SEO and PPC — A Comparison of Search Engine Optimization & Pay Per Click
If you're just starting out with your Internet marketing program, you've probably heard about search engine optimization (SEO) and pay per click (PPC). But you might not fully understand how these two strategies work, or which one is better suited for your marketing program. Should you use SEO, PPC or both of them together?
In this tutorial, we will examine the pros and cons of these Internet marketing strategies. You'll also learn what it takes to manage the different types of campaigns. But first, some basic definitions are in order:
Search engine optimization / SEO -- The act of growing and promoting your website in order to achieve better rankings within the organic results of the major search engines. It combines various aspects of web coding, content development, link building and promotion.
Pay per click / PPC -- The paid approach to search engine marketing. This is when you bid on certain key phrases, and pay a certain amount for each click, in order to drive targeted traffic from the search engine(s) to your website. Popular PPC programs include Google AdWords and the Microsoft adCenter for Bing.
Right away, you can see both the similarities and differences of SEO and PPC.
- How they're alike -- They are both Internet marketing strategies. They both leverage search engine activity as a way to drive website traffic. And they are both widely used by companies large and small. But the similarities end there.
- How they're different -- The primary difference has to do with cost. With search engine optimization, you can acquire an unlimited amount of free traffic. With pay per click, you'll pay for every visitor you receive. So while PPC and SEO are both website traffic-generation strategies, the former is cost-dependent and the latter is not.
So which one is right for your Internet marketing program? Should you use search engine optimization, pay per click, or a combination of the two? You'll have an easier time deciding where to put your resources (of time, money and attention) once you understand what goes into these strategies. So let's talk about the inner workings of SEO and PPC...
What Goes Into an SEO Campaign?
The goal of a search engine optimization campaign is to improve your organic / natural rankings in Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines. You can do this in several ways. For starters, you must make sure that your blog or website is well organized and structurally sound. This will allow the search engines to crawl through the site and find all of your content.
You must also include keywords and phrases in all the right places, such as your HTML title elements, page titles, sub-headers, page content, internal hyperlinks, etc.
Those are the basics -- the bare minimums of an SEO program. Once you've completed these steps, you can move on to the more advances techniques of content creation and promotion.
In order to improve your search engine rankings for your existing content, you must actively promote it. This will help you acquire inbound links from other websites. Search engines like Google and Bing use these links to determine how popular your website is within certain niches and communities. The best way to promote your content is by creating unique, original and useful information that people will link to without being asked. You can proactively promote it by using press releases, social networking and other strategies.
Once you have the fundamentals of an SEO campaign in place, most of the real work comes down to these two things -- writing and promoting great content.
What Does PPC Marketing Involve?
Pay per click is the paid approach to search engine marketing. Instead of working your way to the top (as with SEO), you are buying your way to the top. You are paying a certain amount of money to appear on a certain page of Google, for certain keyword phrases. You pay for every person who clicks on your ad, hence the term pay per click marketing.
Your ad will appear at the top of the search engine results page, and also down the right side. These "sponsored" listings are generally set apart from the organic / natural listings with a shaded background. For instance, Google distinguishes its AdWords PPC listings with a beige / tan colored background, to set them apart from the regular organic listings.
Here's what it takes to launch and sustain a pay-per-click marketing campaign:
- Determine the specific goal of your PPC campaign (leads, sales, subscriptions, etc.).
- Create a landing page / pitch page for your campaign.
- Identify relevant keywords and phrases to bid on.
- Determine how much you want to pay per click, when somebody clicks on your ad.
- Publish your ad through a service like Google AdWords or Microsoft / Bing's adCenter.
- Monitor the results of your campaign -- placement, click through, conversions, etc.
- Optimize your results by testing one ad against another, and one landing page over another. For instance, you could use the classic A/B variant method to test the performance of different headlines, offers, etc.
Based on these explanations, you can probably begin to understand some of the pros and cons of SEO versus PPC marketing. You might even know which one is right for your Internet marketing program -- and it might be both of them. Before closing out this lesson, I want to get further into the pros and cons of pay per click and search engine optimization. This will help you make an informed decision.
Search Engine Optimization - Pros and Cons
What are the advantages and disadvantages of an SEO campaign, when compared to pay per click marketing? Here are a few points to consider.
- Pro: Search engine optimization is a long-lasting marketing strategy. The efforts you make today will pay off for months or years to come, in terms of ranking and visibility. So in the grand scheme of things, you get more bang for the buck with a SEO campaign compared to a PPC campaign.
- Pro: Search engine optimization is not as complicated as you might think. It's not so much a technical process as a strategic one. SEO companies want you to think it's highly technical because they want your money. If you can create and promote interesting, useful website content, you can manage an SEO program.
- Pro: Search engine optimization forces you to do things you should be doing anyway, like networking and publishing high-quality web content. When you're well into an SEO campaign, you will probably have a better website than before you started it. The same cannot be said for PPC, where you get visitors simply by bidding on their clicks.
- Con: Search engine optimization does not happen over night. It's something you have to work at for some length of time, before you start seeing any significant results. This is another key difference between SEO and PPC.
- Con: The job is never really done. While the results are longer lasting than with PPC, you'll still have to work to maintain your SEO program over time. This means publishing new content, adding new features to your website, and promoting these things to a targeted audience. Of course, if you're as passionate about Internet publishing as I am, this might seem like more of a pro than a con. But most business owners will view this as a negative, since they have so many other things to do.
- Con: With search engine optimization, you have to work hard to distinguish your website from others in your field. The Google and Bing algorithms will look at various signals regarding your website. They'll consider the number of links pointing to your site, the length of time people spend on your site, the amount of "social lift" you have on sites like Facebook and Twitter, and other factors that must be earned instead of bought. This is another key difference between SEO and PPC. But here again, some people (like me) will view this as a positive.
The "cons" of a search engine optimization campaign can be summed up in a single statement: You will have to make a long-term investment in your website to make it more valuable to visitors. In reality, this is something you should be doing anyway. SEO just forces you to do it.
That covers the pros and cons of an SEO campaign. Let's shift gears now and talk about PPC.
Pay Per Click Advertising - Pros and Cons
Pay per click also has certain pros and cons that must be considered. The two main factors that make PPC different from SEO are speed and cost.
- Pro: You can get nearly instantaneous results with a PPC marketing campaign. If you bid on your keywords effectively, your ad could appear on the first page of Google (or Bing, or Yahoo) within minutes of starting the campaign. Compare this to what we said earlier about the long-term investment of SEO. This is the primary appeal of pay per click.
- Pro: You can get very specific with your keywords and phrases, and thus very specific with the kind of traffic you want. For instance, a home builder could connect with a specific audience by bidding on phrases like "luxury log homes in North Carolina" or "oceanfront homes in San Diego." This kind of specificity allows you to direct your resources (cost per click) toward those people who are most likely to need your products or services. Pay per click is an ultra-targeted approach to Internet market.
- Pro: You are tapping into a very large and preexisting audience (the search engine's user base). So you can get instant results, in terms of website traffic. You do not have to build the audience from scratch, as with other Internet marketing strategies. The audience is already there, waiting for you.
- Pro: There are no long-term contracts or obligations with a PPC marketing campaign. You pay for what you get, in terms of visitor click-through, and nothing more. You can pause or cancel your campaign at any time, with the click of a button.
- Con: Your marketing budget will limit the amount of visitors you can get in a day. You will pay for every person who clicks on your PPC ad. In a highly competitive industry, where a lot of companies are bidding on the same or similar phrases, the cost per click can be significant. Unless you have an unlimited budget, this will put a cap on the daily traffic you receive from pay per click.
- Con: You do not get any long-term benefits from a PPC campaign, not like you would from an SEO campaign. The moment you stop paying for those clicks, your search engine visibility will be "switched off."
By now, you should be able to see the key differences between SEO and PPC marketing. It mostly comes down to three things -- speed, cost and long-term benefits. With these factors in mind, you can choose the strategy the works best for your current business needs. You can use one or the other, or both of them simultaneously.
Closing Remarks About SEO and PPC
So what do I recommend? Should you choose between PPC and SEO, or use them both? This is not a question I can answer across the board. The answer will depend on your marketing budget, the level of familiarity you have with these strategies, and the current state of your overall marketing program. For instance, a business that needs web traffic ASAP should seriously consider using pay per click. A company that already has a certain level of traffic, but just wants to increase it, could probably get by with SEO alone.
Search engine optimization is suitable for any type of business. No matter what kind of products or services you provide, you can bet that people use search engines to find them. So I strongly encourage you to make SEO a regular part of your long-term marketing strategy.
Whether or not you choose to implement a PPC advertising program will depend on your current marketing needs. If your business survival depends on instant web traffic, then you'll probably need to implement a PPC strategy, at least until your website optimization begins to pay off. When you've built up a decent level of organic (unpaid) traffic, you can decide whether or not you want to continue using pay per click.
Have Questions About This Topic?
If you have questions about anything discussed in this article, you can post them in our Q&A discussion forums. These forums are a source of unbiased advice. I am not trying to steer you into using a particular program. In fact, I don't even offer SEO or PPC management services anymore -- just phone consultations. So I have no financial interest in steering you toward one program over the other. If you want to get some straightforward marketing advice without a sales pitch attached to it, post your question in the forums today!