21 November 2017
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Which is better; SEO or PPC? A question that you’ll find yourself frequently asked, particularly if you work in any area of search, marketing in general, or even as an account manager. However, despite what seems to be a reasonably simple question – is basically anything but.
Which is better; SEO or PPC? A question that you’ll find yourself frequently asked, particularly if you work in any area of search, marketing in general, or even as an account manager. However, despite what seems to be a reasonably simple question – is basically anything but.There will often be disagreements between professionals working in either field, mainly due to the fact that marketers often tend to specialise in one or the other, with the odd exception of hybrids, but typically, everyone has a preference. Now, if we were to go through the complete ‘ins and outs’ of SEO and PPC, we’d be here all day… but here’s a basic guide to both, and how they could be the marriage made in heaven that your business needs.
SEO is short for ‘search engine optimisation’ and refers to organic search practices. The process refers to a methodology of strategies that formulate how we optimise websites to appear in certain searches for particular keywords or terms. There are a number of ways to optimise a website, and the owner of the website may choose to try to increase their visibility within an organic search for a number of reasons, including; in order to attract more traffic, increase sales or simply improve brand awareness.
SEO aims to make your site relevant, and therefore visible, for specific search terms. This can be done in a number of ways, including; expanding and optimising on-site content, improving the user experience and load times, redesigning site layout, optimising meta descriptions, alt text and title tags, reviewing sitemaps and expanding a sites backlink profile to close link gaps, to name just a few.
PPC is short for ‘pay per click’ and refers to paid online advertising and search. The process refers to the practice of paying social media sites and search engines, such as Facebook or Google, to appear on their platform and increase your visibility to those who may otherwise not see your site, brand or product. In a basic sense, the advertiser will pay for each time the advert is clicked on, of which the price will vary from brand to brand, and audience to audience.
PPC can offer brands the ability to almost instantly appear on a website as an ad or higher up in the SERP’s, above many (depending on your bid) organic search results, whereas organic search can take months or even years to reach ‘page one’ of a search, depending on how ‘competitive’ that search terms is.
Regarding ad visuals, there are more and more ways to creatively portray your ad to your audience. From video ads within Instagram stories, to ‘search ads’ in Google which are text only – advertisers can now, target ad creatives based on their audience preferences to encourage further click-throughs and conversions.
Justifying PPC spend is becoming much easier, too. PPC tracking methods continue to evolve and improve to help advertisers understand the best platforms to utilise in terms of ROI, based on the number of conversions completed via either the platform itself or with the help of Google Analytics goals and events. Over time, this allows clients to attribute an average monetary value to each conversion, be this completing a contact form or completing a purchase online.
SEO offers a longer-term investment and it typically takes form as part of a lengthier project, however, unlike PPC, it offers less guaranteed results, particularly at the beginning.
SEO strategists must constantly monitor changes in Google algorithms that may treat your site more or less favourably, due to the way it performs and the information it displays. However, hard work pays off with SEO. Google is renowned for rewarding useful sites, which offer a wealth of relevant information, seamless user experiences and are backed up by a healthy number of backlinks and citations from a range of reputable sites.
SEO activity can also be used to build brand authority, through manipulating where your brand appears for particular search queries. Frequently appearing in a high position in the organic search can influence the perceived trust associated with your services or product. Some users are savvier than others, with some choosing to skip over ads and head straight for the organic results, with those at the top of the organic results often experiencing the highest volumes of traffic.
Despite the fact that SEO can be timely and costly in practice, it could also be considered (sort of) free. The process involves time and effort, however, there is no direct cost associated with a user clicking through to your website from an organic search result. Organic search click-through rates (CTR) are often considered to be higher than their paid-for counterpart. Although, this will entirely depend on where the site ranks, the search terms it ranks for and the type of search term users are inputting, e.g. branded, non-branded.
Branded terms have a very different intent to the non-branded search terms. Therefore they typically yield a greater CTR and return on ad spend (ROAS). Non-branded demonstrate less intent on the part of the user, so typically non-branded optimisation will aim to improve your brand visibility and trust and drive a lower ROAS.
Moreover, once a site ranks in a high position, it will face fewer barriers than PPC activity. Unlike paid ads, organic search does not have to compete with the likes of ad blockers, which now occupy a space across over 615 million browsers.
Overall, organic search visibility is not quick, simple or even easy. It’s a never-ending process that requires brands to continuously revisit their websites and make changes, alongside strategizing to obtain that elusive stamp of approval obtained through sustainable link building. Organic search positions can’t be bought, which means those who genuinely deserve that top spot, can’t be easily booted out by the competition.
PPC, on the other hand, can help a brand get to the top of the search results and get their name out there (almost) instantaneously, which is particularly useful if a brand is aware of a specific platform where their user base resides. Depending on the messaging, PPC can be a fantastic tool for short-term quick wins, particularly if what you’re trying to advertise is available for a limited time only, or you’re trying to rank amongst competitors who you feel would be near impossible to feature next to organically.
Although seemingly instantaneous, there’s a lot of time that goes into PPC, too. Creating the best and most strategic campaigns, ads, landing pages, creative and tracking takes time, as does analysing the results and utilising this data for future campaigns. This, of course, varies massively on your overall campaign objective, but, as a rule of thumb, if you’re not willing to put the time in to get your campaigns up and running, to be able to prove ROI and objective fulfilment – you shouldn’t be running PPC.
The issue here, is, on top of cost in terms of time, you also need to factor in PPC budgets. Budgets for any campaign can vary massively. And in this instance, having an in-depth conversion strategy and average conversion value is absolutely essential, to ensure you’re not blowing your budget with anything to show for it. Once you have this data, you can move onto more advanced conversion strategies, targeting the customers you want as opposed to the ones you can get.
Another potential hazard when it comes to PPC is the fact some people are naturally put off by ads, with platforms more openly portraying ‘paid for’ space to the end user, which can have a knock-on effect on click-throughs and conversions, sometimes resulting in higher levels of spam than associated with organic search… but you’ll work out soon enough if your campaigns are working for your business.
Regardless of which you think is inherently ‘better’, both SEO and PPC have their own pros and cons. SEO can take months, even years to get your site ranking for your chosen terms, which will depend on how much time and effort you put into it, alongside the competition for those keyword terms. Not to mention the fact that your site is basically at the whim of Google algorithm updates which can send you soaring up in the SERPs or, just as quickly plummeting off the grid.
PPC will get you to the type of user you’ve defined in your campaign set-up and can build brand recognition and awareness almost instantaneously, but pull the funding, and it’s like you never existed.
So why is it important to implement both SEO and PPC campaigns? The two methods of search aren’t notorious for working harmoniously, with each cannibalising traffic from the other. However, many people believe both are necessary, particularly during the early stages of launching a brand.
Search engine marketing (SEM), has very aptly been compared to the housing market, by Arianna Donoghue, which makes for a great ‘easier-to-understand’ analogy, particularly for those unfamiliar with SEM.
If we begin by considering our website as a house or dwelling. Now, in this instance, PPC would be the concept of renting a property. It’s instant, can provide you with immediate shelter, however, once you stop paying your landlord, also known as Google or website owner, you have to leave.
SEO, on the other hand, is buying. You purchase a property, you invest time, money and effort into adding value to it, and eventually, you reap the rewards. Your mortgage payments would be your ongoing SEO activity, that aims to maintain and grow your visibility.
Now, it gets a little more complicated. House prices could be compared to an algorithm, in the same way, that organic search results change at the whim of a Google algorithm update, their value can fluctuate depending on changes, in the same way, that housing prices and values fluctuate with economic, political and social changes. Equally a major algorithmic change (a market crash) can cause fluctuations in rankings, great news for some, terrible for others!
Your ‘deposit’ is the initial upfront work, required to make both SEO and PPC work. Both require an initial investment of time and money, to occupy that space, for SEO this would be considerably higher because it requires much more ongoing maintenance, to maintain your current position while simultaneously trying to improve. For PPC or paid advertising, this would be your initial setup, determining your audience, budgets, planning and creating any relevant assets.
So to ensure the longevity of your rankings and the site, it’s important to invest time and money, into your SEO efforts. However, for instant brand awareness and to target specific types of people, when your time is limited, PPC and advertising can be the key to instantly accessing previously untapped or unaware audiences.
Overall, we can clearly see the ways in which both methods of search engine marketing are beneficial. SEO requires time and patience, the ability to build a long-term strategy and work towards goals such as keyword rankings while juggling constant site amends to ensure compliance with algorithm updates and ensure a great UX. Whereas PPC or paid advertising can jettison a brand right to the front of view, pushing advertising content out to precisely planned audiences using targeting, with more easily traceable and therefore attributable traffic.
Regardless of the inevitable competition for traffic, SEO and PPC are unlikely super best friends, that can work harmoniously with one another to achieve desired KPI’s for many brands. With two different SEM systems working alongside each other, your brand can tackle both long term and short term goals, ensuring measurable results that can be attributed to individual channels.
So next time you’re planning a marketing campaign, make sure you consider both paid and organic search, ensuring you invest both in your today and your future.