If you have been involved with online marketing, I’m sure you have heard the terms SEO and PPC. What you may not have heard or know is how the two differ. The below images shows the difference between the two placements on a Google search. The SERPS (Search Engine Results Page) were recently updated to appear like this:

SEO-vs-PPC-visual-SERPs example screenshot

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and these are the organic, non-paid, results that you see on the search engines results page. SEO is more of a long-term play to be able to show higher in the search results for terms that are relevant to your website. This is accomplished by building out relevant content on your website over time.

PPC stands for Pay-Per-Click and these are the ads that you see at the top and on the bottom of the search engine results page. These used to be displayed on the top and on the right for Google, but a recent update changed to not show ads on the right side of Google.com. In order to have your ad displayed on the page, you have to pay to be in these positions. When setting up a PPC campaign, you are able to choose the search queries, or keywords, that you want your ad to be displayed for. If someone searches the keywords you are targeting, your ad has an opportunity to show. Writing great Google Ads can help boost your overall PPC ad campaign performance!

Ideally you would want to have your website show in both the organic and in a paid position for your keywords. This would make it so that you would to be able to take up more real estate on the page and have a stronger presence in the search results.

PPC and SEO are critical components of any good digital strategy. Unfortunately, many businesses don’t understand the differences between PPC and SEO, much less how to get the most out of each approach. Here is a much more detailed breakdown of SEO compared to PPC advertising and when to use SEO and when to use PPC.

How Do We Define SEO?

We’ve put together a definitive guide to the key differences between SEO and PPC. Before we can really dive in, though, it’s important to define what these terms actually mean.

SEO is an acronym that stands for Search Engine Optimization. Broadly speaking, SEO refers to any strategies that help naturally drive additional traffic to your site.

Doing so “naturally” means that you haven’t paid for where your content lands on the search engine results. This is why SEO is sometimes called “organic” SEO.

And for better or for worse, good SEO is an ongoing process. It requires that you understand how the Google search algorithms work so that you can continually reach for the top of the search engine results page.

How Do We Define PPC?

Now you know what SEO is all about. Now, we need to take a closer look at PPC.

PPC is an acronym that stands for “pay-per-click.” Broadly speaking, PPC refers to anything that allows you to pay for website links or advertisements to appear prominently on platforms such as social media or search engines.

For example, solid Google Advertising still represents the most popular form of PPC. It lets you pay for your advertisements to appear near the top of the page when users search for certain terms. In its own way, that makes PPC the best way to quickly promote your website and content.

Keep in mind that “pay-per-click” is very literal. You pay a certain amount that is tied to how many times users click on the advertisement. So, while countless people may see the ad, only those who click on it count towards the number of clicks you have paid for.

Organic vs Paid Traffic

You don’t have to choose between only using SEO or only using PPC. There are times that some approaches are better than others. So let’s take a look at some of the benefits and drawbacks between PPC and SEO, starting with website traffic.

Your overall goal of both approaches is to bring more people to your website. As a general rule of thumb, PPC does this much more quickly (more on this later). SEO, however, may be better for your long-term strategy.

With organic SEO, it can take a long time to rise up through the search engine results. But once you do, you have a steady stream of traffic regularly coming in. With PPC, you only have that steady stream so long as you’re willing to pay for it. You can hire a PPC advertising management agency, or there are options for DIY, such as going through a Pay Per Click Advertising Training Course.

That doesn’t mean there is not a time and place for PPC. But honestly, you should never stop working on your organic SEO “long game.”

Price Comparison

This may not come as a shocker, but SEO is cheaper than PPC. After all, SEO doesn’t usually cost you anything but time.

With PPC, the sky is the limit when it comes to how many ads you take out and who you target. But the simple fact is that you’re losing money with each new round of PPC. It’s important to make sure that the PPC-enhanced traffic is generating enough profit to justify those costs.

SEO is free, but you have to factor in how much you are paying employees to create content. Your goal is to use a team (preferably a small team) to generate SEO on a regular basis. Over the long-term, you can typically get more traffic from SEO than PPC, and you end up spending less money to do so.

Then again, smaller businesses may not have a digital marketing team. Or they may need immediate results rather than waiting several long months for an SEO strategy to pay off. And it’s in those scenarios that PPC really shines.

PPC and SEO: Money vs Time

By now, you’ve probably figured out the real dividing line between PPC and SEO. It’s all about time, money, and how much of each that you have to spend.

For example, SEO is certainly cheaper than PPC. But it is very likely to take more than a year for you to reach the first page of search engine results using organic SEO. And it may very well take several years before you achieve your goal.

On top of this, it takes time to create the kind of captivating content that makes good SEO work. And not every company has the years necessary to churn out a constant stream of quality content and simply hope that it all works out.

With PPC, you can start seeing results right away. And while it’s true that you only get the amount of clicks that you pay for, PPC is a great way for your company to make a big splash among customers.

And once more, there is no choice to exclusively use only one strategy. You may choose to start with PPC to gain momentum, and then you can transition that momentum to enhance your organic SEO strategy.

Content Is Still King

“Content marketing” is a pretty tricky concept. That’s because it’s very easy to understand, but it’s also very difficult to pull off.

The basic concept is that your customers are hungry for content. In a world of clickbait and cat videos, everyone wants to find the next big thing to capture their attention.

What does that content look like for a business? Basically, your customers want to hear from subject matter experts. And they want unique information that is relevant to their lives and their concerns.

What’s so hard, then, about creating such content? If you’re not the subject matter expert, you need to find someone who is to create your content. And you must also determine the best digital content formats (blogs, video, social media, etc.) for your particular demographic.

Ultimately, this is what makes good SEO so difficult. You need to find the right mix of experts and captivating content, and you need to continue churning out that content week after week.

Targeting Specific Audiences

We’ve touched on the greatest benefit of PPC: it is fast, allowing you to get started right away. The other benefit, though, is that it allows you to target very specific audiences.

For example, PPC allows you to target audiences based on factors like age, gender, location, income, and so on. This provides a great opportunity to create very specific ads and target them to very specific audiences.

And this granular targeting is another reason that even a company dedicated to organic SEO should try PPC strategies from time to time. If you launch a new product for a different demographic, PPC provides an easy way to reach that demographic without completely overhauling your SEO strategy.

Now that you know a bit more about how PPC and SEO work, let’s take a look at the different scenarios that call for these different strategies.


When To Use PPC

When, exactly, should you use PPC as a strategy? One of the best times to do so is when you are unveiling a truly unique “disruptive” product.

Organic SEO means that you must rely on what customers are searching for. But by and large, customers only search for products and concepts they are familiar with.

If your product isn’t like anything else on the market, they may not know what to search for. But PPC will let you put your advertisements directly in front of the demographics most likely to embrace what you have to offer.

PPC is also good when you are first launching a company. Because it takes so long for organic SEO to take off, you may want to use PPC to get the ball rolling and basically get your company’s name out to the people. And as we said before, you can then easily transition from PPC to SEO.

When to Use SEO

When, then, should you use SEO? There are a couple of scenarios where SEO really shines.

In the first scenario, you might be considering selling your website in the future. Organic SEO lets you rise up through the search ranks, and you can take longer breaks from creating content once you have momentum. This increases the perceived value of your site while reducing the long-term effort and expense you must put into it.

SEO is also great for leading more people to your product and service pages. Basically, you create blogs (such as informative “how-to” articles”) that help customers out. Your blog links to your product and service pages, while the helpful content of your blog generates the backlinks that your SEO strategy will need.

PPC and SEO: What Comes Next?

Now you know the differences between PPC and SEO. But do you know who can help you get the most out of each strategy?

We specialize in search engine marketing, social media advertising, and much more. To see what we can do for your business, contact us for a free consultation today!

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