generated through SEO is free

Google’s organic results are based on over 200 ranking signals. Generating high-quality traffic from SEO isn’t really an easy job these days. But once you’re able to find a way through it, you keep getting results for months or years. 

Of course, researching and writing an article needs initial investment. The investment will either be in the form of time if you choose to create it yourself or money if you choose to hire an SEO consultant, copywriters and designers who will create it for you.   

You may require to update the page from time to time, depending on the change in algorithms, to constantly maintain the advantage over competitors. 

But all the traffic your site receives is free of charge as long as you’re maintaining the top spots for your website.

That’s the biggest benefit of SEO over PPC. 

To give you a little idea of how big of an advantage this is, just consider an average CPC across all industries is $2.69 on the search network.

bar diagram showing google ads cpc benchmarks across different industries
  • SEO gets more clicks than PPC

People don’t prefer ads especially when Google’s organic results can solve their problems. 71.33% of searches result in a click on Google’s first page organic results.

One can find it difficult to believe, even when PPC ads appear over organic rankings. One study concluded that the average American, for example, is exposed to anywhere between 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day. People are constantly bombarded with digital ads, triggering ads fatigue.

Hence they want to avoid ads wherever they can and Google produces high-quality organic results that solve a customer’s query most of the times.

  • SEO targets quality traffic

SEO is an Inbound Marketing strategy. Inbound Marketing is where you help yourself “get found” by people who are already searching, learning and shopping in your industry. Inbound Marketing transforms your website into a brand if done effectively for some time. 

SEO makes your website capable enough to help customers interested in your industry by answering the questions they’re asking online. I always recommend an Inbound approach over outbound.  

Outbound Marketing is when you reach out to your customers to see if they’re interested in your product. For example, this could include PPC where you approach someone without knowing if he or she is a qualified lead. 

inbound marketing vs outbound marketing

In fact, in Hubspot’s recent survey Not Another State of Marketing report, 59% of marketers said that inbound marketing practices provided the highest quality leads for their sales teams. 

I’d say both inbound and outbound marketing strategies require you to make upfront investments. Outbound is more successful than Inbound in the short run. However, as I said before, Inbound gets you long-term results whereas Outbound needs constant fueling with cash to keep getting results uninterruptedly.

  • SEO helps to build Public Relations (PR)

a pie diagram showing relation between SEO and PR

Link building is one of the most important ranking factors in SEO. 

Think of a case where you are launching a new coffee shop. And you reach out to local papers to see if they would be interested in coverage and running an article on their website about the opening. 

Because the local newspaper is viewed as an influential source of information, a backlink from that article to your coffee shop would be very beneficial for your SEO. Remember the higher the authority of the site, the higher the chances of ranking in Google.

Finally, the rankings you get from capturing this kind of backlink make it easier for you to distribute your content to potential customers. 

  • SEO has the best ROI

 

twitter poll about what is best marketing channel

According to a Twitter poll conducted by Search Engine Journal, 48.7% of respondents said organic results helped them achieve better ROI than other channels – Email, Paid Search and Social Media. 

What is PPC

PPC stands for Pay-per-click, an internet advertising model where an advertiser pays a fee for each time one of their ads is clicked. It’s a way of buying clicks for your website, rather than attempting to “earn” those visits organically.

How PPC Can Help

  • PPC provides instant results

No matter if you are a small or big business – PPC brings you, new customers, quickly. When SEO can take weeks or months also in some cases. If you launch a successful PPC campaign early on, you can simply sit back and watch the customers flock. 

You only pay when someone clicks on your ad to visit your site or call your business, and the ads allow you to be noticed by a wider audience online. Plus, you can tweak your ads anytime, to reach a specific group of people (by interest, geographical area, etc.) or promote a specific deal or product. 

This immediacy can be a great tool for small companies that can’t frequently update their SEO to reflect sales, promotions, or seasonal changes to their offerings.

PPC flexibility can help businesses of all sizes grab attention from people online in the moments that matter – that is, the exact moment they’re searching for a business like yours.  

  • Google Ads account for more clicks for high commercial intent keyword

Organic search results get more clicks overall than paid search – but not all keyword searches are created equal. 64.6% of people click on Google Ads for keywords with high commercial intent.

a pie chart shows comparison between SEO and PPCCTR on high commercial intent keywords

The keyword searches with high commercial intent – meaning where a searcher is looking to buy a product or service (for example: “buy a digital watch”) is worth far more to businesses than your basic informational keyword searches (for example: “who is Jean Monnet”). 

  • PPC ads allow Smart Remarketing

Customers are 70% more likely to purchase a product when a company utilizes remarketing. 

Remarketing is when you reach out to people who have already interacted with your website or app. You can easily segment (for example: making a list of all of your site visitors and later on retarget them) your audience for remarketing with the help of Google Analytics. 

Google ads also take remarketing a step ahead with dynamic remarketing. It lets you show previous visitors ads that contain products and services they viewed on their sites. With messages tailored to your audience, dynamic remarketing helps you build leads and sales by bringing previous visitors back to your site or app to complete what they started. And this all is done using machine learning to get an idea of what potential buyers are looking for. 

Real-life story: Sierra Trading Post, outdoor gear and outerwear retail store, saw their conversions increase 5times with dynamic remarketing compared to regular remarketing campaigns. 

  • More automation makes it easy to work on PPC

Thanks to Google ads automation and the simplicity of the tool – it’s always easier to create and manage PPC campaigns comparing to SEO campaigns. 

Increasing automation is also taking away control – there can always be arguments in favour or against it. But it’s certainly making the PPC campaign manager job easy. Even a few properly trained employees can easily manage large PPC campaigns. That way, you can allocate your resources and time to other pressing initiatives. 

  • Google Ads make you $2 for every $1 spent 

Hal Varian, an economist based his estimate of the economic value provided by Google Ads on observed cost per click activity across a large sample of advertisers. Assuming advertisers are maximizing profits, Hal estimates the value enjoyed by advertisers is between 2 and 2.3 times their total expenditure on Google Ads.  

ROAS formula

SEO and PPC : Weaknesses

Marketers enjoyed free SEO traffic with gaming the system for a long while. Google’s continuous efforts to improve algorithms are certainly making it harder to achieve now. And the reason is simple – Google wants to serve fast and only quality results to its customers. The increasing Zero-click searches are proof of the fast and quality answers Google wants to provide.  


SEO is no longer just a keyword ranking game – it has become a tool to solve searchers’ queries within SERP, keep searchers coming back, and keep them on SERPs longer. Some results on SERP are organic and can only be influenced by SEO.  


On the contrary, the results on SERP other than organic are PPC results. They’re undoubtedly easy to achieve with Google ads. But keep in mind the ever-rising average cost per click (CPC) across all industries. 


For example, the business services vertical (Insurance, legal, accounting, real estate, etc.) is one of the more competitive verticals in Google Ads, which translates into more expensive cost per click (CPC). Insurance-related keywords have an average CPC of over $50. Learn here about the methodology behind the data. 

SEO and PPC : Strengths

As we discussed above, Google Ads have a higher CTR of 64.6% for the highly commercial intent keywords and a ROAS of over 100% – well, SEO can also help you achieve the same or even better results. SEO helps you find questions your buyers are interested in and you can provide them with the answers. 

53% of US consumers say that they research products using a Google search engine before deciding whether or not to buy. 

Trust me – If your website has helped searchers in solving their problems then whenever they’re ready to make a purchase, the first thing they’ll do is they’ll visit your website. To see where you stand here – You can go to ‘Search Console’ and check how many people search your website by your brand name. If not many then start creating content to help your audience. This is known as brand building. 

And also don’t forget that Google’s organic results still get more clicks than paid results. The first result in Google’s organic search result has an average CTR of 31.7%.

Takeaway

SEO and PPC are the two sides of a coin. Both have their pros and cons. 

But which one is right for your business? 

The reality is it’s hard to answer. Both integrate really well together to drive search success. 

SEO turns your simple website into a brand but it takes time. On the other side of the coin, PPC can get you results quickly. 

SEO is cheaper in the long run whereas PPC is cheaper in the beginning. 

For the best returns on investments (ROI) – use both SEO and PPC in tandem. 

Now it’s your turn. Don’t forget to tell me in the comments what’s your take on this. 

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