SEO vs PPC: Which One is Right for Your Small Business?

Business Marketing, Paid Media Advertising, Search Engine Optimization

Traffic to your website is pretty much the main goal of being online. You know there isn’t much point in having a website presence if no one comes to it. There are more than 3 billion searches a day on Google alone (whoa!). It makes a huge difference to customers (and to you!)  if they find your website on the first page of the search engine results. 

In the effort to show up and get people to your website there are two main contenders — PPC and SEO. Let’s take a look at how they stand up in a head-to-head match. 

In this corner – SEO and Organic Traffic

SEO is all about being user-friendly. Back in the day, in the ancient history of early search engines (read: 1990s), websites could just repeat a word a thousand times and rank to the top of the page instantly. Surprisingly, this did not make for a quality experience for the humans. 

And that, dear readers, is when SEO stepped in. 

Google developers wanted to help searchers find quality sites that help them answer their burning questions and avoid spam. They stopped all fishy behavior with smarter and smarter web crawlers who were programmed to look for websites that give humans a great experience. 

Today, when you show the search engine that your website is made for great user experience (read: works for humans) it rewards you by bringing you to the top of the search results page. 

The hard work here pays off in becoming the top search result for the topics you want to rank for. Getting there isn’t a fast process. It is like training for. . . well . . . almost anything — you pick. Making it work means having the time to stay up-to-date on the SEO algorithm changes and being willing to do the hard work of creating great content. 

How SEO works

There are a variety of factors that go into a great SEO strategy that makes your website attractive to search engines. 

  • Backlinks
  • Freshness
  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Content depth
  • Page speed
  • User experience
  • Search intent
  • Security

The Pros of SEO

Every second of the day there are 85,592 on Google. With that amount of searches, SEO helps you tap into the gigantic flow of traffic with targeted content. The first five organic results account for 67% of all the clicks. That means it is pretty important you should show up in your categories. 

With search engine optimization you will: 

  • Improve your localize traffic with targeted local SEO
  • Increase organic traffic with higher awareness
  • Improve click-through rate by being placed high on the page
  • Grab people’s attention on the go with a mobile-friendly site
  • Build authority with great content
  • Drive brand awareness
  • Influence credibility and trust with top search results stamp of approval

The Cons of SEO

It isn’t all sunshine and rainbows with SEO. Depending on your business there are some things to consider when planning your SEO strategy: 

  • You may be wildly outgunned by competitors like Amazon and eBay
  • Lots of changes to the SEO algorithm makes it hard to keep up
  • Organic results are slow to come by
  • Sustainable link building may be hard to master
  • You need an SEO strategy – preferably with expert support
  • There are no promises that you will achieve strong organic visibility 

Read next: How To Know If Your SEO Is Working

And in the other corner – PPC and Paid Search Traffic

PPC – or pay-per-click – is all about relevance. The first thing to show up at the top of the search results page above the organic listings is Google ads. Running paid search ads gets you seen by the right people — the people who are looking for your product, right now. 

Search engine advertising is one of the most popular forms of PPC but paid social media ads fall into the PPC domain as well. Essentially, it’s a way of buying visits to your site. SEO earns visits organically while PPC and paid search traffic allow you to bid for ad placement when someone searches for a keyword that relates to your business. 

PPC has been around in some form since 1996 but Google really made it into the massive online force it is today. When they launched Google Adwords (now called Google Ads), Google provided a self-service advertising system that allows businesses to simply and effectively attract customers. 

How PPC works

Customers are out there searching for specific products like “Rocky Balboa face mask” – as people do in this new normal. You, visionary that you are, could see this trend coming and happen to have a lot of these to sell.  Your marketing team creates an ad with these exact words. This allows you to show up the exact moment that the search occurs. Each time your ad is clicked you pay a fee.

A lot goes into building a winning PPC campaign:

  • Researching and selecting the right keywords
  • Building campaigns
  • Creating ad groups
  • Building landing pages for tracking
  • Optimizing everything for conversions

Google Ads works on a bidding system. When a person types in a search, Google dives into the pool of ads and chooses the winners based on a combination of factors, including the quality and relevance of their keywords and the size of their bids. The lucky winners then are given valuable ad space at the top of the page. 

PPC is often the first step into testing what works. It is relatively quick – and by that we mean measuring results in days or weeks rather than months. There is no faster way to get in front of your audience. By easily split-testing ads, landing pages, and calls to action you can drill down on the things that work and feed it back into your other digital marketing. 

The Pros of PPC

With PPC you put the advertisement where your audience is at the moment they are looking. Seventy-five percent of people say that paid search ads make it easier to find the information they are looking for. Thirty-three percent of people clicked on a paid search ad because it answered their search inquiry. Even when people know they are clicking on ads, PPC helps your audience find what they need. Being a helpful solution is good branding! 

Additionally, PPC offers: 

  • Fast track for above the fold visibility
  • Visual product ads that help your audience know right away what you are offering
  • Brand visibility that gets you seen by the right people
  • Tight control of your budget
  • Laser targeted precision based on search keywords, time of day, day of the week geography, language, and device
  • A quick ramp-up time to get in front of customers
  • Testing the market and message for your product or service

The Cons of PPC

Paid search advertising is just that — paid – so it requires constant investment. Stop paying the piper and the leads dry up. 

When planning your PPC strategy you should consider these drawbacks:

  • Many users skip the ads and trust the organic results first
  • Only 15% of all traffic goes to Google Paid Ads (PPC)
  • Ads can often be high cost with minimal click-through rate per dollar spent
  • Bidding wars with competitors can drive costs up
  • Successful PPC needs expert management and optimization

Read next: 3 Signs Your PPC Campaign is Underperforming

Should You Choose SEO or PPC?

Dear reader, not all traffic is equal. Organic traffic may come from people researching a topic before they buy a product. While this is valuable traffic – one you should nurture as these users make decisions towards a purchase – it is not a fit for all businesses. SEO is genuine, sustainable, and cost-effective compared to PPC but PPC is laser targeted and gives you the flexibility to test a new product or gather feedback. Which will work for you means you have to do some deep thinking on your business and customer. 

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is your customer’s journey towards a purchase? 
  2. What is the competition like in your organic search and PPC keywords? 
  3. Are you a small local business with little competition or an eCommerce store that is going up against large online retailers? 
  4. Are you looking for the long game or do you need leads now? 
  5. What is your website authority?

Like so many good things in life mixing both SEO and PPC into your digital marketing strategy is actually a very good idea. While SEO and PPC look like they are direct competitors who are often putting each other in a headlock they are actually excellent digital marketing partners. Brand building across digital marketing channels not only maximizes your advertising budget but also helps you support both short and long term goals — a sure-fire strategy for success. 

Overwhelmed by Digital Marketing Decisions?

We hope this has clarified some things for you about SEO and PPC. If you are still in the dark about your digital marketing strategy the smart minds over here at Intuitive Digital can help! We have a team of digital marketing experts that know how to hone your SEO and PPC strategies and help you find the best fit. Give us a call and reach out to our team with all your burning questions!

About the Author

Nick Footer

Nick Footer is an entrepreneur and founder of Intuitive Digital, a national award-winning digital marketing agency in Portland, Oregon. With over 15 years of experience, he has helped hundreds of businesses improve their online presence through search engine optimization, paid advertising, and website design.

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