SEO vs PPC: The new battleground of digital marketing
SEO vs PPC: It’s a debate (almost!) as old as the internet. Which will get you better results? Where should you focus your time? Which is better value for money?!
And, of course, as with all things digital, the answer depends on who you ask.
Ask a content writer, and the answer will probably be SEO. Ask an advertising agency and they’ll almost certainly swear by paid advertising!
It is, but don’t panic. We’re here to help!
We’ve sized up the pros and cons of both SEO and PPC so that you don’t have to, and come to that all-important conclusion about where you should focus your money and time. Read on!
Search engine optimization
If you have a website, then you’re probably familiar with the idea of search engine optimization, or SEO. It’s the art (yes, we said art!) of designing and building your website to organically climb the search engine rankings.
There are whole books written about just the basics of SEO, and although we’ve tried to distil the main points down into a content checklist ourselves, it’s a huge topic.
We’re talking intuitive site structure, carefully chosen keywords, engaging subject matter, well-written content and a solid internal linking structure, and that’s just for starters.
Reader experience is key to SEO. If your website is full of keyword-stuffed nonsense that’s solely aimed at attracting the search engines, then no one will stay to read it: immediate fail. Even Google itself warns against it! Instead, good SEO focuses on promoting excellent content in a smart way.
Keyword stuffing is a fast track to Google penalties
The pros of SEO
SEO is the basis of everything else you do with your website. Get it right from the start, and you’ll feel the love over the long term. So, what are the key benefits of an SEO approach?
It can be free, or at least very cheap:
In terms of financial outlay, SEO wins out over PPC. If you’ve got the time to spare, then you can learn the techniques, apply them yourself, and write all your own content. You don’t have to spend money day after day; you just have to be committed!
You don’t have to do it all on day 1
Because SEO is playing the long game, it’s not a case of all-or-nothing from day 1. If you want to start by making a few tweaks across your site, then you can do it that way, and gradually make more and more changes as you learn more about best practice.
The ever-helpful Neil Patel has pointed out that Google Analytics can be a smart place to start to look for some of these small changes to get you moving on your SEO journey (Patel, 2020).
You can harness the power of Google yourself
When it comes to writing content, that can take a long time to write in any case, so you’ll be adding that to the site incrementally.
Of course, you could always get someone else to write your content for you. We’ve written a separate piece all about the value in outsourcing content so you could choose to go down that route, but it does mean making a financial outlay. Your choice!
Long term effort = long term gains
Running through search engine optimization properly is a full-time job, but it really does pay off. Those sites that appear time and again at the top of Google whenever you search about a related topic?
That’s not an accident! That’s because the website owners have spent sustained time and effort on their SEO.
It’s not a quick route to success, but by the time you’ve been focusing on SEO for several months, then you should be gaining traction. And the magic of it is that the more time passes, the better the results should be!
Travel the SEO route to success
You can wield your SEO power for good…or evil!
Once you have a high-ranking site, then the world is your oyster. With a bit of solid keyword research and some well-written copy, you can drive traffic to all sorts of pages of your choosing.
It gives you the power to promote pages that wouldn’t necessarily rank on a less well-designed site.
Do with that what you will!
The cons of SEO
All of this sounds amazing, doesn’t it. Climbing to the top of Google for free! Seeing real results for very little outlay!
Well of course that’s the dream, but there are some bumps along the way.
We’re not joking when we say it’s the long game
The same thing that makes SEO such an attractive strategy: taking your time, learning as you go, applying incremental changes: also contributes to one of the major cons of the approach. When we say it’s the long game, we mean it!
Josh Steimle on Forbes.com gives a good summary of the sort of timescales you can expect, and makes the point that ‘whatever results you’re getting at six months should be considerably less than what you’re getting at twelve months’ (Steimle, 2015).
Take a look at this great graphic from Ahrefs showing the average age of the top 10 results on Google:
Source: Ahrefs, ‘How long does it take to rank in Google’, 2020
The average age of the top 10 ranking pages is more than two years old! It takes time to gain authority and ranking power (Soulo, 2020).
If you need results immediately, now, today, then SEO won’t achieve that on its own. If you launch a brand-new website and need visitors from day one, then you’ll need to drive them there with something other than a great site structure and engaging content!
You can lose years of your life down the SEO rabbit hole
SEO is…complicated. If you’re going to do it right, then you’re going to have to learn a lot! Plenty of SEO techniques are technical and involve playing around at ‘the back end’ of your site, which isn’t necessarily the average website owner’s natural habitat.
Expect to start reading around on the topic, and then identify a few areas where you need to learn more, which in turn lead to more areas of research…you get the picture. Strap in to go back to school!
Back to the classroom for SEO school
Image by Pixabay via Pexels
What Google giveth, Google can taketh away
One of the worst things about SEO? One day you can be sitting happily at the top of Google, and the next your pages are nowhere to be seen.
What’s happened? Have you been hacked? Has your website been accidentally deleted??
Nope: algorithm change.
Two words that strike terror into the hearts of SEO professionals everywhere!
Google, and indeed all search engines, can and do arbitrarily change their criteria for ranking from time to time. It can be with no warning and sometimes no visible logic! What used to be a best-practice website may suddenly no longer fit the bill.
It’s such a pain, but the only thing to do is review the new criteria and apply them to your site. Slowly, surely, you’ll climb the ranks again.
Content can be a pain to produce
One of the cornerstones of SEO is good content. If your writing isn’t interesting or engaging, then why would people choose to stay on your site?
It’s all about adding value to the reader. They want to be informed, educated, entertained.
Ideally, you want to mix your content up between some long-form articles (we’ve previously extolled the virtues of story-telling for marketing) and some shorter news blasts, possibly in the form of a blog. This mix helps you to position yourself as a thought leader at the cutting edge of your industry.
A good content strategy means a good content mix
But who’s going to write all that content? It can be incredibly time-consuming writing good quality copy. If you’re already super busy running your business, then it can feel like a step too far to spend a day or two a week creating lots of engaging content for your site.
If this sounds like you then the content team at Sparklite is here for you, just sayin’!
SEO is a powerful, time-hungry tool
All websites need a solid grounding in SEO to be successful. It’s the foundations on which you build an intuitive, high-ranking, well-visited website, and the sooner you start, the better.
And now on to PPC!
Pay per click advertising
The instantaneous cousin to SEO’s long-term approach, pay per click, or PPC, is a very different way to get visitors to your website.
Instead of organically climbing the search engine rankings through optimization, you’re paying money to get your site in front of potential customers. Your advert appears at the top of the search results for the keywords of your choosing, and you only pay money if someone chooses to click on it. Magic!
A short-cut to the top of Google, but potentially a very effective one!
The pros of PPC
Using PPC can be a smart way to drive traffic to your website, which ironically actually helps your SEO power in the long term.
But of course, it costs money! So, what are the main pros and cons of a PPC approach?
Results from day 1
From the first minute that you launch your PPC campaign, it’s working for you. Your results will be shown to suitable customers at the top of the search engine results, and people can start clicking if they like what they see.
Once they land on your site, then it’s up to you to convert them into customers, of course. But getting them there is half the battle!
You can get big quickly
One of the significant downsides of SEO is the sheer volume of work involved in doing it correctly. If you’re a solo entrepreneur or a small business, then it can be hard to scale up purely using the SEO route.
With PPC, on the other hand, it’s easy to grow quickly if you start seeing results. Are you getting lots of click-throughs and purchases? Increase your budget! Target more keywords! There are lots of tutorials out there on how to scale once you start seeing success.
Growth can be exponential if you nail the targeting and audience.
Results are very clear-cut
Unlike the long-term world of SEO, PPC is pretty clear-cut. If you’re doing it right, you’ll see results quickly, simple as that.
You don’t have to wait a year for all your hard work to come to fruition slowly!
Some people prefer the visible cause-and-effect element of PPC as opposed to the theoretical slow burn of SEO, despite the cost.
PPC is not as complex as SEO
If you’re concerned about the amount of time that it would take to become an expert in SEO, then PPC can feel like an attractive proposition. Setting up PPC ads is a process, and there are countless step-by-step guides out there to walk you through that process.
A properly thought-out and optimized campaign is on balance quicker to achieve than an organic rise through the rankings.
It’s also easier to bring outside help on board for PPC as compared to SEO. PPC ads can be switched on and off at short notice, so it’s pretty well suited to outsourcing if that’s the route you want to go.
The cons of PPC
And so we move to the downsides of using PPC.
The first and most obvious downside is the money that PPC needs to run correctly. Cold, hard cash.
Just as it’s true that you may see increased traffic and purchases from your website from day 1, so it’s also true that you’ll be spending money from the minute the first person clicks on your ad.
This may or may not be a problem! If you’re paying 20 cents to get someone to your website, achieving high conversion rates, and making $20 per sale, then it’s all good. That’s a great profit, and the outlay is well worth it!
However, if you have to spend $2 to get someone to visit your site, and you’re either not converting that lead into a sale, or your product only sells for $2.10, then that’s not such good news.
You also need to be willing to spend a little more money at the start while you learn about what works and what doesn’t. Even the best-planned PPC campaign will need refinement and tweaking once launched, so expect costs to be a bit higher while you learn.
Small mistakes cost dear
It happens time and again: someone launches a PPC campaign, and the clicks come flooding in. Exciting, right?
Except they may not be the right clicks! If you’re a local business serving a specific area and you’ve forgotten to set the location filter correctly, then all of those clicks may be from people who would never be your customers.
You’ll still have to pay for those clicks, but it’s money down the drain. Invest a bit of time looking into things like audience demographics, ad groups, location targeting, negative keywords, and bidding strategies, to avoid throwing money away!
You don’t build the same kind of customer base
Growing your business organically through SEO can create real brand loyalty in your customers. People learn about you through white hat SEO techniques and stay with you on your business growth journey.
With PPC, you may have to work harder to build that same sort of relationship with your customer. If they see your ad for something that interests them then they might click it, but will they remember you afterwards? Would they search you out again if they didn’t see the ad?
You have to adhere to some pretty specific rules
In order to get your ad approved for display, there’s a pretty definitive set of rules, and they have to be followed. For creative people, this can feel uncomfortably restrictive!
If you’ve got an innovative idea for an ad that might speak effectively to your intended customer base, then that’s great, but it will still have to fit the formula for title, description, content, wording.
It levels the playing field but doesn’t allow you much room for maneuver. It’s the price you pay for instant results.
Follow the recipe for PPC success
In the battle of SEO vs PPC, the results are in…
So, having looked at a full run-down of both SEO and PPC, which is the best approach for you?
Drum roll, please…
Use them both!
The twin elements of SEO and PPC aren’t in fact adversaries at all, but complementary techniques. It doesn’t have to be a choice!
You might find that you rely on one of them more than the other at different times in your business journey, but they’re fundamentally aligned.
It could be tempting just to start running pay per click ads in order to see an increase in visitors and sales and forget about SEO. But we think that would be a long-term mistake. Why not use both at the same time, so that your website gains authority as you win customers?
Ranking highly for multiple keywords, in the long run, will keep you at the top of Google, and you can always adjust your PPC budget accordingly. Drive customers to your site with PPC ads, but then keep them there with a well-designed website and engaging content.
So there you have it! As with all things in life, balance is key. Start working on your SEO now, and top up your customer base with some well-targeted PPC ads.
In the battle of SEO vs PPC, everyone’s a winner!