Pay per click vs SEO

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Which is better for your business – pay-per-click (PPC) advertising or search engine optimization (SEO)? Pay-per-click and SEO can be effective marketing strategies for driving targeted traffic to your website and increasing brand awareness. However, each approach has its own advantages and drawbacks depending on your specific business goals and marketing budget. This article will help you understand the key differences so you can determine the right mix for your business.

Key Takeaways

  • PPC is best for generating fast leads and can drive traffic short term, but requires ongoing ad spend. SEO builds sustainable organic traffic with no recurring costs.
  • Google Ads and Bing Ads are the major platforms for pay-per-click advertising, allowing you to target specific search terms. SEO involves optimizing your website for relevant keywords to rank organically in Google and other search engines.
  • PPC allows precise targeting of keywords and real-time tracking of metrics like costs, clicks and conversions. SEO focuses on long-term brand awareness, authority and content marketing through ranking for keyword phrases.
  • Starting a PPC campaign is quicker than waiting months for results, but SEO builds visibility and trust over the long-run through free organic traffic.
  • Competition for popular terms drives up PPC costs, while SEO can target neglected long-tail keywords. Conversion rates tend to be higher from organic search clicks.
  • Integrating PPC and SEO by using PPC to test keywords, aligning landing pages, and gaining link opportunities maximizes traffic potential.
  • The ideal strategy mixes paid advertising for immediate leads with ongoing organic efforts for sustainable organic rankings and awareness over time. Testing helps refine paid and organic tactics.
  • With experience and ongoing technical SEO knowledge, businesses benefit from both quick PPC results and long-tail organic visibility through an integrated search marketing approach.

Understanding PPC and SEO

Let’s start with a brief overview of each approach:

Pay per click (PPC) advertising: With PPC, also known as paid search advertising, your ads appear on the search engine results pages (SERPs) or other ad networks when people search for relevant keywords. You only pay when someone clicks on your ad. The main search engines that offer PPC are Google Ads and Bing Ads.

Search engine optimization (SEO): SEO is the process of improving your website to rank higher in the unpaid or “organic” search results on search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo and others. The goal is to appear high in the search results pages without spending money on click-throughs like with PPC. Ranking well in organic results takes ongoing work with on-page optimization, link building, and other technical strategies.

PPC Pros

Some key advantages of pay per click marketing include:

Targeted traffic: With PPC, you have full control over the keywords you want to target for your ads. You can precisely target potential customers actively searching for your product or service.

Quick results: Setting up a PPC campaign is quicker than waiting for organic rankings. You can start getting clicks and traffic right away rather than waiting months for SEO to pay off.

Measurable ROI: PPC makes it easy to track metrics like costs, clicks, and conversions in real-time. You know exactly how much you’re spending to acquire new customers.

Brand awareness: Displaying your ads prominently on the SERPs boosts your brand awareness and visibility among searchers.

PPC Cons

Ongoing costs: With PPC, you have to continuously pay for clicks. There is no guarantee searchers will keep clicking once you stop paying. SEO rankings remain free for the long run.

Higher CPCs: Competition for top spots means CPCs tend to increase for popular keywords over time. Costs can spiral out of control if not monitored.

Lower quality traffic: Some PPC clicks may come from curious searchers rather than genuine buyers. Conversion rates tend to be lower than organic clicks.

Ad blindness: After repeated exposures, searchers can start ignoring ads and go straight to organic results instead.

SEO Pros

Free organic traffic: Ranking well in search results means you get qualified prospects to your site for free through organic clicks. There’s no per-click cost like with PPC.

Long-term rankings: Once optimized properly, your SEO efforts continue bringing organic traffic month after month at no additional cost. Rankings have potential to outlast PPC campaigns.

Higher conversion rates: Organic searchers are often further down the buyer funnel since they found you through relevant results. Conversions from SEO clicks tend to be higher quality.

More authoritative: Many believe organic results carry more trust and authority than paid ads. Ranking organically signals expertise in your industry.

Builds brand awareness: As more people discover your website through search and share your quality content, SEO strengthens your overall brand online over the long run.

SEO Cons

Takes time: SEO is an ongoing process that requires patience. It can take 3-6 months or longer to see meaningful results in search rankings and traffic.

Technical expertise: Optimizing all the on-page and off-page technical SEO factors requires in-depth knowledge or hiring an experienced agency.

Harder to measure ROI: It’s difficult to precisely attribute traffic or conversions to any single SEO campaign element like with PPC metrics.

Ongoing effort required: SEO success demands consistent optimization, content creation and link building to stay ahead of algorithm updates and competitors.

Ranking factors change: Google changes its algorithms frequently, so factors that helped rankings yesterday may not work tomorrow without adjusting your SEO strategy.

Comparing PPC vs SEO

PPC is best for: Quick lead generation, new businesses with limited organic rankings, highly competitive keywords, direct offers and time-sensitive promotions.

SEO works better for: Long-tail keywords, driving organic awareness and traffic over time, content/service-based sites, lead nurturing, building brand authority.

The most effective approach combines both: Use PPC initially for faster results while optimizing organically. As SEO rankings rise, decrease PPC budgets and focus more on organic visibility. Overall, the ideal mix depends on your marketing goals, budget and industry.

Integrating PPC and SEO

There are ways to leverage both PPC and SEO synergistically:

Use PPC to test keywords: Analyze top PPC keywords to find uncompetitive long-tail terms for SEO focus.

Ad copy mirrors SERPs: Align PPC creative/headlines to reflect search intent for better SERP placement and clicks.

Landing pages tailored: Optimize landing pages with SEO/content in mind to boost rankings from PPC traffic referral.

Analytics informs next steps: Tracking PPC vs organic click sources and performance helps refine content, technical factors or bidding strategies.

Link opportunities flagged: Note linking opportunities from websites gaining traffic for relevant keywords for off-page SEO efforts.

The right combination of pay per click and organic SEO positioning maximizes your ability to reach potential customers at each stage of the buying funnel, driving qualified traffic and increasing conversion rates. With testing and adjustment, PPC and SEO work best when integrated as part of a holistic digital marketing strategy.


In summary, both pay per click marketing and search engine optimization have important roles to play in acquiring targeted website traffic and new customers. PPC offers quicker results but ongoing costs, while SEO builds sustainable visibility long-term. Most experts recommend starting with PPC for expedited lead generation while optimizing organically for ranking factors. The optimal mix depends on your specific marketing goals, budget and industry. By aligning PPC campaigns with SEO best practices and metrics, businesses leverage both paid and organic search synergistically for maximum impact.


How long does it take to see results from SEO?

This varies based on factors like site optimization, link building efforts, content strategy and keyword competitiveness. However, as a general guideline, most experts agree it takes at least 3-6 months of ongoing work before meaningful SEO rankings and organic traffic increases become visible in search engines. Patience is key.

What’s the difference between SEO and content marketing?

SEO and content marketing are interconnected but different. Content marketing focuses on creating and sharing relevant, valuable content to attract and engage an audience, with the goal of improving leads and sales indirectly. SEO specifically targets optimization of pages/content to rank for relevant keywords searched by consumers, usually with the goal of directly driving website traffic. Great content helps with both SEO and content marketing goals.

How much should I spend on PPC monthly?

There is no set amount that’s “right” – it depends entirely on your marketing budget and goals. As a general range, many small businesses see results spending $500-1000 per month on Google Ads or Bing Ads. Larger companies may spend ten times that or more. Test small and monitor metrics like ROI, adjusting budget up or down based on performance over time.

What are the major ranking factors in Google’s algorithm?

Some of the most important factors currently include: relevant and frequently updating website content, page speed optimizations, mobile-friendliness, security best practices, backlinks from authoritative websites, time spent on-page by users, and social media signals. However, Google does not disclose all factors as the algorithm constantly evolves.

What are the technical SEO basics I need to focus on?

Some fundamental technical on-page SEO factors include: optimized page titles and meta descriptions, internal linking structure, image alt text, heading structure, keyword optimized content, mobile usability, fast page speeds, safe browsing SSL certificate, XML sitemaps submission and GSC/Bing Webmaster Tools setup. Proper coding, no technical issues and ongoing optimizations are also key.

How do I track ROI for PPC and SEO campaigns?

For PPC, major platforms like Google Ads provide in-depth dashboards to track metrics like cost-per-click, impressions, clicks, conversion rates, and ROI over time. For SEO, use Google Analytics to tie organic traffic to offline conversions and set up goals/funnels. Monitor keyword rankings and referral sources. SEO spy tools also shed light on ranking fluctuations. Together, analytics helps optimize investments and evaluate which efforts drive business results.

Is there a quicker way to rank than SEO?

Not really – there’s no fast pass for organic search rankings. Directory submissions, article publication and social sharing can boost discovery in the short-term, as can starting a new high-quality website. But for ranking competitively in Google’s main search results, SEO basics like content, usability and link building still take consistent effort over months at a minimum, with no guarantees. PPC remains the faster route to traffic, if money is allotted to pay the cost of clicks. Diligent SEO supplemented by paid media is generally the most well-rounded approach.

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