SEO vs PPC: Which One Should I Use?

6S Marketing is starting a brand new series of “X vs. Y” blog posts. Today is the first blog post in this series and it is on the topic: “SEO vs. PPC”.

We (too) often hear the question: “I read a lot about Internet Marketing and I am considering SEO and PPC. Which one should I use?”

Firstly, let’s define these terms:

SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimization” and describes the process of optimizing a website to rank organically (not having to pay) in the search engine results for certain keywords or key phrases. These organic results show on the left and center of the search engine results page.

PPC stands for “Pay Per Click” and is an online advertising bid-based model used to drive traffic to websites. The concept behind it is that advertisers don’t pay to display their ads but pay every time someone clicks on their ad. The amount paid per click varies depending on your bid, how competitive the keyword is and the quality score of your ad. Usually you will notice a “sponsored links” or “Ads” annotation in the ad box. The ads can be displayed on the right side of the the search results pages of Google, Yahoo and Bing or in participating websites called content network.

Now that we are clear on the terms and differences between SEO and PPC, we can start to answer the original question: “SEO vs. PPC: which one is better?”

Both SEO and PPC have strengths and weaknesses so let’s review them:

SEO – Search Engine Optimization

Strengths

Organic rankings have a better reputation

Some studies* have shown that a number one organic position will drive more visitors to your site than a number one paid position. Most people understand that the top rankings in the pink box are paid ads and tend to trust organic rankings more.

Rankings are more sustainable

Once SEO optimization has started to work and a webpage ranks on the first page of a search engine’s results for some targeted keywords, that listing will stay in that position with some maintenance and should not disappear suddenly, unless there is a dramatic change in the search engine algorithm, or a big mistake is made on your website (for example: you changed URLs with doing the proper 301 redirects, got flagged by Google etc…)

SEO works across different search engines

Google, Yahoo & Bing (Yabing) have different ranking algorithms but they have some common factors. Optimizing websites for Google will get you listed for some keywords in Yahoo & Bing, and other smaller search engines as well

Weaknesses

Time

With SEO, nothing is instantaneous. It takes some time to do the appropriate research, perform audits, come up with recommendations, implement them and see the impact on the rankings. You will most likely need help from a programmer. It can take websites a few months to start seeing significant results, depending on how competitive the industry and chosen keywords are, and how much work was required on the website in the first place.

SEO is more unpredictable

With SEO, you are at the mercy of a search engine’s algorithm update. The latest example was the Google Panda Update that dramatically impacted the traffic and rankings of some major websites. eHow is a good example.

Competitiveness

Some industries and keywords are so competitive that it would require a very high budget and lots of time to make your way up to the first page.

PPC – Pay Per Click

Strengths

It’s real time

As soon as you launch a PPC Campaign, it will appear in the chosen search engine within minutes, as opposed to weeks or months to rank organically.

Your budget is the limit

With an unlimited budget, you can literally rank number one for any given keyword.

PPC can boost traffic temporarily or on a short term basis

You can turn PPC campaigns on and off at will so if you have a short term special you wish to advertise for example, PPC will give you better results than SEO because SEO might take too long to get that special offer indexed and ranked highly on a search engine result page (SERP).

Weaknesses

PPC is not sustainable

As soon as you stop paying for a PPC campaign, your rankings will disappear. You will always have to pay for your PPC campaign to be up and running so it can be quite pricey in the long run.

Cost

Some competitive keywords can be very expensive to bid on. Competitors can also engage in bidding wars which will bring up the cost per click and use up your daily budget faster.

Daily budget expires

Whether you use the standard or accelerated delivery method for your ads, they may run out of budget at some point during the day, which means they will no longer be listed on the search engine result pages. An organic listing will always be listed, no matter what time of the day or night it is.

Single Platform Support

You have to pay multiple search engines to appear in their results. Google and Yahoo & Bing have different platforms. Paying Google will only make your website show up in Google.

Click Fraud

Although Google tries to monitor click fraud and had to settle lawsuits for click fraud, it is still possible for your competitors to click on your ad until your budget runs out and your ad disappear, especially for small campaigns where 10/20 clicks a day would be enough to maximize your daily budget.

In Summary

After reviewing strengths and weaknesses of SEO and PPC, you should start to get the idea of what is right for you. There is no absolute answer as to whether SEO is better than PPC or the other way around. There is no clear winner in the SEO vs. PPC face-off. It totally depends on your goals and how you use the two tactics. For example, SEO can be great for traffic generation whereas Pay Per Click allows advertiser to capture those customers who are active in the buying cycle at the exact moment they are looking to purchase so SEO and PPC may not generate the same kind of traffic.

SEO and PPC are two different approaches aiming towards a common goal: drive more targeted traffic to your website to increase the conversions generated online.

In our experience, Internet Marketing is most effective when both tactics are used simultaneously achieving unique goals.
However, if we could only use one method to promote our site, we would choose SEO because it’s more sustainable in the long run, but as both options are available and are great at driving traffic, why only choose one?

Let’s conclude with a metaphor that I first heard from a colleague to further explain the point above. SEO is like working out at the gym. It requires a lot of time and effort but can lead to great results. Results of working out properly and regularly can last for a long time.

PPC is like liposuction. It’s fast, easy and you can see results right away, unlike working out at the gym. However, it’s more expensive than a gym membership and results are temporary.

Although, if you work out your whole life and decide to use liposuction as a complementary option, it would probably get the best results.

If you still have some questions about SEO or PPC, please feel free to contact us.

How about you? Which method of promoting your site do you prefer and why?

*http://www.hubspot.com/organic-vs-paid-search/
http://faculty.ist.psu.edu/jjansen/academic/pubs/sponsored_links_jansen.pdf
http://www.searchengineguide.com/scott-buresh/organic-seo-or.php

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