SEO vs. PPC: To Pay or Not to Pay?SEO/SEM
If you do business online or deal with digital marketing in any form, you certainly know that the best way to promote your business website and boost conversions is by getting traffic.
Traffic is the exposure that translates directly into online visibility, which, in turn, increases conversions. The more visibility you get, the more traffic you can expect to generate in the future. It’s a vicious circle of the digital age: you need traffic to drive even more traffic!
There are two principal strategies for generating traffic: SEO and PPC. SEO is known as a less expensive but more time-consuming method. PPC is basically paid online advertising, which is usually associated with large expenses. But are things really that simple? And which promotion method is ultimately more effective: SEO or PPC? Let’s find out!
What is SEO?
SEO, or search engine optimization, is a traffic acquisition method based on improving website quality and enriching content with the ultimate goal of making the site more search-engine-friendly. If your website is optimized, Google (or other search engines) will be more likely to put your site at the top of the search results.
Occupying the top positions in SERPs is vital for your website visibility. The more people can find your site using specific search queries, the more organic traffic you will get. And this means a higher conversion rate you can count on.
51% of all website traffic is generated from organic searches, while the rest is accounted for by paid searches (that is PPC), social media, and other sources. Since most traffic comes from search engines, it is obvious that SEO is to be taken very seriously when creating and promoting a website.
SEO is achieved through an array of activities aimed at improving websites and creating SEO content. These include:
- Utilizing keyword research;
- Writing unique, useful, and well-structured content;
- Introducing keywords organically into content;
- Building quality backlinks;
- Writing engaging and keyword-rich meta-tags for website pages;
- Optimizing website loading speed;
- Conducting SEO audit;
- Eliminating website errors.
All these processes require a lot of time and labor, as well as ongoing maintenance. What’s more, despite the popular belief, SEO is not a “free” way to drive traffic. Creating content, building links, and using the services of professional SEO experts costs money. Often, it costs quite a bit of money.
Furthermore, SEO is a very fluid discipline. SEO norms and regulations constantly change due to the continuous development of search engine algorithms. For that reason, what you consider to be an optimized website can actually drop in rankings in a snap, once new standards come into effect.
However, SEO efforts usually pay off with long-term benefits such as:
- Improved online visibility: The better your website is optimized, the higher it ranks on Google. Thus, more people can see it in search results.
- Higher domain authority: The better backlink catalog you’ve got, the higher your domain authority rating is, which directly influences your Google ranking.
- Higher customer trust: Almost 80% of users prefer organic search results rather than paid ones. Therefore, people are more likely to click a non-paid link in search results, considering it to be more credible and authoritative.
Despite all the advantages of SEO, it is impossible to achieve a high search engine ranking overnight. As was said before, SEO is a long-lasting and laborious process. Unless you’re in no rush to develop your website gradually, you need a solution that can bring results immediately. This solution is PPC.
What is PPC?
PPC stands for “pay-per-click.” It is an online advertising model with which you pay a fixed amount each time a user clicks on your advertised link. These links are shown at the very top of search results pages. And since they are paid, they appear right above the top organic results. That means PPC allows your site to get maximum exposure, even if you haven’t worked on your SEO. However, this result is possible if you are ready to invest a sufficient amount in your PPC campaigns.
PPC works in a similar way with SEO. Both revolve around keywords. However, there’s a significant difference. With SEO, you need to research keywords and use them consistently in your content. Yet with PPC you have to bid for target keywords so that your website shows up in SERPs each time people use these keywords in their search queries.
Depending on the search engine you’re targeting, you’ll need to use a corresponding PPC advertising platform: Google AdWords, Bing Ads, Yahoo Search Ads, etc. As noted above, PPC is based on bidding. If you can offer a sufficient bid for a specific keyword, your ad will be shown at the top of SERPs. The bidding amount depends on different variables, such as keyword competitiveness, overall competition within your industry, keyword length and relevance, etc. You can find out more about the bidding process and PPC in general from one of our previous posts.
Although PPC requires considerable investments to run comprehensive advertising campaigns, its benefits are undeniable:
- Immediate effect: PPC ads can be launched almost in no time, and they will start driving traffic to your site at once.
- Easy traffic: With a PPC campaign set, you don’t have to bother about optimizing your website and creating content. As long as you pay for the exposure, your site will stay in the top search results and will consistently generate traffic.
- The simplicity of measurement: All popular PPC platforms are equipped with advanced analytics tools, which allow you to track your ROI with ease and precision.
- Advanced targeting options: PPC ads can be configured to cover different audiences and regions. Thus, you can achieve a more targeted effect.
- Immunity to search engine algorithm changes: Regardless of new SEO regulations, your website will appear in SERPs.
At the same time, PPC has some significant flaws in comparison to SEO:
- No long-term effect: Once you stop paying for PPC ads, your website will immediately disappear from SERPs.
- No domain authority gain: PPC is irrelevant to your website’s authority domain rating.
- Maintenance is required: To make sure your PPC campaigns run smoothly, you’ll need to monitor and adjust them every day.
- PPC ensures clicks, not conversions: PPC allows you to attract a lot of visitors, but not all of them will eventually become your customers.
- Many users tend to ignore PPC ads: Since paid search results are marked with an “Ad” tag in SERPs, many users consider them less credible than “earned” search results.
No doubt, PPC is the fastest and easiest way to acquire traffic. But it comes at a price, and its effects last for as long as you are willing to pay. And unlike SEO, PPC doesn’t improve the quality or performance of your site in the long run.
So what to choose: SEO or PPC?
As you can see, both SEO and PPC have their pros and cons. To understand which method is the most suitable for your website, you need to determine your individual goals and evaluate the resources you can afford to invest in the promotion. First and foremost, you should answer the following questions:
What is your advertising budget?
If you are tight on the budget, stick with SEO. It is a more cost-effective solution all around. Some SEO methods are free, and others require investments. But SEO expenses are more “flexible” and easy to balance.
However, if you are ready to invest at least $5-10 a day in PPC, give it a shot. PPC will provide your website with a traffic boost that could help you pick up steam in the early stages.
What kind of business are you running?
Depending on your industry, you may want to prioritize SEO over PPC, or vice versa. For example, if you work in an information-heavy industry, such as marketing, business consulting, healthcare, education, IT, etc., or if you offer mostly services, you will hardly make it to the top without SEO. You will need quality content to increase customer trust and will have to establish your brand as an authority within your niche.
But if you’re running an online store, PPC will be your preferred choice for promoting individual products and advertising limited time offers.
Do you need instantaneous traffic or consistent results?
With PPC, you can set up an advertising campaign in just a couple of hours (or even faster) and start getting traffic ASAP, which is convenient when you need to draw attention to your specific offers quickly.
But if you want to create an authority website in your niche, a go-to online hub to which visitors will keep coming for information or entertainment, you will need to develop an SEO-driven marketing strategy that will ensure long-term benefits and consistent traffic influx.
What is the cost-per-click in your industry?
Cost-per-click (CPC) is the price you pay each time a user clicks on your PPC advertisement featuring a specific keyword. Bidding on platforms like AdWords is based on a keyword CPC. Different keywords have different CPC depending on their popularity, length, relevance, etc.
Therefore, if you work in a competitive industry, you should be ready to bid substantial amounts for some frequent keywords. Unless you can afford it, go for SEO.
How high is the competition within your niche?
As noted above, the level of competition is one of the main factors influencing the cost-per-click of keywords. The less competition you’re facing, the more cost-effective your PPC efforts will be.
On the other hand, if you have a lot of powerful competitors who are already ranking high on Google, perhaps it is worth focusing on SEO. It will take more time to catch up with other brands, but you will be able to spend your budget on improving your website and its content rather than a temporary traffic fix.
SEO and PPC are two different approaches to driving traffic. SEO takes less money but more time, and it offers consistent results. PPC is more costly, and its effect lasts for as long as you pay, but it allows you to start generating traffic almost instantly.
Since both techniques have benefits and flaws, it is not advisable to practice just one. To ensure the steady development of your website and achieve higher conversion rates, you should employ both strategies while emphasizing one that is more suitable to your current needs.