While PPC and SEO both help brands achieve a strong presence on Google’s search results page, they are actually quite different, both in terms of execution and how success should be measured.  PPC refers to ads that live at the top of each Search Engine Results Page (SERP), while organic SEO listings appear below the ads. In recent years, Google’s Knowledge Graph has taken search results in many different directions, however, in the most simplistic of examples, PPC and SEO are represented in the below search for “adwords advice.”

Example of PPC vs SEO in Google Search Results

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.  The goal of SEO is to ensure that the content of a landing page is of high quality, which means that search engines like Google and Bing are more likely to show it high up on the SERP (search engine results page).  The higher on the SERP the listing is, the better the odds that someone will click on it.

SEO is complex, as there are many factors that contribute to a high-quality web page.  Some of these factors are directly related to page content, such as the amount of text on the page, the relevance of that text to what users searched for, how quickly the page loads on a variety of devices, and the relevance of HTML tags on the page.  There are also factors that are not related to the content of the page itself, such as the overall authority of the content author or the quality and quantity of inbound links (aka backlinks) to the page.

Benefits of SEO

There are many benefits to having good SEO.  Clicks on organic listings are free, so good SEO can allow you to maintain a presence on keyword phrases that are just too expensive for PPC.  Organic SEO listings last for an extended period of time, and sometimes, such lists can last for up to ten years. Showing organic results next to paid ones can also increase credibility with potential searchers. Some users of search will only click on organic results because they deem them more trustworthy.

Disadvantages of SEO

One of the main challenges of SEO is that the ultimate control lies in the hands of the search network.  While optimization can certainly help improve performance, it is up to the search engine to determine which pages will get the highest rankings for a particular keyword.  This can mean that the page that a search engine chooses to display might be different than the one you’d prefer, or that you will not be able to gain traction on keywords that are the most valuable to you.

Another disadvantage to using SEO is it changes all the time. In a recent article, we discussed the massive amount of SEO changes that occurred in 2018. This makes it difficult for in-house marketers to keep up with Google changes and maintain their presence in search engine results.

What is PPC?

PPC, or Pay-Per-Click, is the way that ad listings are managed online.  Advertisers choose which keywords they’d like to bid on, the maximum amount they’re willing to pay for a click, the ad copy that should be associated with each keyword, and which page a user should be directed to if they click the ad.  When a user performs a search on a keyword phrase, the search network looks at all the advertisers who bid on that keyword, the quality of their ads and keywords, and their bids, and then determines the order in which to show ads on the SERP. If a user clicks on an ad, the advertiser will be charged up to their maximum bid.  Otherwise, the impression is free.

Benefits of PPC

Just like SEO, PPC has many benefits as well.  Because PPC ads are listed above organic search results, paid traffic is the best way to make sure that your page will be seen by users as they reach the SERP.  The degree of control over which messaging and landing experience the user will encounter also means that your advertising can be highly tailored to promote the most important parts of your business. This is not the case in SEO, because the search engine controls both the landing page and the text shown in search results.

Disadvantages of PPC

The main challenge to PPC is that each user click comes at a price.  If you are in a competitive space, it’s possible that you will need to pay a significant amount of money for each click, which may or may not be sustainable based on your conversion rates.  In very competitive markets, it’s possible that your maximum bid will not be high enough to guarantee that your listing shows on the first or even second page of results, leading to a lack of visibility.

Are PPC and Google Ads the Same Thing?

There are many ways to engage in PPC advertising, and Google Ads is one of the most popular ways to do so.  However, any ad network in which you are charged for a click counts as PPC. PPC campaigns are often run on search sites like Bing Ads and YouTube in addition to Google Ads.  Many social media platforms, review aggregators, and networks of website publishers also have their own PPC-style opportunities for advertising.

While Google is often the first place that people look when deciding to run a PPC campaign, it’s important to remember that advertising works best when run through a variety of channels simultaneously.  Users who are exposed to a brand in many different contexts and with a variety of messaging are better able to understand what the brand is about and why they might be interested in its products. In addition, targeting capabilities, audience behavior, and the competitive landscape vary from network to network, so testing in a variety of spaces is an important step in overall marketing optimization.

Does PPC Help SEO?

PPC does not have a direct impact on SEO.  However, there are many ways in which having good PPC campaigns can help overall performance, both paid and organic.  PPC can help bring new traffic to your website that you might never see organically. This is because PPC ads allow you to ensure your ads are shown to relevant audiences even before the search network makes the connection between a user’s search query and your website.  This additional traffic can bring more links and shares, which can help improve the website’s organic listings.

PPC can also help set your organic listings up to succeed in that the user will learn about the brand as they are exposed to ads.  For example, a user might remember seeing an ad highlighting your generous return policy and remember that when they next see the brand in organic listings for a product they want to buy.  Improved CTR from this type of reinforcement can help your SEO performance as well.

SEO vs. PPC Statistics

Now that you understand the difference between PPC and SEO, you’ll need to determine how to allocate your budget.  While the exact breakdown varies by industry and by individual company, historically, an average of 82% of Search Engine Marketing spend has gone to PPC campaigns, while SEO only received about 12%.  This is partly due to the more direct impact that PPC often has on traffic volume.  It is much easier to link PPC activity to increased sales volume, even though studies have shown that each click on a paid ad increases clicks on organic listings by 8.5 times.  Clearly, both PPC and SEO work together to drive traffic volume, and your strategy should reflect this fact.

Holistic SEO and PPC Integration

Most brands find that having a mix of SEO and PPC is the best way to ensure that they get the exposure they need to be profitable.  Good PPC ensures that the right messaging and landing experience is presented to the most valuable potential customers, and good SEO lends additional brand credibility and fills in gaps where PPC can’t capture the market.

The data you collect from SEO and PPC can also help guide you in the expansion of your efforts on both sides.  Knowing where your high-quality organic traffic comes from can give you an indication of where you might want to concentrate your ad spend.  Conversely, learning that a particular set of keywords drives a lot of engagement on your ads can tell you what types of content will be most desirable to your organic users.

The value of having both organic and paid listings cannot be understated.  With both PPC and SEO, you can ensure that links to your website appear twice on the front page of search results.  You can occupy even more real estate by taking advantage of paid and organic search extensions. The more space you cover on the SERP, the more trustworthy your brand looks and the more likely it is that users will want to click on a component of your listings.

Tools for PPC and SEO

Luckily, search engines understand the importance of having high-quality results to deliver to their users, and they have created tools to help you understand how your paid and organic listings perform.

Google Search Console gives you the ability to see your website through Google’s eyes and make adjustments that will help increase your organic visibility.

On the PPC side, Google’s Keyword Planner tool allows you to get ideas for relevant keywords and estimates on their potential reach and cost of advertising.  This can be helpful when determining how to expand your search campaigns so that you’re devoting resources to the most promising keywords.

There are also many third-party intelligence tools that can help you understand which elements of your campaigns are working and where there may be opportunities for growth.  Tools like SEMRush, KW Finder, and Screaming Frog are invaluable for the dedicated PPC or SEO professional.

Can We Help?

PPC and SEO are complex and ever-changing.  We firmly believe that they can work for everyone, but they sometimes require a lot of management.  We would be delighted to help you maximize the effectiveness of your marketing dollars by helping with your campaigns.

Reach out to the emagine team and let us know about your current SEO and PPC activities. We’d love to provide SEO and PPC audits that help highlight where we can make the largest impact and help increase the ROI of your digital marketing efforts.