SEO or PPC: Which is right for my business?

A world before search engines is difficult to imagine even though Google, the world’s largest search engine, is only celebrating its 17th birthday this year.  As the internet grew in size in the 1990s it became impossible for users to find websites by remembering their URL, so people started using search engines by submitting search queries and expecting search engines to deliver the best page.  Search engines effectively became the front door to the internet.

It is for these reasons that search engines became a hugely important means for marketers to drive traffic to their websites.  If you were able to get your website displayed on the front page of a search engine’s results, then this would help people find and visit your website.  This thinking led to Search Engine Marketing, a term which has two distinct tools: Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Paid Advertising (commonly referred to as PPC or Pay per Click advertising).

But which one is the right strategy for your business?  Should you use both or favor one over another and if so why?  After all, you know that both are a great way of boosting traffic and very popular within digital marketing.

Firstly let’s take a look at what SEO and PPC actually mean and what are the pros and cons of each.  Then we will take a look at the criteria which you should use to understand what strategy is best for your situation, your market and your business.

What are SEO and PPC?

Search Engine Optimisation

SEO is the means by which you can develop elements of your website to enable the website, or page, to perform well in the organic search engine results.  The search engines use a large number of variables (upwards of 200 is a reasonable guess although no-one outside the search engines know for sure) to understand the quality of the website/page and rank it against search terms accordingly.

Pros:

  • Search engines are responsible for a huge amount of traffic, and while it does vary by industry, getting SEO right is likely to be a big opportunity for your website.
  • Search engine users like it – it puts you on the same page as your key competitors, and there are a number of reports (like this one) which suggest that click through rates for organic search engine rankings are far greater than those of paid search engine advertising.
  • SEO is a long-term investment in your website’s visibility: the more you work on your SEO, the better your site should perform.

Cons:

  • Search engines use very complex algorithms – how can you expect to optimise your website against such complicated variables.
  • SEO is becoming more difficult to measure – there is a lack of data to support your SEO efforts.
  • You are at the mercy of another commercial organisation, so surely that makes you vulnerable.

Pay Per Click Search Engine Advertising

PPC advertising is the opportunity to run an advert which appears in the sponsored results section of search engine results.  You can choose the keywords against which your adverts will appear, and you will only pay the search engine when the advert is actually clicked.

Pros:

  • PPC is a short-term fix, and enables you to get your advert viewed by people who use specific keywords – and you can make this happen very quickly.
  • The reporting from the major search engines is very detailed – you are be able to track a number of metrics to help you improve your PPC performance.
  • You only have to pay when your advert is clicked.

Cons:

  • When your budget stops, the campaign immediately stops – this can come as a surprise if you are not tracking your campaign.
  • Google use Quality Score to help them rank their adverts – Quality Score can be a complicated concept to understand and relies on historic performance which you may not have.
  • If your keyword is very competitive, the cost of PPC advertising can get very expensive with bids of several dollars per click required just to participate.

How do I choose between SEO and PPC?

Deciding between SEO and PPC is more complex than just looking at the most popular pros and cons of each strategy.  It is about understanding your circumstance, and to do this you need to ask yourself six questions.

What is my objective?

  • Is the keyword important to your business in the short term or long term?  For example, if you are running a fixed term campaign called ‘The Big Widget Sale’, you would probably not want to invest the time in building up a page’s SEO to ensure that it appears in organic results.  So in this example, a PPC campaign targeting the term ‘The Big Widget Sale’ would make sense.  However, if your keyword is going to be important in the long-term, for example the name of one of your products or your business itself, then you should invest the time in building up SEO value for your website.

What is my budget?

  • If your answer to this question is ‘I don’t have a budget’, then you should focus on SEO!  There are a number of SEO activities that you can do yourself without spending a dime (although it can take up a lot of your time and the learning curve is steep).  If your budget is limited and you have short-term objectives to achieve, then you should use the more short-term strategy: PPC.  And if you are lucky enough to have a big budget, you should definitely consider using both in tandem.

What resources do I need?

  • There is no easy answer here I’m afraid.  If you want to run SEO campaigns, you should have someone (SEO agency or in-house) who can keep an eye on SEO trends for you: Google makes up to 600 minor updates to it’s search algorithm every year and major quality updates are becoming more frequent.  For PPC, you will also need someone to manage the account by checking out the key metrics on a regular basis and adjusting your maximum CPC bid accordingly.  In short, there isn’t a cheap way of doing either effectively.  Sorry!

What is my competition doing?

  • You will have a feel for the size of the competition, but what about their presence within search engine marketing?  This has a big impact on your choice: if you have big players who are bidding on your PPC keywords then you are going to have to dig deep into your pockets to compete.  Alternatively if organic search results are packed with high authority websites, trying to break through from an SEO perspective could take a long time.  Tricky one!

What do you want?

  • According to Moz, organic results are 8.5 times more likely to get clicked on than paid search.  This is driven by the credibility that natural results have, and by the lack of good quality advertising in a number of market places.  But you need to delve deeper into your analytics to find out what is working for you.  You should be focused on conversion rates, basket spend or lead quality and ultimately revenue and profit.  If you can analyse to this level, you will be able to decide the role that SEO and PPC play within your digital marketing strategy: maybe one is better at attracting people researching and another is better at conversion?

How many keywords do you have?

  • If you are not sure about the answer to this question, you probably have a very long list of keywords which you think your potential customers use to find businesses like yours.  In this case, you should test the keywords in PPC campaigns: you will see pretty quickly which ones are working and which are not.  You can use this short-list to prioritise your website content and, if they are important enough, move them to SEO keywords.

Is consistency important?

  • For a more consistent presence on search engine results, you should focus on SEO.  It helps to embed trust and credibility as your website is on the same page as the cream of the competition.  In the same way that you can quickly get an ad on PPC, you can just as quickly find your advert in an intense competition: while it is not quite as simple as increasing your bid to beat the competition, it does help – so it can get very expensive very quickly.

Summary

Search engine marketing does not require you to use only one of these strategies.  In an ideal world, you would use a combination of SEO and PPC, and we hope that these questions will help you to prioritise your spend.  Your business will have short-term and long-term objectives, so you should consider short-term and long-term strategies.

Which method do you use in your digital marketing?  Do you use both?  What makes you use one traffic generation method more than the other? 

Nathan Whitaker About the author

Nathan is the co-founder and Strategy Wizard at eMagic. He is responsible for the development and execution of our effective SEO strategies. He is passionate about search and delivering unrivalled results for our clients and industry partners.

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