PPC vs SEO – Which is right for your business?


Head of Marketing

The PPC vs SEO question is one that is often put to digital agencies by new clients.
Before we analyse which method is best for your business let’s define the techno jargon for those who are unfamiliar. For businesses already in the know click here to skip the definitions.

What is PPC?

PPC stands for pay per click. Pay per click advertising means you pay for traffic to your website.

PPC in search engine results means your advert is shown higher for people who are specifically seeking your services or product using search terms (keywords). You are only charged when people actually click your ad and end up on your website.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimisation. When users search for your services or products using search terms on search engines like Google it shows links to websites organically in addition to PPC ads at the top and bottom of the search results pages.

The order of these organic rankings is dependent on the relevancy of your website to the user’s search query. Search engines determine relevancy using complex algorithms which analyse your website.
SEO executives and digital marketers work to optimise your website for these algorithms to help your website rank higher in the organic search results. This is done via a variety of onsite and offsite ongoing methods.

Why is PPC a good choice?

You will gain traffic fast – With PPC you can rank high in search results straight away depending on the quality of your ads, the amount of your bid and how competitive your terms are.

*PPC is faster at developing clicks but only if your budget is reflective of the competitiveness of your industry.

It is ideal for conversion experiments – One of the main aims of traffic, apart from brand awareness, is for users to convert so your business makes money. Knowing what content, messages, structure and visuals will work to drive conversions often requires experimentation. You need traffic to create data for these experiments, therefore using PPC for fast traffic can really speed up and aid this process.

You won’t get burned by algorithms – Remember those lovely algorithms we mentioned in our definition of SEO? Search engines are constantly trying to become more accurate and improve the user experience. To achieve this they tweak, tune and update their algorithms. Algorithms are becoming smarter and as they change so must the SEO methods which help your site rank.
What helped sites rank well several years ago could now get your site penalised in search results so SEO can be a constant battle to please search engine algorithms. When you use PPC you pay for traffic and are not subject to these requirements.

It’s highly targeted – You can target a specific audience by more than just keywords. You can target specific locations and demographics to deliver the right traffic to your website.

SEO isn’t really free anyway – If PPC means pay per click then SEO is free right? Wrong. The clicks and therefore the traffic are free in a sense, as you didn’t directly pay for your ranking position, but you have to work hard to optimise a site for search engine results. SEO requires constant development and professionals to spend time improving your site. It is also an ongoing process to maintain your ranking position.

It is helpful for new sites and low content sites – SEO requires content rich websites that are regularly updated. If you haven’t got time for this or if your website is very new PPC is ideal for getting that traffic in fast while you wait for content to develop for your SEO.

What are the negative aspects of PPC?

The cost – This is the most obvious drawback. PPC does exactly what is says on the tin and that means every bit of traffic is costing you money. They might not even convert once they have visited. Remember you pay per click not per conversion.

It’s temporary – Perhaps you have the budget to continually run PPC campaigns but the fact remains that PPC only works when you are spending. The minute you pause that campaign the ads go away. This means if you have no organic presence or rank very low you are going to have a major drop in traffic. People are naturally lazy and technology provides them with so much choice that they are unlikely to scroll past the first page of results in search, therefore neglecting SEO is a big mistake.

It’s getting more competitive – It’s an increasingly digital world and businesses are getting very tech savvy. That means all your competitors are well aware of PPC and probably using it. If many businesses are bidding on search terms it makes ranking in the top ad positions very competitive which in turn drives up the cost of your clicks.

There is distrust – People are pretty digitally knowledgeable these days. They know when they see an advert, especially because it says ad or sponsored in an obvious way on both social and Google search results. Many do not mind clicking an ad but they also know you paid for that position. People still have a natural distrust of ads and may choose an organic listing over an advert in the belief it will be more relevant.

It still takes work – You still need to monitor, tweak and test your PPC strategy to get the best value out of it for your budget. It is not simply a case of setting it up and letting it run if you desire the best value.

Why is SEO a good choice?

You will have a higher quality website – The fact that SEO has to keep up with the latest algorithm changes means your website will be of a higher quality if you invest in it. SEO now goes hand in hand with user experience as well as rankings.

Users trust organic more than ads – Users will know your site is relevant to their query and you didn’t just pay for your position.

It’s evergreen – If you want to develop long term, consistent traffic then SEO is the way to go. Your site remains optimised and is constantly improved so you aren’t dependent on a PPC campaign for your position. It is great for long term brand awareness and visibility.

You will stay safe with ‘best practice’ – If you follow search engine guidelines by utilising best practice optimisation techniques, avoid spam and strive to create a great user experience algorithm updates should not harm your site.

You can be an authority in your industry – While you need to develop high quality, regular content to win the SEO game this can benefit you in other ways too. You can develop excellent, educational, fascinating and helpful content for your target audience and become seen as an industry expert.

It works with content marketing – If you are working on incredible content marketing to impress and dazzle users this will also work well with SEO to develop a good position in search results. SEO is dependent on good content.

You can target longer term queries, more niche terms and target other stages of the conversion funnel – Some industry and keywords have far less search volume around them but this doesn’t mean no one is looking for your services. Those that are looking will be a highly specific and relevant audience, likely to convert. While your PPC ads won’t run for terms with low search volume you can rank organically for long term, query based and niche terms. It is also important to remember that not everyone is ready to buy straight away. They may end up liking your product or service but not even be aware they need it. Ranking well for a range of relevant terms and producing great content can increase the visibility of your website to a wider audience.

What are the negative aspects of SEO?

It takes longer – SEO takes much longer than PPC to drive traffic. You won’t start ranking straight away after basic optimisation of your site, especially for brand new websites.
It’s an ongoing process – You still need to constantly work at your optimisation to maintain your position against competitors.

It requires resources – While the traffic itself is free you will be investing in the development of new content in many forms to keep your site fresh, optimised for new terms and to make it intriguing to users.

So which is best for you?

Ideally every business should invest in both strategies. If you can afford it you want to take up as much space in search results as possible to beat your competitors and target users with multi methods.

However, if you have a smaller budget, opt for SEO but be aware it will take longer to see results. You can always start PPC at a later date.

PPC can be great for a new business, which is earlier on in its SEO strategy and needs to generate traffic fast. If you have yet to build up organic rankings, content and brand awareness but need to generate traffic PPC is a perfect solution, but you should never neglect SEO. It is the bedrock of your digital marketing strategy and should continue during any PPC campaigns.