PPC vs. SEO: Which is the Right Answer?

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There’s a continuous debate in the search marketing industry about which is the more effective and efficient use of resources: pay per click or natural search engine optimization.  Obviously, I’ll be supporting the PPC side of this argument.  Our trusty sidekicks over at www.SEOBoy.com can be counted on to back the natural optimization horse in this race, and the good people at Search Engine Watch have provided a good breakdown of both sides of the discussion that took place last week at Search Engine Strategies Chicago 2009.

Before discussing the benefits of PPC vs. SEO, I must make a few things clear: 1. My experience and expertise is in direct response, and my arguments will focus on that industry.  2. I’m certainly not recommending that organic search optimization be ignored.  It is an extremely important and effective marketing tool, and can sometimes offer benefits that PPC does not.  3. Whenever possible, PPC and SEO should complement each other rather than compete for resources.

Now, that the disclaimer’s out of the way, why should you devote your time and money to PPC?
According to data discussed at SES:
PPC traffic converts at 2.03% versus 1.26% for natural traffic.
PPC visitors spent about 10% more money on sites than natural visitors.
PPC visitors stayed on sites approximately 29% longer than organic visitors.

So, what are some of the reasons for those numbers?


PPC campaigns are FAST.  While it can take months to push a site up into a useful position in the organic results, PPC listings can hit the top of the page as soon as your ads are approved.  This is especially important for short term holiday offers, new domains and time-sensitive campaigns (e.g., training or finance seminars, that are generally locally targeted and only active for a week or two).

PPC search offers more specific testing, allowing for a detailed analysis of the effectiveness of ad copy, keywords, landing pages, CPC’s, ad positions and the relationships between all those things.  PPC campaigns make it easier and faster to determine what works and what doesn’t, and makes it far easier and faster to optimize for those things.

PPC campaigns allow for total control over the product’s message.  Ad titles and copy can be tailored precisely to specific keywords and/or product benefits.  Ad positions can be easily maintained and budgets can be strictly adhered to.  Along with ensuring top positions for effective keywords, it’s very easy to avoid ineffective keywords through the use of negative match.

While good SEO is a valuable tool and an important piece of any long term marketing strategy, my answers to a client’s question “Why should I use PPC search for my product?” generally begin with the conversion & ROI averages, and then focus on speed, testing and control as the main reasons for those numbers.

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14 thoughts on “PPC vs. SEO: Which is the Right Answer?

  1. Finnblues book finn

    In the end, I usually subscribe to the “any port in the storm,” theory.

    Be it PPC, SEO, Social Media, TV, email marketers, or a town crier, the goal for most is to generate converting traffic.

    The argument usually centers around the division of labor and the allocation of resources.

    Whatcha think?

  2. Adrian | Impact Media

    Interesting post Brian though I think the simple answer to the question posed in your title is ‘both’!

    I would tend to agree with your comments regarding PPC but SEO should not be ignored and there’s no reason why a quality site with intentions of promoting online shouldn’t adopt a blended approach.

  3. pravakar

    Good analyze between PPC and SEO, both are vise versal. If we want in sort period leads and traffic then we follow PPC but it will be lmited period. In case of SEO, it take time but we get good amount of traffic for long traffic

  4. Benin

    Hi Brian,

    Cool, I just wrote a post on this the other day. I like what you have said about testing. But I’d like to add an alternate take on the topic that both are necessary for brands to have fully optimized conversion rates.

    In a nutshell, branding and performance go hand in hand because the branding creates the awareness that helps consumers to feel comfortable clicking through the search result link that they’ve become familiar with.

  5. Abertawe

    I have been doing PPC for 10 years, day in day out, and SEO off and on for the same amount of time.

    To be honest you are not comparing like with like. It is like comparing TV to Radio advertising.

    If done well and you dont have to pay anyone to do your SEO. SEO wins hands down. Why? For an ecom site the ROI is much greater. PPC is lower. I worked on an ecom site where the organic ROI was in the Thousands and PPC is the Tens. If done well SEO is cheap. PPC by its nature is not.

    So the argument:

    PPC traffic converts at 2.03% versus 1.26% for natural traffic.
    PPC visitors spent about 10% more money on sites than natural visitors.

    Doesnt wash because you are having to pay.

    But where PPC does come into its own is Speed, as pointed out. And that is the thrill of the game. And why we all enjoy it.

  6. Curtis

    I have that question asked to me ALL THE TIME! I work specifically with small business owners, usually anywhere from 1-50 employees and it gets pretty tight in terms of a marketing budget for them.

    When they ask that question, I always tell them it is important to do both! PPC works well in the beginning as we can have their ads up instantly and then test and use data to target better, higher converting keywords that we can use for SEO purposes later.

    At the same time, it’s easier for me to optimize my clients for specific keywords because I am in Fresno, CA! This makes the job easier because of lack of SEO competition here. But with that said, I don’t ignore PPC.

    As we slowly start ranking in their local areas for their specific keywords, then I will slowly start backing down their PPC campaign. It works well for the clients and they enjoy seeing their businesses coming up in both sponsored listings and natural results.

    Great post though! I love both PPC and SEO – just an online marketing geek!

  7. Sokrati

    Hey Brain,

    Great post. Truly appreciate your effort. According to me people should be looking out for PPC only if they are not appearing in the top 3 of SERP’s. To me searches usually look at the PPC ads only if they did not find any relevant results from the organic search. So, if you are very good at SEO i.e. among the top 3…why do you spend on PPC? spend money to optimize your site for natural listings….to be number 1….n when talk of conversion…it all boils down to the landing page, pricing,merchandise and all that stuff…so for me….SEO would be the first option……n i would recommend PPC complementing the SEO efforts..


    What I feel is, the application of SEO or PPC differs from business to business depending on the size of the business. For example lets think of amazon. I think amazon should be better off trying out for SEO as searches normally look at the organic results first n then move onto the search results if they cant find

  8. Adam

    I think seo is far and away better than ppc. However I have seen quite a few products or business’ benefit greatly from ppc while they were building their seo ranks.

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  11. Rina Ashton

    If your Adwords PPC campaigns aren’t working, I recommend getting an audit of your campaign. I know RDM does them free, just call 734-344-6781.


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