SEO vs PPC – Which is better for your business?

Are you putting hours into content creation but failing to rank on Google? Are you pumping vast amounts of money into PPC (pay-per-click) advertising but getting poor return on investment?

This article looks at SEO vs PPC, and how search engines deal with organic and paid-for content and how you can use both to grow your business.

What we will cover

50 years ago only the biggest brands had media placement, nowadays there’s lots of opportunities for small businesses to use owned earned and paid media, but which is better between seo vs ppc and how do you strike the perfect balance?

Until quite recently, most businesses had to rely on paid media (TV. Radio, newspapers, billboards, etc.) for practically all of their advertising needs.

Today’s marketing mix looks very different with the emergence of company owned websites, blogs and social media pages and an active community of social media influencers with the power to amplify messages (which can be a double edged sword).

Today’s business owners and marketing teams have to strike a fine balance by allocating resources to owned earned and paid media and measure the effects on their bottom line.

Owned Media

Businesses owning media is a very new concept. With the exception of perhaps a local newsletter and the occasional bit of free PR, the pre-internet wilderness gave little scope for companies – especially small ones – to communicate their brands.

Today, even startups operating on a shoestring will have a website or blog, even if it is one of those horrendous drag and drop things that can be thrown up for – ahem – free.

Businesses are also increasingly setting up their own Facebook pages and Twitter profiles on top of (or even in place of) their website.

Anything which is unique and created by that company can be considered owned media including webpages, blog posts, social media posts, eBooks, white papers, webinars, infographics, videos and press releases.

Unlike paid media, owned media needs to provide something of value to readers and so should be less focused on promotion and more educational or informational in nature.

Businesses need to create a content marketing strategy aimed at stimulating earned media. This can be achieved using search engine optimisation (SEO) to improve online visibility and quality content to encourage engagement.

Earned Media

Earned media covers the exposure a business gets through other sources. In terms of social media this includes reposts, likes, @mentions, shares and retweets. Other forms of earned media include customer or industry reviews and recommendations and traditional methods of PR and other types of press coverage.

As a form of word of mouth marketing, earned media amplifies both owned and paid media. By appealing to industry or social media influencers, owned content can sometimes ‘go viral,’ bringing both short-term and long-term benefits.

Earned media, particularly social media engagements and reviews, can also provide a valuable insight into the voice of the customer.

Paid Media

Although businesses can still get results using the traditional forms of paid media mentioned earlier in this post, they now have the luxury of various types of online advertising and promotion to choose from – ideal for low budget SMEs.

Online advertising used to be synonymous with banner adverts but pop-up blockers have reduced their popularity. Most online advertising is now in the form of PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns such as Adwords. PPC enables powerful targeting and an appealing payment model with advertisers only paying when there has been measurable engagement.

Other forms of online advertising include retargeting, display advertising, sponsored social media posts, paid social media influencers and paid content promotion.

SEO vs PPC – Measuring and Monitoring

Despite its many benefits, the multi-layered reality of 21st century media does pose a big problem when it comes to measuring effectiveness. In the past, companies could literally run a radio or newspaper ad campaign, record the costs, measure any increase in sales and work out their ROI (return on investment).

Today it can be tricky to work out which elements of a marketing campaign are delivering the results. Is it the quality content that is being produced, the paid ad campaigns or the spin-off earned media from one or both of these sources?

This is where analytics software comes in. Most large social media platforms, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter, all have their own internal dashboards to help businesses track which pieces of content performed the best in terms of engagement.

There are also plenty of third-party analytics and social media management software providers. These all have slightly different features, for example:

  • Categorising earned media by channel (paid social media, PPC ad, organic search, etc.)
  • Categorising earned social media by platform.
  • Identifying most effective posts.
  • Analysing and displaying share of voice (equivalent to market share but based on online brand conversations).
  • Advertising Value Equivalency (a formula used to determine how much PR and other earned media would have cost if they had been advertisements)
  • Analysing brand sentiment
  • Displaying sentiment share of voice (how liked your brand is compared to others)
  • Detecting most influential followers (these can then be nurtured as potential brand advocates)
  • Identifying most effective keywords and hashtags

Paid advertising platforms will also have inbuilt analytics while Google Analytics and similar monitoring software can be easily installed on most websites and blogs.

By running a combination of these tools, businesses can build up a picture of which of the three media types are performing best and which may require development.

If you visualise owned, earned and paid media as three circles within a Venn diagram, the sweet spot is where they intersect.

A healthy business will balance quality content production with carefully selected advertising campaigns, attracting plenty of earned media which then amplifies their message for maximum reach.

SEO vs PPC: How to tell the difference?

Organic search results are those that appear when you search for something in Google.

Even if your site isn’t well optimised, if Google is indexing it then your webpages will appear somewhere in the listings (even if it’s on page 50). They will stay there for as long as your site is active.

Paid-for PPC results appear at the top, bottom or side of search engine results pages (SERPs) and can be identified by the discreet green ‘ad’ sign. These ads only last for as long as they’re being paid for.

Apart from the obvious issue of money, there are important differences to how search engines deal with organic and paid-for content. This has led to different names being given to the techniques used for each strategy.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) covers the strategies and techniques used to help make organic content visible on SERPs.

Search engine marketing (SEM) covers the optimisation of paid online ads, for example Google Ads PPC (pay-per-click) ads.

Let’s start by looking at the pros and cons of both types of marketing.

Why organic search leads to long-term benefits

While organic results are free, in order to ensure you get those results for competitive search terms, you need to invest a lot of time educating yourself, or money in hiring a professional to do the job right for you.

This ‘SEO’ is an essential part of marketing a website and provides a solid foundation for building a successful online business. Whether you hire a professional or not, SEO requires patience.

Organic search can be thought of as a marathon, not a sprint. Progress can seem slow over the first few months as you steadily build your pace and gradually reel in the established businesses ahead of you on the track.

As time goes on, you will start experiencing small wins (receiving high quality inbound links; cracking the first page of Google for multiple keywords; reaching the top three results for your most important keyword, etc.)

The longer you stay in the game, the further ahead of your less-committed competitors you will get.

Even if you prefer to pay for online ads you should always be carrying out SEO if you want long-term results that will guarantee a continuous stream of traffic to your site.

How PPC can boost exposure

With so much potential traffic available for free through Google, you may think its a no brainer in the SEO vs PPC discussion, but PPC has its place, let’s look at when you should be using it.

To stick with the athletics analogy, a PPC campaign is like a sprint and requires a continuous input of energy (i.e. money) to sustain success. A successful Google Ads campaign will see your online ads placed prominently above all organic search results.

This kind of instant visibility is useful for many reasons – for example, if you’re running a time-sensitive special promotion, targeting a new audience or boosting visibility while your initial SEO takes root. The time not to use PPC is when you’re reaching for a quick solution to a problem that needs to be fixed through quality SEO work.

By the way, a successful Google Ads campaign is not the same as throwing more money into it than anyone else. While money certainly does play a part, Google still expects quality and you will need to carefully choose your keywords, create your ad text and optimise your landing pages to run an efficient campaign. This will ensure you not only appear higher on the page than your competitors but that you pay less to win each bid – making your budget stretch further.

However, as with all sprints, once you run out of fuel, you are out of the game. Once your budget runs out, or you decide to end your campaign, the traffic disappears. Your site’s visibility (unless you’ve also taken care of your SEO) will vanish for selected keywords and will only be found wherever it sits in Google’s organic rankings. Running a PPC-only campaign can be an expensive way to market a business.

Is PPC effective? Well, 2018 statistics from Hanapin Marketing show that nearly 79% of marketers rate PPC as a big driver of business with 62% planning to increase their budgeting in this area. This should show that if you’re not investing at all in PPC then you should at least consider allocating some of your budget to it.

In fact, a blend of organic and paid-for advertising is recommended for most businesses. Think of it as having both Usain Bolt and Mo Farah on your Olympics team!

So is SEO vs PPC akin to asking: “who is better, Messi or Ronaldo?” Although similar, both have different skillsets and will be effective in different situations.

Using both organic and paid-for traffic for optimum results

A strong marketing solution will use both organic SEO for evergreen performance and PPC for a few bursts of success.

This is because SEO and SEM work differently. For example, organic search results are skewed towards the researcher rather than the buyer. Google’s standards are very high and only content of sufficient depth and quality will have a chance of ranking well organically. An SEO team will also have to pay attention to back-end factors such as title tags, meta descriptions, URL structure, image tagging and more.

With SEM, keyword selection and performance analysis is critical. Selecting the wrong keywords can lead to your ad being flagged as irrelevant while a poorly designed landing page will fail to convert your leads when they get there. Keeping an eye on the best-performing keywords and campaigns will enable you to tweak your SEM for maximum cost-efficiency.

So both SEO and SEM are important but require different sets of skills. To do both SEO and SEM properly, you’ll need to invest in either educating yourself or in hiring the right people for the job.

Is Google still the best search platform?

Our SEO Training Course is weighted towards Google and with good reason. Since 2010, Google’s search market share has never slipped below 86% and, in 2019 (according to Statista) the tech giant is still hoarding 88.47% of the search space.

The battle for mobile-powered search is closer but Google still leads the way with a 63% share.

Although SEO specialists do keep an eye on Bing, Yahoo!, Baidu and the rest, it is still Google they aim to please!

How mobile is changing everything

One reason why Google is still leading the way in terms of search is how well they have adapted to changing consumer habits, in particular the transition from desktop and laptop devices to smartphones and tablets.

Google’s most recent changes, and the ones SEO experts and marketers need to be most aware of, involve differentiating between websites geared towards mobiles and those still stuck back in the early 2010s.

SEO marketers must stay aware of any algorithm changes and also use their own nous to ensure their clients’ websites are optimised for mobile. For example, the smaller screen size of mobile devices makes it more important than ever to rank highly since only the top one or two results are ever visible without scrolling.

Mobile search patterns also makes local search optimisation that more important. An ‘on the move’ customer requires a more dynamic set of search results which is why one of the key sections of our upcoming SEO Training Course is claiming and optimising your Google My Business page. We can’t stress enough how important that is!

SEO vs PPC – Put to bed?

The SEO landscape changes so rapidly and so dramatically that it is very easy to lose touch. Hopefully, this article has helped debunk the SEO vs PPC debate and introduced you to the main principles behind paid and organic SEO.

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