PPC vs. SEO: Which is the Right Answer?

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?

Speed

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).

Testing
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.

Control
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.