SEO vs PPC – Which Is Best For Driving Search Traffic?

In this article, we will briefly explain SEO and PPC in the context of digital marketing, then look at how they compare and which is best.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation, and refers to making your website found “organically” when someone searches the internet for something. Most searches result in a number of adverts (sponsored results) and organic results. SEO relates just to the organic results. Google still handles the vast majority of website searches in the western world, so usually SEO relates to making your site found on Google.

What is PPC?

PPC stands for pay-per-click and is a form of online advertising. When someone searches for something online, some of the results that come up will be paid advertising (these are the ‘sponsored’ results), and the website owner will pay a small amount of money to the search engine if you click on that advert. Google Ads is the most well-known form, formerly called Adwords, and this includes various types such as search ads, display ads, and Google shopping.

How are SEO and PPC similar?

Both are mainly connected with search engines, Google and Bing in particular, and strive to improve the visibility of a specific company or brand within within the many billions of searches per day, by ensuring they appear within the search results. The goal of both is usually to get visitors to your website. Once on your website, you hope that they browse your products or services, and then purchase (ecommerce) or enquire (lead generation).

How do SEO & PPC differ?

The way they work is quite different. For SEO, the search engines will crawl your site, note down anything they think is helpful or interesting, and then store it in an index, ready to serve up to people searching for products, services, or information. Search engines use a secret algorithm to decide which websites to put at the top of the page. SEO aims to help Google understand that your website should rank high on the search engine results page (SERP).  The only way to get higher on the ranking is to make your website better (in the eyes of Google, Bing, and other search engines). This contrasts with PPC, where your position on the page is partly related to how much money you are prepared to pay Google. There are several other factors in PPC including page quality and relevance, and the cost per click (CPC) is set in a bidding auction, so some keywords are much more expensive than others.

Does PPC influence SEO or vice versa?

Not directly. There is no evidence to suggest that if you spent a lot of money on PPC, Google would look more favourably on your organic (SEO) rankings. Likewise, you could have great or terrible organic rankings, and this would not directly affect your PPC campaign. However, if your PPC campaign generates a large amount of traffic and strong brand awareness, this might have some impact on your rankings.

Which is Best, SEO or PPC?

Every year or so, extensive studies are done to see how many people click on paid links compared with organic links. This varies according to the type of search and sector, but a Semrush study of 20,000 searches in 2022 showed that around 45% of desktop searches resulted in a click on an organic link. Less than 2% clicked on a paid link. For mobile, the paid was only 0.02%.

To say which is best, you need to understand some simple pros and cons of both. This is quite involved, but the following are generally true in most situations:

  • PPC is generally faster than SEO to get traffic – results in a few days rather than weeks or months.
  • PPC costs for every click – the moment you stop paying the traffic stops. SEO can keep going without cost – although monitoring and maintenance is recommended.
  • PPC can be set to target a specific geographic area precisely. SEO can be optimised for an area, but this is not guaranteed to show in a certain area.
  • SEO will generally help improve the flow of quality traffic, PPC is likely to pull mixed traffic
  • SEO does not cost you if the wrong kind of traffic comes.
  • PPC may miss out on many users who avoid sponsored links – trust is generally lower than organic links.

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