One of the most heated debates in the world of online marketing are the relative benefits of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) vs. Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising. Both approaches have their advocates who argue that their method is superior.
A few years ago when Google was relatively easily duped into ranking any website with enough incoming links with “perfect” anchortext SEO seemed like the clear winner. After all, who wouldn't want plentiful traffic, requiring little in the way of ongoing investment? However in recent years with the latest Google animal updates like “Panda” and “Penguin”, popular opinion appears to have shifted from SEO and towards PPC.
In this article we will compare SEO vs PPC and try to determine what is the best way for you to spend your time.
The Basics of SEO vs PPC
In case you are a newbie to online marketing, let’s just clarify the two methods of online marketing that we are comparing. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the strategies and tactics used to rank web pages higher in the “organic” free search engine results, and Google in particular since they are the 800 pound gorilla when it comes to search traffic.
Pay Per Click (PPC) involves paying for visitors to come to your website by having your advertisement appear in the sponsored results of the search engines when someone searches for a particular keyword. The more competitive a particular keyword is, and the more commercial intent it has, the more you will have to pay to have your advertisement featured high in the results. As the name suggests, with Pay per click you are charged every time that someone clicks on your advertisement.
In the last couple of years Facebook has also stepped into the world of PPC and proven to be a very interesting alternative when it comes to PPC advertising, but in this article we’ll mainly focus on PPC from search driven results.
The Advantages Of PPC
The key advantage of PPC can be summed in two words – predictability and speed.
With PPC it’s possible to pinpoint exactly how many visitors you will have delivered to your website and the approximate cost involved to get them. PPC is unaffected by sudden algorithm changes or SEO penalties, although you still have Google algorithms to deal with in the form of Google's “Quality Score” for example.
Your cost per click is not only driven by the auction style bidding wars of who pays the most per click. There is an entire algorithm powering Google Adwords where Google rewards web pages that are optimized for the particular keywords they are bidding on and that users seems to prefer. I will discuss quality score in more depth in another article, but as a general rule Google will normally reward ads and pages that receive a higher CTR (click through rate) than competing ads. The rewards come in the form of higher rankings, and thereby more traffic, at a lower average cost per click.
Although the cost per click in Google Adwords have continued to creep up over the last few years, one thing that has improved for advertisers is the wealth of analytical tools that are now available, making PPC much more measurable than in the past.
PPC can also offer something that SEO rarely does, which is instant results, (although there are some SEO techniques that offer near instant top rankings when done correctly that I reveal in my private VIP Membership area). When you pay for traffic using Google Adwords you can have prospective customers visiting your website virtually within minutes, (it usually only takes Google a few minutes to approve a new ad).
In comparison, there is normally an investment of time (and money) into SEO, which often runs into weeks or months, before any substantial results are achieved. Of course there is also no guarantee that your SEO efforts will actually produce the number of visitors to your website that you expect and hope for.
“Black Nike airmax basketball shoes size 10”
Then clicks on advertisement for Nike shoes, is almost certainly shopping for a pair of Nikes.
When you're visitors are coming from organic search they often come from a wide range of keywords, many of which are much less targeted and have little or no commercial intent. Although you can optimize your website to rank for particular keywords, (preferably that you have tested with PPC for conversion rates), you are leaving it to Google to decide which keywords you will actually rank for. Unfortunately the days when you could easily rank for any highly competitive keywords you wanted with just the right set of backlinks and some decent on-site SEO are long gone.
The Case For SEO
So it would seem that paid traffic is a clear winner over SEO?
Not so fast!
There is a good case to be made that SEO is in many respects superior to PPC. With SEO you are building up an asset for your business whose value continues over time. Although the value is fairly unpredictable and the outcome controlled by a third party, a website with a steady high ranking for competitive commercial terms is worth a lot of money to the owner.
There is a difference in the trust factor between SEO and PPC amongst some users as well. PPC is rightly perceived by many as advertising, and so prospective customers will be more skeptical of the claims made after having clicked a paid advert.
SEO driven content in contrast tends to be considered more trustworthy, especially lately now that it’s more difficult to rank for competitive terms, and you will usually need incoming links from trusted websites to rank.
SEO can often be more cost effective than PPC. To increase the number of visitors produced by PPC you normally need to increase your budget, even if some improvements can be made by optimizing your landing page and improving your quality score. With SEO the investment tends to be more stable and fixed. This means that you may be able to attract more visitors without actually having to increase the amount of money spent on SEO.
PPC is not the marketing “cure-all” it might seem. In fact, for a lot of marketers, PPC can quickly become a costly endeavor that produces little or no profits due to the competitive nature of the bidding for keywords. Only those merchants with the highest margins and biggest budgets survive the bidding wars. Particularly newbies to PPC often see a negative return on their investment and end up giving up altogether after a few unsuccessful attempts.
What’s Best For You?
The debate of whether SEO vs PPC is the superior approach will undoubtedly continue for many years to come, and the advocates on both sides will continue to make the argument for their side.
What is best for you is largely determined by what type of business you are running and how you make money. Not all industries or business models will make more money from Google AdWords, that’s just a simple truth of life.
Are you the patient type who is willing to spend months working towards a goal with the potential to turn profitable, but with the risk that most or all of your work was in vain? If you are the type who prefers instant results, PPC may be a better choice for you, but you need to understand that PPC is not for the lazy marketer.
Winning in the PPC game means constantly tracking and measuring your results and adjusting your bidding, keywords and landing pages after frequent split testing and many small improvements to find the most profitable keywords and strategies.
If you are struggling to succeed with either PPC or SEO and want to short-cut the learning curve, I teach you how to quickly become successful with both strategies, (as well as several free or cheap ways to quickly generate traffic that can give you a great return on investment), in my VIP Members area.