Search engine optimisation or pay per click - which one should we invest in?
This is one of most common questions I'm asked by potential clients. Interestingly, most of the new clients I meet are more enthusiastic towards SEO and don't really fancy the idea of paying for each click to their website.
This is especially the case for small business owners who are mindful of every penny they spend and who are understandably cautious about taking a punt on pay per click advertising.
Experienced digital marketers will know that services like AdWords can be tamed and, as a result, produce fantastic results, but although most PPC platforms are relatively easy to set up, they also require a lot of expertise to run campaigns that provide a positive return on investment (ROI).
In other words, when it comes to PPC, it is quite easy to lose money if you don't know what you are doing.
Of course, regular readers of this blog will know that in the majority of cases, it's not a question of who wins in the battle of SEO vs PPC - it has far more to do with how we use these two channels together. They should work in harmony, after all.
However, there are still certain scenarios where prioritising one over the other would make sense. I'll try to cover both of these scenarios in this post.
The timings of your marketing effort can have a decisive impact on whether you should prioritise PPC or SEO.
For example, if your client has just opened a brand new eCommerce store selling Christmas decorations and you’re due to begin work promoting it in October, you will most likely struggle to get enough organic visibility for their website in time for Christmas.
On the other hand, you could set up a PPC campaign literally within days and get almost instant visibility and traffic.
PPC will get you to the top of first page almost immediately, as long as you have a budget big enough to cover the costs involved and a strategy that ensures your dominance in the top positions by outbidding your competition for your desired keywords.
When SEO is undertaken correctly, you can also reach the heady heights of position number one on Google’s first page of results. It bears mentioning, however, that such an endeavour will take time and patience. This is especially the case when working with a brand new domain or with a domain that has very little or no inbound links and authority.
Of course, nothing beats reaching the top organic spots on search engines; not only are most people likely to click on those results, they are also immune to ad-blockers (especially since the introduction of ad-blockers in Apple’s iOS 9 ). A search result that can’t be blocked or hidden from view is to be treasured, but won’t come quickly.
If you are after a quick win over a shorter period of time, PPC is the way to go.
If you’d prefer to see some long-lasting results, then you definitely need a solid SEO strategy alongside any paid advertising campaign.
The important word in that sentence is "alongside", for as I have already noted, it’s not a question of whether you should choose PPC or SEO but how you can use both in tandem in order to achieve the best ROI with the available budget and resources.
No matter which web promotion tool (or combination) you choose, both SEO and PPC should be seen as solid investments. They should therefore be appropriately budgeted for.
To achieve buy-in on such projects from those holding the purse strings, a full understanding of exactly what you’re paying for is required. When investing in SEO services, you will be paying a fee to your digital marketing agency or salary to your in-house SEO team.
There’ll be tools to account for too, such as software as a service (SaaS) subscriptions to apps that help the team setup, administer and monitor the campaigns.
When investing in pay per click campaigns, you will be subjected to the similar team and software overheads as SEO, with the addition of the cost per click to the search engine itself.
If you’re operating on a very limited budget, there’s no getting away from the fact that it is often difficult to get a good return on investment with PPC.
When it comes to SEO, small budgets are less of an issue, and are still capable of providing a sizeable return on investment. The difference is that the latter takes time to have a meaningful impact, thus spreading the cost out across a far greater time period and improving cash flow as a result.
This doesn't mean that the cost of SEO is necessarily any cheaper in the long-run, but you can still run pretty affordable campaigns when it comes to local SEO and niche markets where there is no strong organic competition.
This is one of the areas in which pay per click has a significant advantage over SEO. Happily, there is no 'but' or "it depends on X", here.
With pay per click, your adverts will not only show on the search results pages, but also on the whole of Google’s Display Network and within any other ad network including Facebook and other social media. The potential reach of PPC campaigns, therefore, is simply colossal, hence the near immediate visibility offered to businesses that invest in it seriously.
So, while SEO is a great way to drive traffic to your website when people search for your products and services, it is unlikely to be as effective when people don't yet know about your service or product. Using paid display advertising will be much more effective in that realm.
It’s again worth noting that SEO is a long game. It too can reach out to a huge audience, but it will only do so as your search visibility and ranking increases, the content on your website matures and the search engines start to take notice of how important your website appears to be in your niche. If you can afford to wait - it is absolutely worth it.
Remarketing is now a huge part of digital marketing thanks to the fact that so many websites operate on a commercial model which means they often rely on remarketing to increase conversions.
And we’ve all been subjected to it at some stage; remarketing remains an incredibly clever device that reminds us of things we’re interested in or items that we almost purchased at some stage in the past.
But why is remarketing so important? Well - online shoppers are a savvy bunch. They don’t simply convert on the first visit to your website; they shop around, research and compare pricing as deeply as they can, which is why remarketing can make a huge difference to a business’s conversion rates. If your advert follows them on their journey, it stands a far better chance of being clicked.
Remarketing is of course only possible via paid channels, but smart marketers never keep all of their eggs in one basket. The best idea is to combine PPC and SEO, because in doing so, you’re far more likely to see the best results and return on investment.
You simply have to be smart about it and remember that both SEO and PPC are just a means to an end. In most cases, that end point is as simple as sales and conversions.
For a digital marketing campaign to be truly successful, you will need a smart combination of paid and organic. At certain stages of your campaigns you will allocate more budget and effort to one or the other.
So, for example, you may allocate most of your budget initially to PPC when you need instant visibility for a new website and as the organic visibility increases, a shift of budget to SEO would be the sensible next step.
Smart ways to combine PPC and SEO
If you’re failing to gain top rankings for your keywords organically, then adding remarketing into the mix is a great way to increase conversions.
Similarly, you can use PPC to fill the gaps in your organic rankings. If you are working on a new project you can use pay per click campaigns to bid on the keywords for which you do not yet rank organically. As the latter improves, you can slowly reduce your reliance (and therefore spend) on PPC.
The key to success lies in experimentation. By using PPC you can quickly test the potential of new keywords as well as your landing pages. Rather than optimising and getting a page ranked for a new keyword only to discover that all of your visitors leave without ever buying, you can use PPC to sort the keyword wheat from the chaff.
As great as Google Analytics is, it can also be enormously frustrating with keyword data. According to notprovided.com the "not provided" count will reach 100% by July 2018. This is where PPC can come to the rescue, because smart marketers can use AdWords search query data to fill in the "not provided" gaps.
Throughout this post, you will have noticed that I’ve regularly highlighted the importance of combining both PPC and SEO. In the ring, neither will win, because they are uniquely different and, when used smartly, can combine to provide the best digital marketing experience for any business.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.
Izzy is an SEO freelancer specialising in white hat link building, blogger outreach & content marketing.
stay in the loop