SEO vs. PPC: When Should You Invest In Each?The SEO vs. PPC debate has raged ever since AdWords became a particularly impressive performer in the field of search marketing. In the wake of recent changes in how Google ranks websites — most notably via the Penguin and Panda updates — it’s as if someone stoked the fires by adding some more fuel.
I see a lot of people arguing that PPC is the future of search marketing and that it can be much more profitable (and less risky and cumbersome) than SEO. According to at least a few fervent souls, the ground beneath SEO is shaking. The only other option, obviously, is PPC — if you’re looking to tap the traffic from Internet’s greatest source, which is to say, Google.
SEO Is Changing Dramatically
I’ll grant this much: SEO is definitely changing quickly and dramatically. As far as I can remember, SEO has constantly shuttled between a superstar and a villain. Every time a new algorithm comes up and disrupts websites’ traffic and rankings, people immediately place the blame on SEO. The oft-used charge is “SEO is snake oil.”
Post-Penguin, the debate has picked up where it left off about a year ago. Should you simply abandon all your SEO efforts and shift to a PPC campaign instead? Isn’t it an established fact that SEO squeezes money out of your allocation without giving you any guarantee of ROI, whereas things are totally different in the PPC camp?
To understand these contentions and more, we’ll first have to establish the relevancy of the entire debate. Why are we comparing SEO and PPC in the first place?
SEO vs. PPC: The Point of the Debate
Both SEO and PPC are very popular, and so is the debate between the two. Businesses, websites, and even individuals hoping to attract visitors and thereby potential customers to their websites have the option of choosing either (or both) of these options.
While SEO brings you organic search through organic search results, PPC is like placing an ad on Google for specific keywords. Most Google users don’t care that Google shows them “paid” results (AdWords), because Google makes certain that the ads are predominantly relevant to the keywords used in search.
Since both drive traffic through Google, you’re obviously going to examine the benefits each has over the other.
SEO, to begin with, involves activities that get you ranked highly for keywords you target. There’s no guarantee, but with the right optimization and efforts, positive ROI is likely (and has the potential to vastly outperform ROI from PPC). The investment here involves time, financing, skill, strategy, and other resources in order to optimize properly. SEO takes a lot of time and tweaking to get it right. Furthermore, positive ROI generally doesn’t yield for at least 6 months.
PPC, on the other hand, is making sure you’ll definitely show up — even though it’s only as an ad — right on top of the SERPs. You pay for every click that is generated. In many ways, PPC is quick to set up, a little slower to optimize, but very quick to generate results.
PPC: Where Does it Really Work?
Since you are paying for every click with PPC, it’s usually very costly. Naturally, you need to focus more on optimizing your website for ROI in the campaigns you run.
PPC is the more optimal form of search marketing if you are selling something or generating revenue in the first few steps of user interaction. It yields the most success for e-Commerce websites, for keywords that attract visitors with a “buying intent,” and for websites that sell digital services.
SEO: The Long-Term Investment
Unlike PPC, SEO has no assurances. It involves a long-term, ongoing process that aims to rank your website higher, and thus drive natural, organic search traffic. SEO is still necessary for e-Commerce and buying intent but it’s not as immediately productive as PPC.
SEO is enormously important for the following scenarios:
- if you want to build your website as an authority, recognized by Google
- if you want to stay on the top rungs of SERPs for the long run
- if you want to build a steady stream of traffic to your website without going broke over pay-per-click
- if you are not “selling”; that is, if your revenue generation modes are different from that of selling something online
- if you want to do all this without paying for every click or impression on Google
Why the SEO vs. PPC Debate?
It’s natural for us to seek and adapt a system that offers greater returns for lesser inputs (money spent, time invested, resources employed, etc.). If your goal is simply “get listed on Google for specific keywords in order to generate traffic”, PPC wins as the most optimal solution, at least in the short term.
People who run websites that aren’t intended to sell directly (or where revenue isn’t directly related to quantity of traffic) are much less likely to find PPC to be a viable option for their search marketing. In this case, only SEO can do the trick.
SEO is More Difficult, but Rightly So
Many people say SEO is tougher than PPC; I agree. PPC is a numbers game. You are basically looking at the most optimal value for CPC (cost-per-click) and conversion rates at the landing page for a given keyword with purchase intent.
SEO isn’t a numbers game. Neither can it be specifically codified into one set of activities. SEO is more of an art that requires tactful thinking and perfectly executed strategy. You do quality work on your website, away from your website, on social networks, and a host of other things to create the best ambiance to achieve higher ranking. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but when it works, it generally yields a much higher ROI than PPC.
Thinking Beyond SEO as a Technical Profession
Unlike several years ago, SEO can no longer be confined to anchor text, keyword density, backlinks, and the word count of your web pages. Elements like social signals, AuthorRank, localization, and plenty more are clear indications that SEO has emerged from its infancy and is, in a sense, going through a rapid puberty. Many experts have argued for a good while (notably after rampant exploitation of all SEO “techniques”) that SEO is not just a technical jargon; it is a collaborative effort of great, valuable content finding the right support through links and mentions and shares.
If you’re not running an eCommerce website (or if your intention is not just selling something but building authority over the long haul), don’t waste your time debating SEO and PPC. Your strategy has to be SEO, hands down.
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