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PPC Vs. SEO: An Analysis of Two Powerful Acquisition Models

PPC and SEO are both top-performing acquisition models. However, they take distinct approaches to web marketing. Each represents a unique marketing proposition and is better suited for different businesses, depending on what a company sets to achieve.

In this article, we'll analyze each of the two models and give an overview of their major differences. It is worthwhile to highlight the differences between them since both are effective, but do not always work in the same way. We’ll also discuss the features marketers should consider in picking one over the other.

 

What is PPC and SEO?

PPC

PPC (Pay Per Click) is an ad model in which advertisers pay a fee each time their ads are clicked. There are several types of PPC ads, with search ads being the most common. These ads appear at the top or bottom of search result pages across all search engines — Google, Bing, etc.

PPC ads do not generate advertising costs from impressions alone. Thus, when compared to PPV ads (Pay Per View), which incur costs just for exposure, PPC ads offer a higher conversion rate.

SEO

Search Engine Optimization or simply SEO is the strategic steps taken to help a website or piece of content rank higher on search engines. It is a lot more complex than just keeping your content accurate and providing good links. The more you know about SEO, the better you'll be at it. At its core, if a user were to search for "what is PPC advertising" on a search engine, for example, the most optimized content for the search terms would appear first.

There are a plethora of search engines out there, but as of February 2021, 90% of all search engine searches were done on Google. While Google and Bing use different search algorithms, associating SEO with search engine metrics based on Google would not be a problem.

Typically, SEO content does not include ads and is classified as "organic results.". Even though the algorithm that determines the search ranking is not publicly available, factors such as content composition, backlinks from other sites, and page display speed are known to affect a page’s rank.

Differences Between PPC and SEO

FactorsPPCSEO
Display LocationAdvertising SlotOrganic Search Slot
Click RateLowHigh
CostPaidFree
Time to Gather TrafficFastSlow
Operation StabilityHighLow

Display Location 

In the image below, the red highlighted area represents the PPC search advertising slot, while the blue area represents the organic search slot (SEO). At first glance, PPC ads are more likely to catch a user’s attention since they appear before the SEO content.

Click Rate

Though PPC ads are displayed in an area where they can be easily seen, SEO content has a higher click rate. According to data presented by WordStream Inc. about PPC ads, the average click rate for listing ads among all industries is 3.17% on Google search. The industries with the highest click rate were “dating & meeting” at 6.05%, while the lowest was “technology” at 2.09%. In comparison, data released by SISTRIX Inc in July 2020 presents the click rate by search order as listed below.

 

RankingClick Rate
1st28.5%
2nd15.7%
3rd11.0%
4th8.0%
5th7.2%
6th5.1%
7th4.0%
8th3.2%
9th2.8%
10th2.5%

As shown above, the click rate for SEO content was: 28.5% for 1st position, 15.7% for 2nd position, 11.0% for 3rd position — compared to the 3.17% for search ads, we can see the inconsistency in the two models. The difference is likely due to the dislike of ads by search users. SEO content appears less ad-like, making it less stressful for users to click. Nonetheless, if one’s content ranking is low for the keywords they’re targeting, they stand a better chance of reaching users with PPC ads. 

Cost

PPC ads are free to display, but as the name implies (Pay Per Click), costs are still generated every time users click the ads. Although SEO content is free to rank and receive clicks, it incurs no costs — except that of outsourcing talents to create and polish the content.

Time to Gather Traffic

The time it takes for both models to gather traffic is an important point to consider. With PPC, displaying ads requires only setting up targeted keywords and bidding an amount. Once the ads are published, they can gain access immediately after passing Google’s review.

In contrast to this, SEO content takes time to appear at the top of search results. Published content generally climbs the search ranking in three to six months, and it can take even longer for highly targeted keywords.

Operational Stability

Targeting with PPC ads is easy, and unlikely to fluctuate significantly. The challenge comes in the ability to gain incremental traffic. With SEO, it is hard to influence Google's algorithm in targeting defined demographics. The masked algorithm is also updated frequently, so even if one’s content made it to the top of the search results, it is difficult to predict how long that is going to last. 

Which Acquisition Model Is Right for Your Business?

Selecting PPC Advertising 

Using PPC advertising might be your best option if any of the following applies to you:

  • Looking for quick results
  • Inflexible resources

A key feature of PPC advertising is its ability to display ads quickly based solely on cost. When you need results quickly such as attracting new customers via a campaign, PPC advertising may be the right choice for you.

Additionally, PPC advertising can be effective even with limited resources. There are many factors you need to consider when aiming for a higher display rank with SEO, such as your website design, keyword competition, writing articles, etc. With PPC ads, you can set up simple ad settings and make them live immediately, bypassing all the complexities of SEO. 

Selecting Search Engine Optimization

SEO is your best bet if any of these apply to you:

  • Branding and long-term prospects 
  • Flexible resources 

Although it may take time to get your content to the top page of search results with SEO, doing so will enable you to get a continuous flow of traffic to your site. Even if you land in the 2nd or 3rd position, you’ll still get a free influx of traffic, helping you to establish a powerful image of your brand. 

Infusing Both Models

Marketing is all about constantly refining and updating your strategy. If you’ve tried PPC advertising and weren’t satisfied, you can still use SEO to drive traffic to your site and gain a top spot in search engines in the long run. In the end, these ad models are only tools. Ultimately, you are trying to rank highly on search engines so that you can reach a large audience, and in that light, you can even use both models.

For instance, you can use PPC ads to get immediate results while identifying the keywords most effective for your marketing goals. Next, you can create SEO content based on the keywords you fished with your PPC campaigns to drive long-term, organic traffic to your site.

Conclusion

Each ad model has its benefits and drawbacks, and correctly integrating them can work wonders for your business. Choosing the best one depends on your marketing goals, current resources, and the needs of your audience. Also, if you're just getting started in web marketing, consider seeking the help of SEO/PPC experts. 

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