Which Is Better: SEO or PPC?

 Posted by on February 25, 2015
May 24, 2016

Owners of new websites, or those who have other reasons for a limited online marketing budget, often have to make tough decisions about where that budget goes. What will give the “best bang for the buck”? Many try out Adwords or another pay per click (PPC) advertising network, quickly learn how expensive that can be, and start looking at SEO as an alternative.

Which one is really better – SEO or PPC?

PPC or SEO - Both Ways

“Of course, some people do go both ways”

Like most questions about digital marketing, the answer starts with “it depends…”
Most businesses which want to get visits from Google users should use both at some point. PPC is an excellent choice for short term needs like a new site, new product launch on an existing site, or for things like temporary sales or special offers. SEO is the answer for improved visibility in general for a wider variety of search terms, and for long-term sustainable growth.

Comparing SEO to Pay Per Click as if they were an “either/or” choice is kind of like comparing apples to oranges.
Just for the sake of discussion, let’s compare them anyway.

Let’s say we set up an Adwords campaign with a budget of $1500 per month, it will run for 6 months, targeting 40 keywords related to a given topic. Let’s assume the campaign is consistently delivering 1000 new visitors per month, and 100 of those are “converting” by either making a purchase or signing up for a mailing list.
You end up with 600 conversions after 6 months. After the campaign ends, so do the fresh visitors and conversions.

Now let’s put the same budget into an effective SEO campaign targeting the same topic, same timeframe. In the first few months, there won’t be much of an increase in traffic or conversions. But by the 5th or 6th month, rankings are getting pretty good for a variety of key search phrases – maybe even more keywords than you were paying for in the Adwords campaign. At 6 months, let’s say we start seeing a comparable conversion rate (PPC and SEO rates rarely match up this nicely in real life). Since we spent the past 6 months optimizing the site, and developing a sustainable content strategy, those visits and conversions just keep coming. It may be another few months until we consistently match the total number of sales we made in the Adwords campaign, but here’s the big difference:

When you’ve spent your entire Paid Advertising budget, the traffic stops and you are back to hoping to make sales from those who happen to stumble upon your site. When the SEO budget runs out, your search engine visibility is still the same as it was at the end of the SEO campaign!

Yes, I know, some SEOs try to scare you and say that your good organic rankings will vanish quickly. That’s a lie. If your SEO told you that, consider getting an audit to see what damage has been done. If the optimization was done correctly and any off-site promotion was within Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, your traffic will probably even continue to improve for quite a while. If your SEO provider has done a good job, it would be a good idea to keep them on retainer just in case something happens – like your competitors start working a little harder, or Google rolls out an overly aggressive algorithm update.

If you are on a limited budget and need to choose between SEO and PPC, the decision is really about how soon you need to get those conversions. If you need to make a lot of sales right now, Adwords is it. If you want to get the most out of your investment for years to come, SEO is the clear winner.

Paid Ads Can Help SEO (sort of)

No, Adwords users do not get special treatment in organic search. But there are other ways using Adwords can help you rank better organically.
Getting traffic from ads or any other source does bring visitors and activity to the site. Through Google Analytics and your Adwords stats, you can then gain some insights about what people are doing on the site, what they like, and how they are engaging with your business. That information is extremely useful in optimizing a site. The activity on the site can also tell Google much of the same things, which may influence how various pages are ranked.
So while there is no direct SEO benefit from running Adwords, it is all about what you do with the information you can gather from that traffic.

What is right for you?

In a perfect situation, you would have the resources to get the best possible organic results as well as run paid ads. For a new site, run an Adwords campaign to get enough visits to stay afloat until the site is ranking well organically. For existing sites, use Adwords to target special situations that your SEO does not handle.

  • Asad

    The correct answer is both. The way the search results are so full of Adwords ads, a page can rank number one in organic search but still have four ads showing above it.