SEO vs PPC (Should You Do Both?)

Last updated


Daniel Wade


July 28, 2022

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There is a raging debate over whether Search Engine Optimization or Pay Per Click ( SEO vs PPC) advertising is better for generating traffic online.

SEO is the cheapest way to build a ton of consistent traffic, but it can take time to create a steady stream using SEO alone. That’s why PPC is a better lead generation strategy for the short term. The best approach is to use both strategies simultaneously.

For the marketers that want to know which of the two is better: there is no definitive answer. Both SEO and PPC have their merits and demerits. As you will see in this article, your choice will mostly be determined by your marketing objectives, the current state of your business, and market trends.

Drawing from my experience with both marketing strategies plus numerous insights from world-renowned marketing experts, I have created this guide to help you decide whether you should pick SEO, PPC, or use both.


Table of contents

PPC vs. SEO: What Is The Difference?

There are two main ways to distinguish between PPC and SEO.

The first is that PPC ads appear on the top page of the organic search results. They’re placed even higher than the highest-ranking organic search results.

The second is that PPC costs you with every click, whereas SEO generates organic traffic for free.

Although they’re different, they serve the same purpose—getting more organic traffic to your website from the relevant search results. One of them does so through paid advertising while the other matches users’ search intent to your keywords.

Why Use SEO?

As a cornerstone of successful digital marketing, SEO is often the first form of advertising deployed by any startup looking to build a presence online. It’s a cost-effective method that works well for limited budgets, but it doesn’t bring instant results.

Nevertheless, SEO is still quite useful. Here are some of the ways it is used by businesses.

To Drive Brand Awareness

SEO puts you in front of your prospective customers via search engines. It’s one of the oldest ways to build awareness for your brand because anyone can find you when they perform a search using the keywords you target.

Since SEO is (mostly) free, it suits even businesses that are just starting. It can be a powerful driver of brand awareness when deployed and managed competently.

To Create Brand Authority

Brand authority can be achieved when you gain visibility around commercial or location-based search terms related to your area of expertise.

When you target specific keywords and rank highly for them, you associate your brand with that topic, something that drums up a lot of positive attention from searchers in that niche.

Good SEO will turn your brand into a trusted resource for searchers, which gradually grants you authority over the topics in which your business specializes.

To Gain Credibility

Even though PPC advertising is effective, it’s common knowledge that most web users skip past the ads and head straight to the search results. With SEO, the higher you rank in organic results, the more credible your visitors find your business.

Ensuring visibility in organic results can be an effective way to gain your audience’s trust. First-page results are often perceived as more credible than the ads on top, especially if the businesses listed there have good reviews.

Building Website Traffic

SEO is elementary to growing website traffic; it is the first source of visitors for many businesses.

This is the only way to organically gain leads, spread brand awareness, and educate your audience about what your business can do for them.

It is also the cheapest way to create visibility online, with the only downside being that it can take a while to generate a respectable flow of traffic to your site.

Free Digital Marketing

SEO brings traffic from organic results without any direct charges for clicks or impressions. However, it’s not accurate to say that it is entirely free because good SEO costs both time and money.

Nevertheless, it is one of the marketing strategies that doesn’t require a lot of investment initially, especially if you’re more concerned about growing your business in the most sustainable way possible.

To Generate High ROI

When it works well, SEO tends to bring high returns for very little investment. Organic search traffic is largely free and won’t cost you more than time to gather.

That’s why SEO is an excellent choice for small businesses that want to get the most out of their limited marketing budgets.

To Save Money

Truthfully, SEO is not as cheap as we think it is, especially since it’s so time-consuming. However, it is cheaper than most of the other marketing strategies you’ll use.

You can save a lot of money on generating traffic using SEO, all while driving relevant visitors to your website.

To Create A Sustainable Business

SEO is quite sustainable. The efforts you put in now can generate a steady stream of traffic for years, even when you stop refining your marketing strategies.

The same can’t be said about PPC advertising. Once you stop paying, you no longer get ad spots. Therefore, PPC isn’t as sustainable as SEO because it’s dependent on your marketing budget's availability (and size).

To Boost Click-Through Rates

Most web users, you and I included, will sooner click on an organic result entry than click on any of the ads at the top of the page. This should tell you that SEO typically generates far more clicks than paid ads, although there are exceptions to the rule.

In fact, you’re more likely to get more clicks with a highly ranked organic listing than with top-page ad placement.

To Get More Clicks

The more clicks you get from PPC advertising, the more you pay. But with SEO, you can garner as many clicks as possible since there’s no direct charge for clicks and impressions.

Businesses looking to drive up their click rate will have better success with finely tuned SEO than with PPC. Remember, organic listings generally attract more clicks than paid ads.

To Widen Marketing Scope

It’s not financially responsible to pay to advertise all your content and dominate all your relevant keywords. That’s why using PPC on its own may not be enough to build a strong presence online.

You need SEO to target more search queries and market more of your content cost-effectively. SEO allows you to widen your marketing scope since you can target multiple keywords and make as much of your content visible to search engine users.

To Gain A Strategic Advantage Over Competitors

Even though SEO doesn’t produce immediate results, it does put you out of reach of your competition. What does that mean?

When you’ve finally established yourself in the search results, your competition can’t catch up without putting in the same amount of work and waiting as long as you did to get there.

The top organic spots on SERPs can’t be bought, and there are no shortcuts that can help businesses gain better rankings overnight. Once your listings are in a better position than those of your competition, there’s little that can be done—except using better SEO practices—to usurp you.

Why SEO Is Not Perfect

SEO is cost-effective, efficient, relatively easy to implement, and an effective traffic source. However, it is far from perfect.

As a marketing strategy, here is where SEO falls short:

Organic Traffic Is Slow

If you’re looking for a strategy that will bring you more traffic in a short amount of time, then SEO is not for you.

Effective as it is in driving traffic sustainably to your website, organic traffic comes by slowly—it starts with a trickle and gradually grows over time.

It can take months to generate revenue from organic traffic, but once the ball gets rolling, it can prove a steady revenue source for your business.

SEO Is Not A Level Playing Field

You might think that since everyone can use SEO to get better rankings, all businesses have an equal shot at success. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Businesses that are just starting out have to compete with established companies for their share of clicks. But keywords can be targeted by anyone, so your small business may not have such a healthy chance against a titan like eBay or WebMD.

If you prefer a bigger portion of clicks on specific keywords, you have a better chance of getting them if you use paid ad spots. They may not get a lot of clicks, but at least you’ll not be under the shadow of an established company and can still generate revenue from competitive keywords.

Good SEO Requires Content Assets

Content is the driving force behind organic listings. To compete for any keywords using SEO, you’ll need to develop a lot of content.

That’s not an easy feat, especially for businesses that lack the in-house resources and budget to create great content consistently.

Activities like link building, though crucial, need to be conducted expertly to ensure the safety and sustainability of your content. Not all businesses will master this on the first try, and through the resulting process of

trial-and-error may end up lagging behind the competition.

Needs Additional Effort To Turn Traffic Into Leads/Conversions

SEO can bring you lots of valuable traffic, but it won’t necessarily change your bottom line without extra effort.

Most of the organic listings are informational in nature, or at best, pre-purchase data (reviews, product descriptions, etc.). Therefore, even when a visitor lands on your site, you still need to nurture them into customers.

In comparison, most of the traffic you’ll get from PPC will convert immediately. Web-users that click on paid ads already know what they want, so they don’t need further convincing. What’s more, they’re often ready to make a purchase by the time they land on your site.

Why Use PPC?

Paid advertising is just as popular as SEO, even though it has a lower click-through rate and doesn’t inspire trust as much as organic listings do. That speaks volumes about the power of ad placement since the biggest advantage of using PPC advertising is that your ads will always appear at the top of the organic listings.

PPC offers more than just optimal ad placement, and if you’re wondering whether it’s worth your time and effort (money), then read on to see its benefits.

Better Page Position

Regardless of the keywords involved, paid ads always dominate the first four spots (three on mobile) of the search results page. Every user that launches a query using your targeted keywords will see your listing first, even though they choose not to click on it.

The top spot of any SERP is a lucrative position to be in. No matter your niche, you are guaranteed to get more than a few clicks a month if you pay for the right keywords.

More Space And Better Control Over Ads

PPC advertising is ultimately all about ads. As far as ad channels go, it’s one of the best around, owing to the generous ad space and granular control it gives marketers.

Even though your ads appear on search engine results, you can add a fair amount of information, including prices, locations, contact information, site links, and key marketing points.

Beautiful Visuals

Gone are the days of static, text-based PPC ads. These days, Google Ads supports visual elements to boost ad engagement.

Therefore, a marketer with physical products to promote can benefit from PPC as it allows them to showcase their offerings on a top-page ad spot.

Unlike services, for which most users may need additional nudging before they make a purchase, products go quickly and with less effort, especially if they’re common and necessary.

Therefore, PPC can be an effective and relatively cheap solution for visual advertising.

Better Brand Visibility

Even if users don’t initially click on your paid ads, you can still get a lot more brand visibility with PPC. That’s because your company name and information is visible to all, and a prospective customer might come back to your ad later after they’ve first visited your website.

Remember, your ads will always be at the top of the page, so whether they scroll past them or not, most web users will notice your company and probably visit you later when they’re ready to pay for your services.

Better Budget Control

With PPC, you can set a fixed limit on your advertising budget. All you need to do is decide how much you’re willing to spend on advertising.

Your spending will only go up when you choose to increase your budget. That makes PPC a good option for companies that want to keep tight control over their marketing budget.

Laser-Like Targeting Precision

Using PPC to target specific web users is highly effective. You can choose to target potential customers based on the keywords they type, geography, device, language, and even time of day/week.

PPC also allows you to refine your targeting to potential customers that have previously visited your site. Compared to organic search marketing, it is far more precise and gives you granular control over who gets to see your ads.

Faster Deployment

Gaining organic visibility is a time-consuming process, but launching a PPC campaign takes just a few days. It’s just as easy to grow your PPC campaigns quickly.

No matter the size of your business, PPC advertising is the fastest way to get in front of your potential customers. It doesn’t take as long as SEO, and even though it’s not sustainable, it can improve your SEO marketing too.

Rapid Audience Feedback

Since you can get results quickly, PPC is often used to test different marketing messages and products before they’re launched in earnest. Marketers use this agility to refine their ads before launching full campaigns.

Tracking And Analytics

Paid search has one huge advantage over organic search: it offers advanced tracking and analytics. This is crucial market intelligence that will improve your ad quality and be leveraged to enhance your SEO strategy.

PPC comes with native integration with Google Analytics, which gives you deep insights into the performance of your ad campaigns. It tells you which keywords convert more, percentage of conversions against cost, and much more.

Market intelligence gained from your PPC ad campaigns can be applied to all of your other advertising campaigns, including SEO marketing.

Split Testing

There’s plenty of room for refinement with PPC advertising, which supports A/B split testing as well. Unlike SEO, here, you can test everything from landing pages to CTA buttons to determine which split variations bring the best results.

All of this information can be applied to campaigns outside of PPC advertising and can even be used to refine your SEO strategy.

Reliable Performance

When changes happen to organic search, the impact is always significant and sometimes even detrimental to the SEO practices you’ve put in place.

However, PPC advertising is barely affected by updates and changes. Furthermore, it is possible to focus on meaningful search by analyzing search term reports and using match types appropriately.

Low-Cost Lead Generation

Contrary to popular belief, PPC advertising is not an expensive way to get traffic. When set up and managed properly, a PPC account can generate leads rather cost-effectively.

It all depends on who you’re targeting. For instance, businesses targeting their geographic locale may spend very little to generate a large amount of leads. Furthermore, with the analytics you collect along the way can further optimize your PPC advertising to get more leads at a low cost.

Why PPC Is Not Perfect

It may get you more hot leads than SEO and even grant you more organic visibility, but PPC has some significant downsides to it as well.

Here are some of them:

It Can Get Expensive Fast

Remember, you’re paying for every click, so international or global campaigns can add up quickly.

Smaller businesses have to be content with narrower marketing scopes since it is expensive to increase coverage.

Also, if you get into a bidding war, it could drive up the price of ad inventory. You’ll be forced to pay more because the demand is high.

It is Far From Sustainable

If your budget dries up, you can say goodbye to all your PPC ads. It requires constant investment, so it is not the most sustainable way to get traffic in the long run.

There’s No Way To Stop Your Competition From Mimicking Your Ads

Before you start advertising using PPC, you have to make peace with the fact that your competition can copy what you’re doing and have the same or better results. Everything from your ad message to your whole sales funnel can be copied, and there’s no way to prevent or avoid that.

SEO vs. PPC: Here’s Why You Should Use Both

Is SEO better than PPC? Yes, but PPC is also better than SEO in a lot of areas.

The point I’m trying to get across is that these marketing strategies won’t offer a perfect fit for all types of businesses. Some will find SEO more capable, while others will be more successful when using PPC.

For instance, a small, local business that’s more focused on the long term may find SEO ideal, especially if they have a small marketing budget and only need a few leads every week.

But for a budding e-commerce store that has to compete for keywords with Amazon and eBay, PPC might be the more reasonable solution since it places their ads on top of all the organic search results, Amazon included.

Ideally, PPC and SEO should be used in tandem. They have complimentary strengths, which means that doing both SEO and PPC advertising could be more effective than using either one on its own.

Here’s Why:

  • Analytics and conversion data from PPC can be applied to organic search (SEO) marketing, therefore improving your marketing accuracy on both channels.
  • PPC can help you isolate high-performing keywords and use them to maximize the total volume of traffic from SEO.
  • You can move high-volume, high-cost keywords to SEO, where it is cheaper, and stick to the cheaper high-volume keywords on your PPC ad campaigns.
  • Split testing gives you data that can be applied to your organic search listings to help them perform better.
  • PPC can be used to remarket your products to visitors you previously targeted using SEO.
  • Using both PPC and SEO allows you to target users at all stages of the sales funnel—whether they’re seeking information or are ready to make a purchase.
  • PPC offers fast feedback, so you can use it as a platform to test out your keyword strategy before rolling it out to SEO.
  • Using both strategies give you better organic and paid visibility.

Integrating both search strategies is by far the best way to make the most out of them. However, this doesn’t imply that applying both marketing strategies is the best approach for all businesses.

PPC and SEO should be used in combination for rapidly growing businesses with aggressive marketing strategies and a budget to match.

SEO vs PPC (Should You Do Both?)


Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

After working for multiple digital advertising agencies and managing hundreds of client accounts and spending millions of dollars via Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Native Ads and Direct Media Buying, I took things out on my own and started SparrowBoost. Now, my tight-knit team and I continue to get smarter and more efficient at running our own campaigns and we share our knowledge with you.

Learn more about SparrowBoost