The first digital marketing strategy most business owners turn to is search engine optimisation (SEO). After all, it’s a “free” strategy that promises to get you ranking on page one of Google results pages and bring all kinds of potential customers to your site – what’s not to love?

Sadly, this vision of SEO isn’t particularly realistic and you should run away from any marketer or agency who tries to paint this picture. High rankings don’t come quickly or for free in the real world but paying for PPC ads will get you the top of page one right away.

So does this mean PPC is the smarter investment for businesses that want to get ahead?

SEO vs PPC: The great debate

Once upon a time, SEOs and PPC advertisers were mortal enemies battling it out for the marketing budgets of business owners everywhere. The SEO vs PPC debate was far bigger than any fight between Apple and Android fans or Windows and Mac users and filled with more misinformation and fake news than a US presidential election.

In 2018, the SEO vs PPC debate is long over and we’ll explain why in a moment. First, let’s take a look at the key similarities and differences of SEO and PPC”


What do SEO and PPC have in common?



Because SEO and PPC both revolve around search engines, they’re naturally going to have some similarities.


  • Both strategies are designed to generate more traffic
  • Requires a solid understanding of your target audiences and how they use search engines
  • You target keywords to pinpoint user interest
  • You create messages based on user needs


That’s pretty much where the similarities end, though and the list of differences is much longer.


How are SEO and PPC different?

While both SEO and PPC are designed to generate more traffic from search engines, the approach you’re going to have to take with each strategy differs greatly. Most explanations of this will tell you that SEO is free and PPC costs money but this simply isn’t true – don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise.

So what are the differences?


  • Cost: With PPC you’re paying for traffic but SEO requires more investment into content creation and website optimisation.
  • Speed: PPC gets you traffic instantly but it takes time to build a search presence that generates high volumes of traffic.
  • Leads: SEO and PPC generate entirely different kinds of marketing leads.
  • Queries: PPC ads are triggered for some search queries but not others.
  • Longevity: Your PPC traffic stops as soon as you stop paying for ads while your SEO presence will be maintained for quite some time.
  • Optimisation: PPC optimisation focuses on settings, ad copy, landing pages and conversion funnels while SEO requires site-wide optimisation.
  • Content: Your PPC ad copy and landing pages need to convince people to take action right away while your SEO strategy will involve creating a lot of content with less aggressive messages.
  • Difficulty: Both SEO and PPC are tricky but in very different ways.


The key thing to remember at this stage is that SEO isn’t necessarily cheaper than PPC. It might be, depending on the kind of strategy you implement but don’t underestimate the time and cost involved with creating enough quality content to build a search presence. Likewise, don’t assume profitable PPC campaigns set up and manage themselves – both of these strategies will need you to invest time and money.


SEO and PPC: Why they work better together

The thing with SEO and PPC is both search marketing strategies have their strengths and weaknesses. It takes time to implement a good SEO strategy and build an organic search presence but you can pay for an instant stream of traffic with PPC ads. In the long run, SEO starts paying for itself because your content keeps generating leads after you’ve invested the time and money to create it.

So does this mean you want to run SEO and PPC campaigns in the early days and then switch to an SEO-only strategy once you have a strong enough search presence?



Actually, no. Because the key difference between SEO and PPC is actually the type of leads they generate. With SEO, you’re generally going to be targeting leads at the early stages of the consumer journey: people comparing TVs, deciding where to go on their next holiday or looking for ways to improve their businesses. While there’s every chance you’ll convert some SEO leads on the spot, most of them are going to be customers you need to guide along the buying process and make sure it’s you they do business with.

PPC, on the other hand, captures leads that are much closer to the finishing line. These are people who are ready to buy now or in the near future. They probably already know what they want and they’re looking for the best deal, trying to find a local supplier or make a quick purchase. With a platform like AdWords, you’re able to target these people and get your brand seen at the vital moment.


            A search for “clothes summer sale” returning no ads in Google


There are exceptions to this, though. You’ll find a number of “high-intent” search queries (those from people who intend to buy) that don’t trigger ads in search. For example, “next day delivery”, “free delivery”, “summer sale” and various other search terms that suggest people are keen to buy often return organic results only – so make sure you do your keyword research and know which search terms you’re aiming for with each strategy.

Don’t underestimate the value of leads at the early stages of the consumer journey either. They may not be ready to buy now but the vast majority of your potential customers are in these early stages at any given time. Your task is to make sure as many of these buy from you when the time comes, rather than doing business with one of your competitors.


As SEO and PPC have matured over the years, they take two different search marketing roles alongside each other. Each strategy has its strengths and weaknesses but combining the two means they compensate for each others’ weak points and reinforce their strong points. So don’t think of it as SEO vs PPC; aim to build the best search presence you can with both strategies and make the most of the different leads they generate.