Last updated on December 11th, 2012
Businesses just starting to wade into the waters of online marketing often ask which channel is better – should I focus on search engine optimization or pay-per-click advertising?
Although they’re displayed together on a search results page, organic search results and paid search marketing are quite different from each other.
In Google, organic search results appear in the left column of the search engine results page. Organic search results are considered free in the sense that you don’t have to pay anything if someone clicks the link. Where a particular site appears in organic search results depends on how the algorithms have scored the website and landing page based on its relevance to the keyword or words used.
Getting a website to page 1 based on the search query entered by the user is one of the main measurements of success in search engine optimization.
Paid search advertising from Google AdWords appears along the top and right side of a search results page. When a visitor clicks a link in one of these advertisements, the advertiser pays a fee based on the results of an auction that occurs every time a search takes place on Google. How much a click costs depends on the competiveness of the keyword in question, the optimization of the landing page the ad is linking to and the homogeneity of the keywords and ad copy.
As far as the question posed in our title, ideally you should include both SEO and paid search advertising in your online marketing strategy
And from our experience, we know that SEO can take weeks or even months to start yielding benefits. Paid search advertising on the other hand can be setup relatively quickly and, if properly managed, can provide immediate traffic to your website. Stoney deGeyter at Search Engine Guide recommends you start on your PPC right away to bring in profits sooner, if you can afford it.
When customers are able to set aside part of their marketing budget for paid search advertising, we recommend beginning an AdWords campaign as soon as properly optimized landing pages are in place. This allows you to reap the benefit of immediate traffic to your website while you shift your focus to all of the SEO work – namely optimizing your website, targeting keywords, building content, links and growing a social base.
In other words, paid search helps fill the traffic void while you work to ramp up your SEO efforts.
Another point to consider is how search engine optimization improves site usability since it takes visitor behavior into account. Over the long term, SEO and PPC work together to “…generate a synergy effect on visibility and conversions.”
In the future paid search advertising may take a higher priority, especially for keywords with high commercial intent according to an infographic we spotted recently.
In fact, paid search ads targeting high commercial intent keywords garner nearly 2/3 of clicks according to data. SEO on the other hand is still very dominant for informational keyword searches.
One other point to consider is the fact that SEO and PPC reinforce each other according to Mike at Search Engine Guide. With the rise of universal search, it’s possible for a website to have more than 2 options for a searcher on a results page, each with its own unique message.
Each approach has its own pros and cons.
Paid search advertising, for example is much easier to measure than SEO. You can get data on traffic and conversions for a particular page almost immediately. Engaging ad formats yield high click-through rates and ROI.
On the other hand, Google makes it much easier for you to spend rather than save money on PPC campaigns.
While SEO is free in the sense that a click doesn’t cost anything, it does take a lot of effort to get your website ranking on page 1. Compared to paid search, it’s increasingly difficult to measure and execute. However, SEO does provide the foundation for building a sustained web presence over the long term.
This quote from Danny Sullivan, Editor-in-Chief at Search Engine Land, provides the best explanation we could find – “It’s one of the most important rules of search engine optimization. Don’t depend solely on SEO. I’m always surprised when people fail to learn this lesson. Those hit hard by last week’s Penguin Update are just the latest to learn it again.”
In the end, we can’t really answer which method, SEO or PPC, is better.
As we said above, it’s best to have a mix of the two as one complements the other.