SEO versus PPC - which is a better strategy for your business?

It's a question that comes up time and time again in the digital marketing industry, and the answer is, it depends on multiple factors, especially your short and long term goals and budget. Having worked extensively in both areas, here are things to consider when deciding where to focus your efforts.


Resources

For SEO, you'll need a team of content writers, developers, and SEO specialists who can manage all aspects including site structure, link building, and web analytics. If/when your pages start ranking, you'll need to continue optimizing, updating links and content to maintain your top ranking.


Some of the required resources overlap with what you need for PPC. For example, for both SEO and PPC, it's crucial to have a technical specialist and/or developer who can optimize your page speed.


If you focus on PPC, you don't need as much content for landing pages, so your team of writers will probably be smaller. However, you'll need to hire a PPC specialist who knows how to optimize campaigns in your chosen platform and use relevant tools - Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Tag Manager, etc. Anyone can run ads on these self-serve platforms, but only an expert will optimize your campaigns for maximum results at the minimum cost. Finally, for display campaigns, you'll also need to ask a designer to create appealing images that adhere to each platform's guidelines.


Messaging

For organic search results, of course you can optimize the SEO title, meta description, schema, etc. But you can't always control the content that gets shown in the SERPs.


PPC allows you to control the messaging more because you can write unique ad copy for the headlines and description, and it can be different from the SEO title and meta description. Depending on the platform, you can also include additional information about your business to encourage potential customers. For example, Google Ads allows you to add extensions such as your business's phone number and services listings.


However, you'll need to be aware of ad frequency and fatigue. Even if you don't have the resources to update your landing page, you should at least update your ad copy and creatives regularly to combat this as much as possible.


Finally, SEO obviously only gets you visibility in search engines. But PPC is not limited to Google, Yahoo, or Bing ads. There's also PPC campaigns available in social media - Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., so there's more opportunities and platforms to reach new audiences.


Timeline

A study by the well-loved SEO tool ahrefs showed that the SERPs tend to be dominated by older pages, and only 5.7% of pages ranked in the top 10 positions on Google within 1 year. High domain rating significantly increased the chance of achieving the top 10 ranking.



On the other hand, PPC gives you immediate results. As soon as you launch the PPC campaign you'll start to see impressions, clicks, and conversions. I've personally worked with some marketing teams that focused on PPC to meet ambitious monthly KPIs, and were unable to prioritize enough time and resources to launch a long-term SEO project.


Stability

Any SEO specialist can tell you that regular Google algorithm updates can either significantly increase or decrease your page ranking. Google is always continuing to update its search algorithm, but major core updates occur several times a year.


However, PPC is not necessarily safe from updates either. For example, the recent iOS 14 update had a huge impact on Facebook Ads, forcing Facebook ad specialists including myself to quickly reevaluate their campaigns, tracking, and data analysis processes.


For PPC, your impressions and costs can change depending on competitors. This is somewhat true for SEO as well, but remember that it usually takes a year or longer to start ranking in SEO, so it's unlikely that you'll suddenly lose to a bunch of competitors at the same time.


Cost

If you are successful, SEO is cheaper in the long run, even after considering the cost of SEO tools, and hiring content writers and developers.


For PPC, obviously you need a monthly ad budget. The optimal budget depends on your industry, how well your business scales, and of course what you can afford.


Many businesses cannot or do not want to wait a year or more to get new leads or purchases via SEO, so they invest some budget upfront for PPC, and end up taking a hybrid approach that combines both the long-term benefits of SEO and short-term results of PPC.


As long as it makes sense with your goals and budget, I would often advise combining both SEO and PPC in a long-term digital marketing strategy. Not only does it cover both short and long-term strategy, but both projects can benefit from one another. For example, PPC brings in faster results, so you can use that data about CPC, CTR, time on site, etc. to inform your SEO strategy. Later on, you can use retargeting to serve ads to people who have already visited your website organically.