SEO vs. PPC: Which One Wins the Online Race?

If you’re wondering where your business should be in the SEO vs. PPC debate, you’re in the right place to guide you to an answer. Whether you are new to the world of internet marketing or a digital veteran, the choice between SEO and PPC is one that will be different for every site, company, and situation.

SEO vs. PPC: Which should you choose?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising are popular techniques to drive traffic to your website. The goal of both of these is to drive traffic to your website via search engines. But which one is best for you?

Learn more in the video below, and then keep reading!

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Sometimes, the answer to SEO vs. PPC is actually PPC and SEO working together.

As a starting point, it is important to fully understand the concepts and purposes of SEO and PPC.

SEO is the process of getting traffic from the “free” or “natural” listings on search engines, such as Google or Bing. SEO is like a marathon, where it takes a lot of time to see the results of your hard work. Your website is modified or improved to help it appear higher in the organic listings.

These listings or ranking positions are determined by factors such as the popularity of your links and the relevancy of your content, but changes definitely won’t happen overnight.

Organic search results for the keyword "how to play tennis"

PPC advertising allows you to display ads in the sponsored results section of each search engine’s results page, and when that ad is clicked, you are charged a fee.

If you want immediate clicks to your website, PPC is a much shorter race—as a short sprint—because you can immediately start appearing on the first page of results.

PPC ads for the search query "tennis racquets"

Your rankings with PPC are determined by how much you bid on keywords, the quality score of your ads, and the landing pages that the ads point to.

The main factor in deciding between the two is the kind of budget you have to work with.

PPC and SEO results for the query "online tennis shoes"

To go in-depth on which online marketing technique is appropriate for you, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of SEO vs. PPC:

PPC pros and cons

PPC Pros

  • Immediate results
    • If you are first launching a website or even a brand new company, you want to get your new site/name out there as soon as possible. PPC works a lot faster in the short race of SEO vs. PPC, but faster doesn’t always mean long term.
    • This is also beneficial if you have special promotions or events that need exposure and cannot be planned months in advance.
  • You are in control
    • With PPC ads, you have control over which page the “clicker” is sent to.
    • By having control over the landing page, you are able to make sure that the visitor is seeing the most relevant information to what your ad was displaying.
    • The ads that are displayed are written by you and you are able to test them to see which ad performs the best, which landing page is better for visitors, etc.
  • Flexibility
    • You have the ability to choose which keywords you want to bid higher on, how much you want to spend in a day, and even the ability to pause your campaign if you are running low on your budget.
    • You are also able to set the placement of your ads and the location where you want your ad to be shown.

PPC Cons

  • Limited long term benefits
    • Once the money stops, the ads stop. While you may gain some branded traffic down the road, that unbranded search traffic will completely disappear when the ads stop running.
  • Bad Reputation
    • PPC listings look like ads because of an ad tag and are purposely placed where they are.
    • Many people dislike ads, refuse to click on them, or frankly just have no idea what they are and do not trust them.

Google search result with PPC ads

  • Costs add up
    • Even though you have the ability to control your PPC campaign budget, costs do begin to pile up and you may end up spending more money than you originally planned.
    • Traffic to your site with PPC is completely dependent on the money you pour into it. If the keywords you are targeting are highly competitive, they may be expensive and can drain your budget quickly.

The keyword "flowers" typed into Google with competitive data

bonus read: Check out the answers to the most common ppc questions!

SEO pros and cons

SEO Pros

  • Trustworthiness
    • 86% of search engine users report that they trust organic search results over paid search results. In fact, it’s been said that searchers simply get annoyed with the advertisements that come up during searches and do not even think about clicking on them.
  • Long term benefits
    • Once all the SEO best practices are implemented – like creating quality, keyword-rich content and a strong linking profile – the results will outlast your efforts. The return on investment for SEO will continue to climb long after PPC has peaked.
  • Relevant, targeted traffic
    • SEO allows for the use of long-tail keywords, which are three to five-word phrases that refine a search term to be more targeted.
    • For example, someone who is searching for “wedding cakes” probably is just doing some casual browsing or looking for ideas.
    • Someone who is searching for “wedding cake cost calculator” is someone who is further along in the buying process. With long-tail keywords comes more relevant traffic.

Generic Google search for wedding cakes

Google search result for wedding cake cost calculator

  • Forces website improvements
    • The main difference when it comes to SEO vs. PPC is that with PPC, you pay for the visitors, but with advanced SEO, you earn visitors by improving your site and following best practices. It may take a lot of work, but it’s a good thing in the long run because of the improvements to your site’s usability.


SEO Cons

  • Ever-changing Google algorithms
    • A top complaint about SEO is that all of the work you put into your site to get your website on the first page results could be affected completely if Google releases new algorithm changes (which they do, at a rate of about 1.2 changes per day).
  • Required on-going maintenance
    • Keyword research, content updates, link building and more are all factors of SEO that need to be regularly monitored and updated in order for your site to maintain rankings or to increase them.
  • Time lag
    • Compared to the instantaneous results of PPC, when you’re comparing SEO vs. PPC, the time lag with SEO can be a downfall.
    • It can take anywhere from one to three months to see an increase in rankings or traffic. This also depends on how much optimization is needed for your site to even be ready to launch.

SEO vs. PPC: Make your digital marketing decision

So should you start running that marathon or lace up the sneakers and begin the sprint? That question is up to you to decide.

Both types of digital marketing need to be considered, then from there, you can determine whether SEO, PPC, or even both options are the best fit for your needs, goals, and budget.

If you’re ready to start driving results with SEO, PPC, or both SEO and PPC, WebFX provides expert SEO services and PPC services to clients across the country? Whether you need SEO services in Orlando or PPC services in Philadelphia, we’ve got you covered.

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