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SEO vs. PPC: What Should You Invest In?

Should you put your time and money in PPC advertising (pay-per-click) or search engine optimization (SEO)? Which one is better for your business? It's an ongoing debate for business owners invested in digital marketing. In this battle of search, we’ll uncover the short-term and long-term considerations between investing in PPC and SEO.


What’s great about PPC advertising is the amount of customer data you have at your fingertips. You can develop highly targeted advertising campaigns that target the exact search phrase, time, location, and landing page. You can also get a definitive idea of your return on ad spend (ROAS).

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

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

  • On average, businesses make $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)

If it sounds like a no-brainer, keep in mind that launching a PPC campaign takes platform knowledge, keyword research, copywriting, and sometimes graphic design.

Let’s clear up any myths before we go on. PPC advertising will not improve your SEO performance. Paying Google (or Bing, or other search engines) thousands of dollars a month may generate traffic and leads, but it will not help your organic (non-paid) results. That’s where SEO comes in.


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, at some point, it falls back on spend (which will only continue to go up).

Since we provided 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)

What are the challenges with SEO?

  • Keeping up with constant search engine algorithm updates
  • Having the patience to produce content and wait months to see the amount of traffic you’re looking for
  • Knowing what to update on web pages to increase search traffic over time

SEO can not be “gamed” or cheated. High-performing SEO today means writing high-quality content that meets the needs of your audience, as well as understanding technical SEO to ensure that your site is usable, fast, and indexable by search engines. Having other sites link to your sites (a.k.a. acquiring “backlinks”) is also an important part of SEO, though it can be time-consuming and takes the right approach to attain quality backlinks to your site.


The answer is: You should invest in both. Both matter, and both help the other perform better.

Let us explain how they can complement one another. Doing both gives you data and insights on your audience from two channels instead of one. 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.

It’s also a good strategy to fill the gaps in pages that aren’t currently ranking well in organic search by supporting them with PPC ads. Once your SEO is able to increase your search exposure, you can scale back on PPC ads. Same goes for existing high-performing pages in search. If you are already ranking #1 for a specific page or keyword, you might not want to pay for an ad to show up right above it (in most cases).

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.