The biggest question from a digital marketing perspective has always been: SEO vs. PPC, which one is better? Can they work together? Are they always going to butt heads? Which one do I invest in? I NEED HELP!
Well, let’s try to break this down together and find the answer to our question.
Let’s Start with the Basics of SEO vs. PPC
What is SEO? Search Engine Optimization is the practice of increasing and improving your organic — free — search engine rankings to increase traffic to your site.
What is PPC? Pay-Per-Click is the practice of bidding on and paying for rankings of competitive keywords to increase traffic to your site.
The key takeaway is that both are designed to increase traffic to your website, get you leads, and help sell products. Since both practices are shooting for similar goals, it would seem that there is plenty of potential for overlap. You might worry that your SEO and PPC teams are going to start stepping on each other’s toes.
Which One is Better? Which One Do I Invest In?
Now, my title being SEO Strategist, I would like to say that SEO is better than PPC. However, the truth is that the two practices are not the same thing. Although they’re similar, each serves a unique function.
With PPC, you can start hitting your traffic goals almost instantly as long as you are willing to put good money behind it. SEO can take a bit longer to really get going, but with patience and solid SEO practices, you will see excellent results.
The other important distinction is that PPC is made to target higher-funnel shoppers ready to take action almost instantly after searching for competitive keywords. In contrast, SEO is made to complete the shopping journey, provide a superior user experience, and help build the brand via organic search.
One is not inherently better than the other as they both serve unique purposes and target slightly different people. That all being said, SEO is better...
Are They Going to Butt Heads?
So first, let’s clear up a bit of misconception about SEO vs. PPC and them butting heads. (I know, I wrote this, so I’m actually clearing up my own words.) SEO and PPC can and do get in the way of each other, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing even if it looks that way at first.
Let’s say you’re ranking in organic position one for your brand name, but your competitor is bidding on that keyword and shows up first in the ads. With PPC, you can create a name campaign and bid on your name to start ranking number one in the ads for that keyword.
By owning the number one ad position and the number one organic position, you are setting your website up for success, and this is obviously the right thing to do. But, because the organic position is below the ad, you’re going to see a lot less organic traffic to your homepage. This is not a bad thing at all, but it is going to look like a traffic drop to a page on your website, which can be scary. This is where SEO and PPC can butt heads and step on toes, but ultimately it is not a negative factor for your site.
Can They Work Together?
Yes! Kind of…
There are a few points I want to break down here:
- SEO and PPC can work together by avoiding each other and targeting unique keywords. This is a bit indirect, but it is generally a solid way to get as much SERP authority as possible.
- For example, we are targeting “Oil Change in Naperville” in our service campaign via PPC.
- We are also trying to garner organic rankings, so we create some oil change content that targets various popular subtopics: “how much is an oil change,” “how long does an oil change take,” “how often do you really need to change your oil,” etc.
- Doing both of the strategies above allows us to target most of the oil change funnel via either SEO or PPC without stepping on each other's toes or duplicating efforts.
- There is also the more controversial route of “priming the pump,” as some say. This is where you create a landing page, put some PPC money behind it, and hope that it results in an organic boom when you eventually direct that money elsewhere. We have run tests like this in the past and have found that when that money is turned off, page momentum does not continue. If that page does perform organically, it is often for a different set of keywords than the original paid keyword. This kind of proves the disconnect between the organic algorithm and the paid algorithm.
What is the Benefit of Having Both?
I thought you’d never ask!
Like we said above, PPC has more of an immediate impact. When partners turned on PPC in the first month, they saw an increase of 27 additional conversions. That is an example of the immediate impact PPC offers that SEO just can’t really compete with.
However, after giving each service some time, we found that SEO traffic, on average, converts at a higher percentage. By the 10th month of both services running concurrently, SEO traffic had a 40% higher conversion rate than PPC traffic. We also noted that SEO is a longer term investment that will pay off greatly in the end. We saw organic traffic garner, on average, 47 more conversions per month in the same time frame.
If we break it down, there are clearly benefits to both practices, but leaving it at that is the easy way out. PPC has that immediate impact that SEO can’t have, it also allows for a bit more direct competitiveness as you can target names and keywords your competitors are targeting.
SEO, in my opinion, has the potential to give you the long term prize that PPC can’t unless you pay an extraordinary amount of money. SEO traffic tends to convert at a higher rate, since ads simply can’t replicate the experience of a customer’s natural discovery of your business. Users will become more savvy, and they’ll be able to tell when an ad is an ad, meaning SEO traffic will have a higher natural value than PPC traffic.
As we discussed above, these two channels are typically targeting different users at different stages of the buying funnel. So while companies tend to prioritize one over the other, there truly is a benefit to having both, since companies can see drastic increases in both channels when running concurrently. But like we said, SEO just has the bigger ROI when done correctly over time.