Vanilla or chocolate? Spring or Summer? Mountains or the beach? Some debates never seem to die.
One of the classic debates in the Internet world is search engine optimization (SEO) vs. pay-per-click (PPC).
Which is superior?
I believe a better question to ask is…
“Which is right for your business?”
Billions of people begin their search for products and services by typing a keyword or phrase into search engines like Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. In fact, research firm Comscore recorded 19.3 billion searches in the U.S. alone during the month of May of this year (up 7 percent from the month before).
Upon users hitting the search button, they are presented with thousands of results. Some are organic SEO results and some are PPC results.
Organic SEO refers to how your website appears naturally on the results page based on your design, use of keywords, content and inbound links.
If done right, a site will appear high on the first search engine results page. The dilemma is that if it doesn’t appear high in the results, no one will see your listing as most people don’t search much beyond the first page of listings.
To help you determine which is right for you, I’ve put together a comparison of both marketing strategies:
Costs: There are costs associated with setting up and continuing to keep your site search engine optimized, but there are no media costs associated with individual clicks to your website when you use SEO.
An SEO campaign ideally has an SEO specialist who analyzes your site, maps out a strategy, implements a strategy, tracks results and is accountable for your campaign.
With a PPC campaign, the initial cost will be lower to set up your campaign, but there are on-going media costs for each individual click .
Ideally you will have a PPC specialist who helps you select the best keywords, keeps you within budget and helps you get your desired results.
Volume of clicks: Organic search results are typically viewed more positively because they are seen as non-biased since you aren’t paying for your results. Therefore, more people click on organic search results than on paid results.
Conversion rates: PPC drives immediate action which results in higher conversion rates than SEO. In a study by Internet Retailer, visitors who arrive on a site from pay-per-click advertising are 50% more likely to buy than traffic generated by search engine optimization. This is due to the fact that PPC drives traffic to targeted landing pages which can be refined, something SEO can’t really do.
Control: With SEO, there is no control over ranking and results. Therefore there is no guarantee that your efforts will result in a higher search engine ranking or that you will maintain your ranking once it’s achieved.
With PPC, there is a high degree of control because you can determine where on the page you are positioned depending on your investment. PPC is also flexible and scalable. This means you have better control over how much you spend and the timing of when to increase and decrease the flow of traffic to your website.
Changes to your PPC campaign are immediate. Changes to your SEO campaign can take months to take effect.
With SEO you cannot do split tests or track click-through rates.
PPC campaigns can track click-through and easily test new ideas. Pricing and offers, new products and services, and time sensitive offers and promotions are examples of things you can test with PPC.
The small amount of copy in a PPC ad which requires no design work, coupled with the fact that PPC campaigns can instantly be turned on and off means you can also run tests quickly.
Value: SEO builds long-term value by continuing to pay off for you years after you put it into place. PPC only draws value when it is running because the instant you turn it off, it stops drawing traffic.
Speed: SEO is a long-term strategy which can take a long time, usually three months or longer, before you see results. PPC produces results fast, in minutes or days rather than months or years.
Maintenance: For your website to remain high in the rankings with SEO, you’ll need to do two things:
You’ll need to add fresh, relevant content to your site on an ongoing basis.
And you’ll need to continually adapt to algorithm changes from search engines. For example, Google’s Matt Cutts says they make between 350-400 algorithm changes per year. For most of these changes, you shouldn’t need to make adjustments because you won’t necessarily see a major difference in your results.
However, you do need to know what’s happening to make sure what you are doing is legitimate and doesn’t need adjusting. (In 2011, Google is focusing on placing original content at the top of search results which means unoriginal content or content copied from somewhere else will be bumped.)
PPC campaigns require monitoring performance and making adjustments on a regular basis.
Campaign Results: With SEO, wildly sought-after keywords can take time to get rankings. However, you will benefit from niche-specific long-tail keywords that show up more quickly because these often attract qualified leads who are further along in the sales funnel. As for overall strategy results, SEO results in continuous traffic over a longer period of time.
PPC gives an immediate boost in traffic. It is useful for getting keywords which aren’t ranking naturally in the organic listings or to test keywords and promotions. However, when the campaign is complete, the traffic stops immediately.
So what’s right for your business?
SEO makes sense when you want:
- A long-term marketing strategy with a high ROI
- A free strategy (meaning no media spend)
- A high volume of people clicking-through to your website
PPC, on the other hand makes sense when you want:
- Immediate traffic
- More control over things like where keywords appear, the message searchers see, ranking and the ability to test to optimize performance
- Higher conversion and the ability to use higher diversity to send many more keywords to a landing page
Ideally, an integrated approach which uses both PPC and SEO to reach top rankings will give you the best results. You’ll appeal to all audiences across all points of the spectrum when you get a good mix of SEO and PPC.
This is because paid and organic listings serve different purposes reaching different audiences at different points in the buying cycle.
You’ll also increase the credibility of your company and awareness of brand. In fact, Brand Lift of Search (a study by Google) found that the most clicked on areas of their results pages are those where companies have good organic listings combined with paid listings.
When a searcher sees your business high in organic results and high in PPC, it gives the impression that you are a solid business that will be around for the long haul. This increases consumers trust in your company.
Lastly, from an accounting viewpoint, combining SEO and PPC helps keep both the unpredictability of SEO and the costs of PPC in check.
To more traffic and higher profits,