When it comes to paid vs. organic marketing, you might think you’ve got a tough decision to make. In reality, the best choice is no choice at all — you need both paid and organic marketing to achieve maximum growth for your brand. One of the best ways to do that? Combining SEO and PPC.
What Is SEO?
SEO, or search engine optimization, is an organic method of improving your website’s rank on search engine results pages (SERPs). There are three types of SEO, all of which work together to improve your site’s visibility and get new traffic rolling in.
When SEO is done well, a website will rank at the top of organic results on the SERP. But you can’t pay for placement with SEO, so you’ll need to put in the time and effort to create an organic growth strategy if you want it to pay off.
Benefits of SEO
You may have heard the myth that SEO is free. It’s not. But that shouldn’t be a deal breaker because SEO comes with some pretty persuasive selling points.
💰 Cheaper in the long-run
Okay, so it’s not free. But it is pretty reasonable, especially considering the long-term results you’ll get. Here’s the deal: SEO tactics don’t cost anything to implement. However, an SEO strategy takes time, as do all of the changes and optimization you’ll need to make to your site.
Often, it helps to secure an experienced SEO agency to plan and execute your strategy. That’s where most of the cost comes from, but the payoff continues long after you’ve launched it, making it an incredible value.
🚨 Capture traffic throughout the sales funnel
With paid ads, you’re usually targeting audiences in one single stage of the funnel per ad. With SEO, you have the flexibility to design content that appeals to those from one end of the funnel to the other. Whether your goal is awareness, conversion, or anything in between, you can optimize content and pages to align with your audience’s search intent — so you hit them with the right message at the right time.
🚦 Stable traffic
Just like in life, traffic will fluctuate based on many factors. So similar to how you experience the “morning rush” when you hop in your car in the morning, you might also experience a rush of traffic when you launch a paid ad campaign. Of course, once the campaign is done, that traffic disappears. With SEO, the traffic rolls in steadily over time. You can begin to uncover trends and analyze gaps so you can make small SEO adjustments to continuously improve traffic.
👀 Improve branding and brand awareness
Getting your website to rank higher in search results isn’t just about more traffic or more conversions. The closer you move to the top, the more awareness you’ll generate for your brand. With carefully selected keywords, you’ll be able to get your brand showing up in search results for an audience that’s interested in what you have to offer. And the more they see your name popping up, the more likely they are to eventually click.
🏆 Build trust and credibility with your target audience
Many people are wary of search ads and are reluctant to click on them. But perception of organic search results is different — they’re earned rather than bought, and most savvy surfers know that. What this means is that when your brand pops up as an organic result, they associate you with a genuine and trustworthy leader in your industry.
👇 More clicks
If people find your brand more trustworthy when you rank organically, it only makes sense that they’ll be more likely to click. And they do. CTR is usually higher with SEO, though it does take longer to get to that point. Many people think PPC is better for clicks, but over an extended period of time, SEO outperforms it.
🎨 Showcase your brand creativity
Because SEO leans heavily on content marketing, you can really go wild and unleash your creativity on an endless array of content pieces. Showcase your design skills with infographics, create a viral video, or write long-form blogs that give your audience exactly the information they want.
💲 Compounding ROI over a longer period of time
It’s true that PPC offers great ROI…as long as the campaign is running. With SEO, you’ll have to be patient, but that patience will pay off big time. After a typically slow start, once your SEO kicks in, you’ll see growing returns month after month. Plus, as you build authority, you’ll continue to rank higher, which will improve the performance of your other pages and content.
Cons of SEO
Well, it can’t all be sunshine and roses. Like anything, SEO also comes with a few negatives. Of course, once you’re aware of them and know how to handle them, you’ll be able to jump these hurdles with ease.
SEO takes time
SEO is a long game. You’ve got to stick with it if you want it to pay off. For most brands, it’s going to take — at minimum — 3-6 months to see results.
And of course, for over 38 percent of brands, it takes six months to a year (or more) to see results. The good news? The high ROI and long-term success mean it’s worth the wait.
You need expertise to implement SEO
People want to believe in the brands they use. They also want to know that when they’re searching for something, the results they’re getting are from experts. That’s why Google implemented E.A.T. and Y.M.Y.L.
You may well be the expert on your brand and even your industry, but are you the expert in all types of content creation and every subject that matters to the people who may be looking for your product or service? If not, you’re going to need some help to create, implement, and maintain an SEO strategy that works.
Requires regular website optimization
SEO isn’t a one-and-done fix. It’s an ongoing strategy that you’ll need to update continuously. It’s also heavily impacted by Google algorithm changes, so you’ll need to be prepared if you want to stay ahead of the game. Anticipate making ongoing adjustments to your site, including getting rid of old links, refreshing outdated copy, and making technical SEO changes.
Google algorithm changes
As we mentioned earlier, the Google algorithm updates will get you if you aren’t looking out. Not being prepared could mean that your rank drops several spots (or even pages), which might take months to correct. Google is pretty tight-lipped about its algorithms, but it typically send out a heads-up before a major change is coming.
When Should You Prioritize SEO?
We think SEO should always be a priority, but if you really have to choose, the first thing you’ll want to look at is budget. If you’re trying to save, starting with SEO is probably best. If you throw all your money at PPC, it’ll soon be gone and so will your results. Instead, funnel that money into creating an SEO strategy and finding some support to implement it.
So when do you know SEO is the right choice for you?
When you desire consistent results
Okay, yes, it takes longer to see results with SEO. But once they start rolling in, you can rest assured you’ll be seeing them for a long time. With just some minor adjustments and close monitoring of your KPIs, you can reap the rewards of sustained, long-term success.
When your goal is to build authority
High-authority sites rank high in SERPs. They also get more traffic, which likely means more conversions. Of course, to build authority, you’ll need to get maximum organic traffic, and the only way to do that is through SEO.
When you want to increase your website value
If you’re going to sell your house, you might install new flooring before it goes on the market. Why? To increase the value of the property and get prospective buyers interested. The same is true if you’re thinking you might want to sell your website someday. Consistent, high traffic, and search ranking are two major factors that contribute to what you’ll get out of the sale, and those are most achievable through SEO.
What Is PPC?
Let’s say you’d rather pay to play. Organic search is all well and good, but sometimes you just need to get your brand seen, like, now. That’s where paid advertising, or PPC comes into play. PPC is digital advertising in which you only pay when someone clicks on your ad. It’s a cost-effective way to generate a ton of traffic in very little time, so if you’re looking for instantaneous results, PPC is a great choice…and plenty of brands agree.
What makes PPC so great? Let’s find out.
Benefits of PPC
If you’re looking for quick results that are easily measured, you’re looking for PPC. SEO can’t beat its real-time progress, and for quick wins, you won’t find a better ROI. What are the other upsides of PPC? Check these out:
⬆️ Above fold position on SERP
If you want to make it to the top of the pack, PPC is the way to do it. Paid search ads always appear above organic results, so PPC is a great way to level the playing field with your competition, even if they’ve been investing time and money into SEO. If you’re a startup or young brand without a major web presence, PPC is your best bet.
⏳ More granular control
You can get as specific as you like with PPC, as most platforms and ad types allow for extremely detailed targeting. This means you’re always in control of who sees your ad and where and when they see it. Plus, with paid search, you can plan extensions on your ad, so you can highlight your location, phone number, products, or features for an even greater impact.
👁️🗨️ Visual ads
If a picture is worth a thousand words, an image ad might be worth a thousand (or more) clicks. Shopping or product listing ads give you a chance to show rather than tell how great your brand is. And because you can’t get this via organic search, it’s one of the best benefits of PPC, which also leads to higher CTR.
Because of its speed, PPC is highly scalable. You can get a campaign up and running in a couple days and start seeing results right away. If you’re finding that you have a good ROAS (return on ad spend) and you’ve moved beyond the break-even point, you can reinvest your profits back into the campaign to continue improving results.
🧪 A/B testing
A/B testing is a core principle of growth marketing, and if you want to see any substantial growth (whether through PPC, SEO, or any other marketing channel), you’re going to need it. For PPC, you’ll most likely want to test ad copy and creative, your offer, and anything that appears on your landing page. The great thing about PPC is that you can make these changes quickly and easily, so any updates to your ad will go into effect right away.
You should already have a good handle on your buyer persona, and PPC is a great way to reach them. You can target by keywords, demographics, geography, time of day, and much more, so you’ll always be able to get to the right audience.
🧬 Marketing intelligence
PPC offers another advantage that SEO doesn’t: with PPC, you can get extremely granular data on your keywords, so you know exactly which ones lead to conversion. You can then apply this to your SEO strategy, but you wouldn’t have gotten the same level of intel without PPC.
PPC isn’t exactly cheap, but it can be extremely cost-effective. Costs will vary depending on your industry, the competitiveness of your keywords, and your auction bids, but what you spend on PPC is always fully up to you. This kind of control allows you to be agile and use your budget in the way that best meets your needs. Plus, you might find that the better your PPC campaign performs, the lower your cost goes.
🏁 Speed of results
PPC is fast — no one can argue that. Launch your campaign and expect to see results almost immediately. You certainly won’t get that with SEO. And you won’t get it with other forms of advertising, either.
Cons of PPC
What goes up must come down. And the same is true for PPC. Your results might skyrocket early on, but once you pull the campaign…well…let’s find out:
PPC can be cost-effective, but it isn’t always. Prices can soar if you’re in a competitive industry like legal or insurance. And if you have other challenges to overcome, like a lower quality score from Google, you’ll find your bids have to be higher, which in turn drives up your CPC. Also, if you’re choosing competitive keywords, you can expect the cost to soar.
Results dry up when money runs out
No more budget? No more results. Womp womp. It’s probably the biggest downfall of PPC, but it’s also the one you can’t get around — when you stop spending, you stop seeing traffic and sales. SEO continues delivering, but a PPC campaign is one-and-done.
Limited by platform regulations
There’s only so much you can do with a limited amount of characters and space, but every type of PPC ad on every platform will be bound by very strict constraints. This is a creative challenge, but it’s also problematic because you might find that other brands competing for the same keywords have similar copy and creative, making your ad fade into the background.
Unless you have an unlimited budget, you just can’t keep PPC going indefinitely. Sure, you might lower your CPC by improving your quality score, but you may also find that, as you narrow down the market, your CPA (cost per acquisition) rises, which will lower your profit margin. You can’t keep that up unless you raise prices, so it’s simply not sustainable in the long term.
When Should You Prioritize PPC?
Often, if you’re deciding between a form of organic and paid advertising, the answer is — choose both. But we get that sometimes it’s just not realistic. So, if you’re launching a new product, you have a time-based sale or deal, or you need to get your audience to one specific page, PPC might be your best option.
Here’s when to put PPC first:
When you desire immediate results
SEO can’t get you results in days (sometimes hours). So if that’s what you want, PPC is the only way to get it. If you’re a startup or have a new product launch, it’ll be the quickest way to get your brand in front of the right audience.
When you’re seeking targeted traffic
If you have a very specific audience you want to reach, PPC can get you to them. You can target in countless ways and combinations, even by behaviors and hobbies on some platforms. So if you have a sale that’s relevant to a small niche group, PPC will help you find them.
When your site isn’t built for SEO, rather to sell
Let’s say your website is your ecommerce shop, but not a whole lot more. There isn’t much room on the page for keyword-optimized copy, and you don’t have a wealth of content downloads. In its current state, your website isn’t going to gain much from SEO. But PPC will get people there quicker and easier than SEO can.
When you need to promote a time-sensitive offer
Running a holiday sale that ends on a specific day? PPC is your best bet to make sales before the deal closes. With PPC ads, your offer is one of the most important parts, so if you have an offer that’s only valid for a limited time, it may be stronger and more likely to get clicks. Since SEO takes time, it’s never the right way to go when promoting a time-based deal.
When you want to promote commercial content
Sales-based landing pages don’t often rank well based on SEO tactics because there isn’t enough copy or content to be optimized. Plus, it can take a lot of time, so by the time you get traffic there, the deal might be done. PPC is always better if you want to promote commercial (read: sales-based) content because you can get the audience there quicker and easier than with SEO.
When you want to quickly dominate search for a keyword
It can take months to rank for a particular keyword with SEO. And once you do, you might be ranking so low that you need to continue your efforts for months more. With PPC, once you choose your keywords and win your bids, your ad is at the top of the SERP.
When you have a unique product without search traffic
With SEO, you need to target keywords that people are already searching for. But what if you have a one-of-a-kind, first-on-the-market product, and no one is searching for it yet? That’s where PPC comes in. You can create a target based on your market research and your ideal buyer and get your product in front of lots of eyes so you can start refining your target audience.
SEO vs. PPC Statistics
Still wondering which is right for your brand? Let’s see if any of these numbers sway you:
There is no easy answer because it really depends on your goals and your budget. But if you’re asking us…
SEO vs. PPC ROI
… we say the answer is always — both. If your budget allows it, you’ll always get the most return with a combination of paid and organic marketing. SEO has the best long-term ROI, but it usually requires a bigger upfront investment, including third-party support from a consultant or agency. PPC only works when you’re paying, but you can be more flexible with the budget, pull an ad if it’s not working, and keep an eye on real-time results.
If you’re looking at overall ROI, you can’t beat SEO. But if you need results now, you want PPC. Think of them as the tortoise (SEO) and the hare (PPC). We know which one gets off to the fastest start, but we also know which one ultimately wins the race.
How to Combine PPC and SEO for a Holistic Marketing Strategy
But what if the tortoise and the hare actually worked together? In a relay, they’d be an unbeatable team. Just like PPC and SEO can be for your brand. While PPC gets you off to a strong start, SEO brings home the win. Here’s how to do it.
Use retargeting ads to target past visitors
People who have already been to your website have shown interest in your product or your brand. When you retarget them with an offer for the specific product they were viewing, they’re much more likely to visit. Retarget any visitor who comes to your site organically to improve conversions.
Use social media ads to build awareness
Social media can’t be beat for creating brand awareness. Most social media users follow some brands, and most of the time, they engage with them in some way. Social ads are a great way to increase your following by building a lookalike audience and promoting your highest-performing posts.
Use paid social media to promote website content
One way to help your content rank organically is by giving it a boost with PPC. Choose your most engaging content and promote it on social media. It’s a great way to get your content (which takes a lot of time and effort to create) out there, and it might also get you some backlinks to improve SEO.
Use ad data to improve SEO strategy
We mentioned this earlier, but it’s a bit of a hidden perk to using both PPC and SEO. Because your PPC results are instantaneous, so too is the data to which you have access. You can use that to pin down exactly what keywords are getting clicks and apply that to your SEO strategy.
Pursue competitor keywords
You can actually see which keywords your competitors are bidding on using an SEO like Ahrefs and accessing a paid keywords report. This will tell you which keywords the competition is focusing its budget on, so you can try to outbid them in PPC or add those to your SEO priority list to eventually outrank them.
PPC vs. SEO: Which Is Better for Me?
The tortoise? Or the hare? The long game? Or the quick win? C’mon, you know what we’re going to say — the way you win both the sprint and the marathon is by using both PPC and SEO.
It’s not always easy. You’ll need to plan out your budget for the upfront SEO investment and the ongoing PPC if you want to see both quick and long-term, sustainable results.
Integrating SEO and PPC takes planning and some serious goal-setting, but it can be done effectively. And of course, we always recommend that you seek out the help of an agency partner with expertise in both paid and organic advertising. Lucky for you, we happen to know one of those!
If you’re ready to team up the tortoise and the hare and cross that finish line, contact FPS today. Slow or fast (or both), we’re in this race to win it for your brand!