SEO vs. PPC: How To Choose

Lightbulb on chalkboard with thought cloud drawn over it in chalk.

Should you get married or stay single? Have a child or not? Invest in SEO or PPC? Yes, that last question is right up there with many of life’s tough decisions — at least as far as your business is concerned.

I’m here to help you better understand both sides so you can figure out how to dominate your digital marketing strategy. In this article:

What Is SEO?

Search engine optimization aims to improve a website so that it performs better in the search engine results pages, generates earned traffic and makes more money for the site owner or brand.

Quality SEO works in conjunction with the search engines, not against them. That means upholding the webmaster guidelines set forth by Google and Bing.

Search engines care about SEO because they want websites to improve so that they offer a better user experience. Websites that do so are rewarded with more visibility in the organic areas of the search engine results page (SERP), as shown below.

Google results page with cat costume organic listings highlighted.
Screenshot of Google results page with organic listings highlighted

In general, SEO is a long-term strategy that builds a site’s visibility and traffic over time.

To show up in the organic search results over your competition, you want to invest in SEO.

Why do SEO?

Consider that Google’s search engine processes more than 2 trillion searches per year. People all over the world turn to search engines for key moments in their lives, whether it’s learning more about a topic, researching potential goods and services, finding local businesses, or buying via e-commerce.

Keep in mind that the indexed web contains billions of web pages. Search engines like Google have to sift through these billions of pages to find the best of the best websites to feature on the first page of their search results.

So if you think you have a chance of showing up at the top of the search results for the searches your audience is doing without any type of SEO, you’re sorely mistaken.

SEO offers many advantages to websites: More visibility in the search results, more traffic, more leads and more sales.

In fact, research has shown that the organic search channel is responsible for approximately 53% of traffic to a website on average and higher in some cases. It’s also responsible for up to 59% of revenue over other channels for some industries.

BrightEdge Research graph showing revenue gain from SEO and other channels.
BrightEdge Research, 2019

Moreover, SEO offers longevity. The fruits of your SEO labor will continue to pay off in the form of organic listings on the search results page.

This is different from ad campaigns, which stop generating traffic as soon as you stop paying for an ad. And this brings us to our next topic …

What Is PPC?

PPC, or pay-per-click, is a method of online advertising in which advertisers pay for website traffic. PPC ads can show up on the search engine results page, across websites, or on social networks.

Google results page highlighting paid listing for cat costumes.
Screenshot of the Google results page highlighting paid listings

Pay-per-click ads make up 80% of Google’s revenue and an astonishing 99% of Facebook’s revenue.

Why Do PPC?

If you want a targeted way to reach an important audience fast, then PPC is the way to go.

PPC can offer a great return on your investment — and quickly. In fact, 74% of brands say PPC is a huge driver for their business.

And Google reported that businesses generally make an average of $8 in revenue for every $1 they spend on Google Ads. (Take that statistic with a grain of salt.)

It makes sense when you consider how people interact with pay-per-click ads.

For example:

  • Seventy-five percent of people say paid search ads help them find the information they’re searching for on a website or search engine. And 33% click a paid search ad because it directly answers their search query.
  • About 65% of people click on Google Ads when they are looking to buy an item online.
  • Fifty-seven percent report that social media influences their shopping decisions, and that number rises to over 80% when you’re talking about GenZers.

Especially when it comes to social media PPC, the targeting options are unparalleled.

Want to offer organic coffee to moms between the ages of 35 and 50 who live in Oregon and are interested in holistic living? There are ad filters for that.

Or want to use ads to remarket to people who’ve visited your website before? Facebook and other social media ad platforms make it easy to do.

On search engines, PPC offers a way to be placed above other search engine results. Remember, though, paying for PPC ads does not affect your SEO organic rankings in the least, no matter what anyone says.

Many businesses use PPC as a fast way to get visibility, traffic, leads and sales. It offers control over the messaging and placement, plus additional data you might not get from other digital marketing channels on what converts.

PPC + SEO = The Whole-SERP Strategy

In reality, the question is not whether you should do PPC or SEO. A good digital marketing and advertising program will have both.

Since SEO and PPC perform in different ways, it’s appropriate to use these channels in a complementary manner with the goal of more visibility, traffic, leads, and sales.

A whole-SERP strategy is all about maximizing visibility in the search results. It’s about understanding your audience’s intent when they search for something in a search engine, and then ensuring your business shows up with ads and/or organic listings.

Google results page for cat costumes highlighting both paid and organic listings.
Google results page highlighting both paid and organic listings

In summary, PPC can offer instant gratification, while SEO is a long-term strategy.

If done correctly, the decision to invest in both PPC and SEO will strengthen your digital marketing strategy. So when pondering life’s big question of PPC versus SEO, don’t just choose one — choose both!

Ready to dominate your digital presence? Blend the power of SEO and PPC for ultimate visibility, leads and sales—optimize your strategy now. Contact us

FAQ: How can I effectively choose between SEO and PPC for my digital marketing strategy?

Your marketing success may depend heavily on which method you select between PPC and SEO, so it’s crucial to fully comprehend both before making an informed decision. It is also vital to gain an understanding of their advantages and nuances so as to make an educated choice.

Understanding Objectives

Before diving into the SEO vs. PPC debate, clarify your marketing objectives. Are you aiming for long-term visibility (SEO) or immediate results (PPC)?

Assessing Budget and Time

Evaluate your available resources. SEO often demands time and patience, while PPC requires a financial investment for quicker outcomes.

Analyzing Buyer Intent

Identify buyer intent search terms relevant to your business. SEO targets informational queries, while PPC caters to transactional searches.

Keyword Analysis

Explore keywords relevant to your industry. SEO focuses on organic keyword optimization, whereas PPC involves bidding on targeted keywords.

Target Audience Insights

Understand your audience’s behavior. SEO caters to broader audiences, while PPC allows precise targeting based on demographics and interests.

Evaluating Competition

Analyze competitors’ strategies. SEO aims for organic ranking superiority, while PPC offers a chance to outbid rivals for ad placements.

Testing and Monitoring

Implement small-scale PPC campaigns or SEO strategies to test their effectiveness. Analyze data to refine your approach.

Integrated Strategy

Consider a hybrid approach. Leveraging both SEO and PPC can amplify visibility and maximize results.

Step-by-Step Procedure: How to Effectively Choose Between SEO and PPC

  1. Define marketing objectives clearly.
  2. Assess available budget and time resources realistically.
  3. Identify buyer intent search terms relevant to your niche.
  4. Perform comprehensive keyword research for both SEO and PPC.
  5. Develop audience personas for targeted insights.
  6. Conduct competitor analysis for SEO and PPC landscapes.
  7. Initiate small-scale PPC campaigns or SEO strategies for testing.
  8. Analyze performance metrics and adjust strategies accordingly.
  9. Explore the hybrid approach for integrated benefits.

Navigating the realm of SEO and PPC involves a strategic blend of understanding buyer intent, thorough analysis and the agility to adapt. The synergy between these two approaches paves the way for an impactful digital marketing strategy, allowing businesses to thrive in the competitive online sphere.

Bruce Clay is founder and president of Bruce Clay Inc., a global digital marketing firm providing search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media marketing, SEO-friendly web architecture, and SEO tools and education. Connect with him on LinkedIn or through the website.

See Bruce's author page for links to connect on social media.

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