SEO vs. PPC: A Few Forgotten Truths
by Pauline Jakober,
July 9, 2019

1. Paid Search Can’t Replace Organic (& Vice Versa)
Paid search and search engine marketing are different beasts. One is not a substitute for the other. Each comes with its own strengths and weaknesses.

Paid search, for example, is really good at driving non-branded traffic to your website. Here’s a classic PPC scenario: The user knows nothing about your brand. They search for a product they want to buy. Your ad displays at the top of the search results page. The user clicks on your ad to see what you have to offer. In so doing, they get more familiar with your brand and move further along the conversion path.

Can organic search do this? Perhaps. But even the highest ranked organic search result won’t display at the top of the page. At best, your organic listing will display in the middle of the page. At worst, your listing will be many pages deep.

Both of these tools bring strengths to the table. Why wouldn’t you want both of them working for you?

2. Neither SEO nor PPC Is Free
A common argument against PPC is that it’s expensive. You have to pay every time someone clicks on your ad. And if your accounts are professionally managed, you have to pay for that too. But as any SEO expert will tell you, SEO also takes time, money and expertise. If you want it done well, you’re going to have to pay for it – whether you’re paying an in house SEO manager or an outside consulting firm.

3. It’s Not a Zero-Sum Game
Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking that SEO versus PPC is a zero-sum game. If you stop investing in one, the other will pick up the slack and vice versa. But I’ve rarely seen that happen. SEO and PPC won’t typically cannibalize each other. Instead, they draw their results from different pools.

4. Statistics Can Be Deceiving
In the “competition” between SEO and PPC, proponents of one side or the other will often trot out findings to support their case. But you have to look at these stats closely before you reach any conclusions.

For example, one of our other clients had an SEO consultant who wanted them to stop PPC advertising entirely! He based his argument on his “finding” that PPC traffic was suffering from bad site engagement when compared to SEO. Therefore, he argued, the client should put all its marketing dollars there. We weren’t sure where the SEO consultant was getting this information. Because we were seeing something very different on our side. Eventually, we suspected he had overlooked the fact that most of the PPC traffic was coming in via call only campaigns. As you may know, traffic generated by these campaigns isn’t directed to the client website at all, which would explain low engagement numbers!

Ironically, there was another important metric the consultant ignored altogether: new visitors.


For this client, PPC drove 2,958 new visitors YTD. In contrast, organic drove only 1,246. What would happen to all those PPC-driven new visitors if you stopped advertising? Most likely, you would lose them.

5. Look Beyond Traffic to Leads & Conversions
While we’re on the topic of numbers, let me also point out that many of the statistics floating around on the internet would also benefit from a closer analysis. For example, a 2014 study from Conductor (an SEO company) stated that organic search is responsible for 64% of all site traffic, while paid search generates only 6%. What are they trying to infer with this statistic? That SEO is more effective than PPC? Probably.

But I see two problems. First, that organic search traffic number would include traffic generated by every possible kind of search inquiry – including searches where ads wouldn’t display at all! Second, and more importantly, is traffic really the goal? Or should we be more interested in leads and conversions? Because you could get all the traffic in the world – but if you’re not getting leads or conversions out of it, what’s the point?

SEO or PPC? Choose Both!
When people ask whether they should choose SEO or PPC, make the argument that they shouldn’t make a choice at all. Because neither is a substitute for the other. And when you harness them together, you get the best of both.

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