SEO vs. PPC: Which One Should You Invest In?

Neil Henry / seo Leave a Comment

SEO and PPC are both great ways of generating traffic to your website. SEO helps build your long-term success and provides you with a residual competitive advantage, the other (PPC) is much more of a short-term solution.

SEO vs. PPC In A Nutshell

Before we look at why we believe your time and money will bring a greater ROI invested in SEO than PPC, let’s quickly recap on the main differences between the two concepts.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) focuses on getting your website in the best possible shape for it to appear higher in the organic placements on search engine results pages (SERPs).

Google and the other top search engines have been designed and refined over many years, to show the most relevant information to online visitors. All in an attempt to create the best search engine experience. What SEO does is help your website stand a greater chance of popping up in the organic search results when an Internet user performs a search for a certain phrase or set of keywords.

SEO is a long-term strategy that involves creating great content, getting reputable backlinks to your website and a host of other optimization techniques. It can seem complicated and is often frustrating, but amazing results can be seen if you get it right. Being prepared to play the long game, with a solid strategy is crucial.

Search engines closely monitor how people are interacting with your website. If visitors come back regularly and other websites are linking to your content because it’s informative and adds value, your website could become regarded by the search engines as an authority in your niche.

The other main method used to drive traffic to a website is Pay-Per-Click (PPC) or paid advertising. PPC is an Internet marketing model whereby businesses (and individuals) pay a fee to a search engine each time one of their ads is clicked. In essence, PPC is a way of buying visits to a website instead of earning them organically through SEO and other web marketing techniques.

A quick Google search for the term ‘hotel New York’ yields over 240 million results, of which the top four are ads. You can see this in the following screenshot:

Even though the results look extremely natural and organic, the small green ‘Ad’ label reveals that they are, indeed, PPC ads. Paid placements.

Each time one of these ads is clicked, and a visitor is sent to the website, the owner will pay the search engine a pre-agreed fee.

The primary aim of PPC is to pay for ads that attract clicks, which then result in a lead or customer for the website. For example, a PPC ad on Google might cost a website owner $3 per click. But if each click generates a sale worth hundreds of dollars, the ROI is easy to see and money well spent.

The Real Value Proposition: SEO As A Competitive Advantage

While SEO, without the right guidance and help, can be tricky, its long-term benefits are unquestionable. Whereas PPC looks to score quick wins by buying clicks based on keywords and phrases, SEO seeks to establish a solid platform on which your business and its web assets can grow long into the future. Think of it (SEO that is) as a long-lasting investment in your web presence.

Sure, PPC allows you to generate website traffic, and fast, but the traffic it generates immediately ceases as soon as your PPC campaign comes to an end, unlike SEO which keeps on working for your business.

That’s because organic traffic does not dry up the moment you stop paying. It’s a sustainable solution that will keep paying dividends, even when marketing budgets (and, therefore, PPC budgets) are cut back or need to be tested in other areas.

Furthermore, because SEO takes a longer time to see results, many businesses choose to focus on PPC and its quick return nature. The problem with such an approach is that you can be easily outbid on your chosen keywords and phrases by anyone, at any time. It is also easy to be lower in the Ad rankings because of a weaker ‘quality score’ on your ad compared to a competitors ad. This means that your pretty ad can go from the top of the SERPs to not even being displayed very quickly. All it takes is for someone to come along with a bigger PPC budget, more bullish approach or stronger reputation.

With SEO, your time, effort and investment provide a strategic advantage over your competition – especially if your competitors are relying on PPC to get their website links showing at the top of the SERPs.

SEO should be viewed as a more thorough web marketing initiative, not a one-off campaign (like many PPC strategies).

Let’s also not forget that an SEO investment is an investment in all the major search engines. A PPC campaign, on the other hand, only affects your success on the search engine you pay-to-play on. So while you may see good PPC results on say Google, you will actually be missing out on traffic from the likes of Bing, Yahoo! and Baidu – traffic you would still be benefitting from had you chosen to invest in SEO rather than PPC.

Finally, with PPC, the cost of lead generation is totally out of your hands.

For example, while you might enjoy some decent traffic for just a few dollars a click, the price you might have to pay could rapidly go up if a new business with a similar PPC campaign bursts onto the scene. They may be willing to bid more than you for said clicks, which immediately drives up your cost per lead. The most frustrating part is that this new entity might not even have a good product, service or business model, yet they have disrupted your success simply by throwing a few more dollars at their PPC efforts.

However, an investment in SEO provides a much more sustainable advantage that cannot be taken away simply by buying clicks. If a competitor wants to reap some of the same success you’ve been enjoying, they’ll need to put in the time, money and effort required to get their own SEO game up to par.

The bottom line is this, once your SEO investments are paying off, it is much harder for your competitors to remove that advantage.

Once SEO investments are paying off, it's much harder for competitors to remove that advantage.Click To Tweet
Paid vs. Organic? It’s Often A Question Of Trust

Many Internet users have subconsciously trained themselves to ignore paid search results when they are using Google. Even though the ‘Ad’ label displayed next to PPC results is so small and unobtrusive, people still prefer to follow links that are organic.

In fact, a report compiled by Similar Web last year revealed that paid search accounts for just over 5% of all Internet traffic, while organic hovers around the 95% mark.

When you consider how many searches are conducted using Google alone on a daily basis, the reality of paid vs. organic really hits home. That’s because, according to Internet Live Stats, Google handles around 3.5 billion searches per day. So, with PPC, you could be missing out on 95% of 3.5 billion searches every single day! And that’s before you even consider Bing, Yahoo! and Baidu as well.

But why is it that people much prefer organic links over paid ones? It all comes down to trust.

Every time someone performs an Internet search, they are looking for information and they inevitably want the results they see to be relevant, helpful and intuitive. When they are, trust is built between the Internet user and the website providing the information they want. SEO helps build that trust.

Anyone can pay to have their link feature high in the SERPs. But that doesn’t guarantee that the information it leads to is necessarily useful. It just means the website owner paid a few dollars more than his or her competitor to rank there. In other words, PPC doesn’t build trust and that’s why Internet users are more wary of clicking on paid search results. It all goes back to the competitive advantage that SEO helps forge for businesses.

The Banner Blindness Phenomenon

There’s also the phenomenon of banner blindness, so-called because it describes the act of website visitors consciously or unconsciously ignoring banner ads and banner-like website elements.

Research released by Google at the end of 2014 revealed that an incredible 56.1% of ads displayed on the Internet are not actually seen by humans.

Banner blindness is thought to affect 86% of consumers. That’s an enormous proportion and a reality that doesn’t bode well at all for PPC and other paid marketing campaigns.

Internet users have become keen banner spotters and because these kinds of ads aren’t something they are deliberately searching for, they block them out. This is supported by the fact that people who are surfing the web with no real aim in mind are more likely to click ads. They do it out of curiosity more than anything else.

The World Wide Web today is a place full of rich media, which is why sensory overload can easily occur. What chance has an ad got of grabbing someone’s attention when it’s surrounded by even more interesting content?

Paid search accounts for 5% of all Internet traffic. Organic hovers around 95%Click To Tweet
Then There Are Ad Blockers

As if banner blindness wasn’t bad enough, the number of people using ad blockers is at an all-time high too. These clever pieces of software (sometimes hardware) can alter or remove advertising content from a web page, website, or mobile app.

According to PageFair’s 2017 Global Adblock Report, the number of people using ad blockers in 2016 grew by 30%. That means 615 million devices, or 11% of the global Internet population, actively chooses to block ads on the web.

More startling is the fact that 74% of Americans said they leave websites with adblock walls – triggers that prompt a user to disable their ad blocker or hand over some money (usually in the form of a subscription) before gaining access to the content they want.

While these types of ad blocker do not affect the ads displayed in the SERPs, their popularity tells us something very crucial about the attitudes of Internet users. Basically, they don’t like ads. In fact, they don’t like ads so much that they go out of their way to install a piece of software to prevent them from being displayed. Is that not a clear enough message?

The Inherent Risk Of Click Fraud And Accidental Clicks

Unfortunately, click fraud is real and has the potential to deplete your PPC budget, get your Adwords account disabled, or both. This illegal practice occurs when someone (or a software bot) deliberately clicks on an ad link, even though they have zero desire to see the content it leads to.

The problem is that because every click costs the advertiser money, click fraud has the power to use up an advertising budget, without the advertiser reaping any of the associated traffic or potential sales benefits. It is a practice sometimes carried out by advertisers clicking on their own ads to boost their ad revenue, or a competitor in an attempt to incur unnecessary costs on another business in their industry.

While there are now a number of firewall and monitoring tools that can be used to help protect against click fraud, anyone who has had an Adwords account suspended will tell you how difficult and tiresome it can be to get it reactivated. With PPC, you are always at risk of experiencing click fraud.

In addition to click fraud, there’s the issue of accidental clicks, which is simply when someone clicks on an ad by mistake. While it’s not malicious in nature, it still affects a company’s PPC budget. The business still has to pay the search engine because someone has clicked on one of its ads, but the click is a complete waste as the individual has no intention whatsoever of ultimately making a purchase.

Accidental clicks are particularly prevalent on mobile devices. The so-called “fat finger” problem whereby someone clicks an ad by accident when they meant to click somewhere else happens a lot on devices with small screens.

A survey last year by Retale, a location-based mobile platform designed for shoppers, found that a whopping 60% of all mobile banner ad clicks are accidental. In comparison, just 16% of mobile device users said they clicked an ad because they “like the company, product or service being promoted.”

A Retale survey found that 60% of all mobile banner ad clicks are accidental.Click To Tweet

And with mobile fast becoming the go to medium for Internet searches and browsing, statistics like these cannot be ignored – especially if you want to leverage some of that all-important mobile traffic.

At the end of the day, whether you choose to go down the SEO or PPC route is entirely up to you. PPC definitely has its place and can help you kick-start your web marketing ambitions in a short space of time, but it is not a long-term solution that we’d recommend you rely on.

SEO, on the other hand, is an investment in your company’s web future and will continue bringing you returns down the line. It’s also not something that can be undone by a new competitor in your marketplace overnight, unlike PPC.

COO and co-founder of Creative Mindscape. Lover of marketing, psychology, tech and all things sport. Family man with a passion for living life outside the rat race and chasing your own dreams.

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