Should you put your time and money in pay-per-click (PPC) or search engine optimization (SEO)? Which one is better for your business? It's an ongoing dilemma for business owners invested in digital marketing. In this battle of search, I'll uncover which channel is truly the best to invest in.

Round 1: PPC, The Easy to Control

What is great about PPC is the amount of customer data you have at your fingertips. You can nail down the exact search phrase, time, page, lead information and, most importantly, if this lead became a new customer. You can get a definite idea of your return on ad spend (ROAS).

In fact, tracking isn't the only thing in your control. You control specific placements, budgets, time of day, specific ads and pages. And unlike SEO, it's possible to see results quickly. Within a week or two (depending on the industry and other factors), you can start to leads from paid search.

Not convinced on pay per click? Maybe these stats will help:

  • Business make on average $3 in revenue for every $1.60 they spend on AdWords (Source)
  • The first ad position has a click through rate of almost 8% (Source)
  • You can increase your brand awareness by 80% with a PPC ad (Source)


Round 2: SEO, The Compounding Investment

SEO is a longer investment, but what's great is that it's a compounding investment (see MarketingProfs article on this). It's what we call the "SEO snowball effect." Here's Timothy Carter's example that explains it in a simple way:

"When you create a blog post, you instantly gain some new search engine real estate and some inbound link potential. You may get a few hundred visitors in the first week—but that article never goes away. It will keep attracting links, keep earning new visitors, and continue earning your company more visibility and more revenue (especially with a strong call-to-action). As you add more related blog posts, you'll encounter the same pattern of growth."

Although SEO requires continual effort, it's not based on spend. It's based on effort and execution over time. While you can optimize pay per click campaigns and find room for improvement, it at some point, falls back on spend (which will only continue to go up).

Since I gave some PPC stats, here are some on SEO:

  • 70% of the links search users click on are organic (Source)
  • 57% of B2B marketers stated that SEO generates more leads than any other marketing initiative (Source)
  • 72% of online marketers describe content creation as their most effective SEO tactic (Source)

Round 3: The Tie Breaker

OK, so this started as a trick question. This round will end in a tie. I know, it's a little anticlimactic. But the answer is: You should invest in both. Both matter. And both help the other perform better.

Let me explain how they can complement one another. Doing both gives you double the data and insight on your audience. For example, you can see what keywords drive the most conversions from your paid efforts and put some focus on these phrases in your SEO strategy. If you have a content piece that's ranking well and gets substantial organic traffic, you could gate this content and offer it in your PPC ads.

Remember, your audience still has the same questions and the same needs/wants, whether they come from paid or organic search results. The more you know about your audience, the better you can reach them in either search channel.