SEO vs. PPC Ads: Which To Use?

PPC, Search Engine Marketing, SEO  |  March 22, 2022   | Ashton Principe

The Quick Answer to SEO vs. PPC:

Deciding on the best campaign form for your business at its current state is no easy task. This guide will help you choose the best option in comparing SEO vs. PPC. If you’re looking for a quick answer, SEO will take longer but tends to be much cheaper than PPC. Many choose to use PPC when quick traffic gains are necessary and budget permits.

SEO: A Long-Term Investment For Long-Term Results

Understanding Organic SEO

SEO is also commonly known as organic traffic or organic SEO. All of these terms mean relatively the same thing, however some practitioners may beg to differ. Traffic is considered to be organic when it comes naturally over time, usually based on the traditional keyword-chasing approach. Organic traffic is highly desirable as dividends pay off greatly in the long run. Investing into content creation, link building, and choosing the right keywords creates an exponential effect on growth. Organic SEO campaigns involve building up domain authority in the beginning, then once a respectable amount has been achieved, keywords become much easier to chase.

For instance, a Wikipedia article optimized for “best SEO practices” would likely rank much higher than a beginning marketing blog optimized for the same keyword. Reason is, Wikipedia has a domain authority that many tools calculate to be in the high 90s, whereas a beginning blog may have an authority ranking below 30. Of course, domain authority isn’t the only factor that accounts for page rankings. If a site has extremely relevant content that keeps users engaged for longer periods of time, it does have a fighting chance to outrank a high authority site.

When To Use SEO

SEO should be a regular part of any site that has hopes to rank decently in the search engines. Does this mean that you need to aim for positions one to three on all of your keywords? Perhaps not. In some cases budget and time constraints could quickly prove that chasing such competitive rankings would be more costly than its worth. For businesses that desire a recognizable website, but don’t care for the competitiveness of the first three positions, SEO can be simplified and performed during routine site maintenance. A basic SEO campaign such as this could include publishing a blog post once a week, adjusting metadata, regular link building, and editing existing content to better favor a particular keyword. Will a campaign such as this get you to the pinnacle of the search engines? Depending on the niche and the age of your site, probably not. A simple, cheap, and easy to perform campaign such as the one described will get you ranking highly for long-tail keywords, with most rankings appearing on pages two and three. Even if a budget SEO campaign is all your business can muster, you’ll still be making progress in the right direction. Given one or two years, rankings will grow impressively when compared to the amount of effort put in. When you decide it’s time to up the investment into SEO, hiring a trained professional is likely your best bet. They’ll engage into a vigorous campaign with high content output, a heavy focus on link building, and will dive deep into technical SEO to push out incredible rankings.

Warning: Although campaigns such as these can speed up the process by months or years, they are expensive. If the cost of a vigorous campaign cannot be sustained for a long period of time, you’ll likely end up unhappy with the results. Consistent site growth is surmount in improving domain authority.

Use SEO when you can afford the regular investment and are able to comfortably accept that results will not come within the instant.

seo vs ppc

PPC: A Short-Term Investment For Highly Targeted Results

Understanding PPC Ads

PPC (Pay-per-click) Ads are one of the ways that search engines afford to keep running. PPC ads are performed through a dashboard, such as Google AdWords, where specific website pages are targeted to drive large amounts of traffic. Similar to SEO, businesses compete to rank for specific keywords. Rather than domain authority being the primary determining factor, PPC is based on the amount an advertiser is willing to pay to rank. Of course, if a PPC ad is not relevant to a searcher’s query then it will not be ranked no matter the CPC (cost-per-click) for that particular keyword. Search engines are built to be benevolent in that they provide users the most accurate results. Even though a company may be paying to rank, successful search engines would much rather display a relevant result over a paid result. Now, what if your ad is relevant and a paid result? Well, you’ll likely see yourself outcompeting the other paid aids out there. If your SEO is up to speed, you may even see a paid ad and organic result ranking for the same page. This often occurs when companies perform PPC campaigns to rank for their own brand name.

Find out more information on our detailed guide to PPC Ads.

Longevity of PPC

Businesses that need quick results and can afford a hefty upfront cost thrive on PPC. In essence, businesses are able to reduce the timeline of an organic SEO campaign and are taxed for the time savings. In theory this makes sense, but think of how you would normally use a search engine. Would you rather click on an organically ranked website in position number one, or a website ranked in a PPC ad? For most of us, we choose the organically ranked site. Users tend to trust organic search results more because the top three positions are extremely competitive, and surely only a reputable company would pursue such high positions. This isn’t always the case, but is how many search engine users perceive results.

As a result, highly targeted results are where PPC excels. Many PPC specialists will create ads around actionable queries. Actionable queries are searches where the user has an intent to do something. In the commercial space, an actionable query is normally to buy something.

For instance, when someone is shopping for sneakers they might search for “mens running sneakers.” Predictably, when a search engine user enters this query they are likely looking to buy running shoes. PPC Ads optimized best for “mens running sneakers” will appear above organic search. Does the user ultimately care whether they purchase their sneakers from an organic search listing or a PPC ad? Likely not. Even though site reputation may be a weighted factor in informational queries, actionable queries want an optimal result the fastest. PPC Ads are the first thing an actionable query sees, and as a result the user will likely click on one of the first few ads. Ads positioned in such a way are instant ROI if the user goes through with the sale. Using the sneaker example, our subject at hand chose to click on a PPC ad and purchased a brand new pair of trainers. Say the CPC of the ad was $15. Business X, who sold the search engine user some new shoes, made $45 from the entire sale including CPC and total cost of the shoes. The $15 the company spent to capture their customer turned into an instant $45 in profit. This is why PPC ads are best used for actionable requests. The same profit margin would likely fail to exist for an informational query. If instead the user was searching for “best running sneakers for a marathon”, they are more likely looking for reviews and information on the best running shoes, not necessarily to buy them. In this case, a PPC ad would result in an expense for the business without the likelihood of the user actually buying from them.

Longevity of a PPC campaign depends on the ads being run. If ads are displaying few returns on the cost of acquiring a site visitor, it would be best to adjust or halt your campaign until the issue is sorted out. PPC campaigns have a tendency to get expensive at lightspeed. Some businesses understand which keywords generate the most returns, resulting in profitable campaigns. One of the most straightforward indicators of a high-performing keyword is its CPC. The more other businesses are willing to pay to rank for a keyword, the greater the chances are that the keyword is highly profitable.

ppc vs seo


There does not have to be an ultimatum between SEO or PPC. In fact, most businesses end up doing both. Improving your site and its content with modern SEO practices will help improve organic rankings, and for pages that you must direct traffic to (such as a new product or service), then a PPC ad will help to do the trick. Investing into multiple pathways of digital marketing is always the safest best due to the speed at which the industry is changing. You’d likely find yourself better off learning the fundamentals of SEO prior to a PPC campaign. The concepts of keyword-specific ranking are similar in both, and making a mistake with SEO is much more forgiving.

Ashton Principe

About the author

Ashton Principe is a student and digital consultant at Renewal Digital. He is interested in copywriting, as well as WordPress design and development. He enjoys learning the industry looks forward to sharing his findings with others.

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