PPC vs. SEO: The Culmination of The Showdown


The world of search engine marketing is a highly contested battlefield between its two “kings” namely pay-per-click (PPC) advertising and search engine optimization (SEO).

Search spending is expected to rise 27% in 2012, to just over $19.5 billion dollars. They also predict that this spending will rise by an additional $10 billion or so by 2016.

eMarketer via Site Pro Specialties, Feb. 28, 2012.

This tells us that the expenditures for online advertising will continue to grow despite the projected slower pace in the years leading up to 2016. What does this mean for SEO?

Fortune3, an e-commerce solutions provider, conducted an online marketing survey last December 2011 – January 2012 with 270 respondents (online marketing retailers). The results of which are as follows:

Where Was Your Best Online Marketing Return on Investment in 2011?

30% said Search Engine Optimization (SEO) brought in the best results.

19% (218) businesses said they saw the biggest ROI when they used Google Adwords Pay Per Click marketing, sometimes referred to as Search Engine Marketing.

Where Will Your Primary Online Marketing Focus be in 2012?

 56% said they would focus on SEO (search engine optimisation) to drive more customers to their website(s).

15% indicated they would spend their online marketing focus on Google Adwords citing Pay Per Click as a quick way to get instant traffic.

Where Will The Majority of Your Budget Be Allocated in 2012?

26% said they will spend most of their budget on Search Engine Optimization.

19% said they would hoe into PPC – Google Adwords.

                – Fortune3 via OnlineMarketizing, Jan. 30, 2012.

The survey’s results show that e-commerce retailers will continue to focus their efforts on SEO because this is where most of the respondents saw the best results. Once again, we’re left with the question as to which online marketing strategy is better.

It’s finally time to decide which of the two types of search engine marketing is THE ONE.

Let’s start by listing down the pros and cons of each:



  • PPCSpeedy Startup
    If you’re looking to rank quickly, PPC can do just that. It only takes a few hours to set up a PPC campaign through the advertising services offered by Google (Adwords), Microsoft (Adcenter), and other similar services. This can all be done in 3 seemingly simple steps: create the campaign, create the ads, and bid on the search terms.
  • Better Ad Positioning
    The ads can be found more prominently on top, on the right side, and/or at the bottom of the organic results in the search engine results pages (SERPs). Organic results get pushed down the SERPs. Despite the claims of some people that sponsored links are not as trustworthy as organic links, there are generally higher conversion rates coming from PPC than SEO. The assumption is that people tend to find what they’re looking for from the paid results more than the organic results.
  • Settings Editing and Data Tracking Made Easy
    The configuration of your campaigns can easily be customized as you see fit. The ads, keywords, bids, budget, etc. can all be edited with just a few simple clicks and in just a few minutes. This is very useful should you want to target and rank for new keywords. Data tracking is also seamless with data that is quantifiable and highly measurable.
  • Geographic Targeting
    Your campaigns can be focused to target specific regions only. Let’s say you want one campaign to show only for New York City, USA instead of the whole country, you can do so.


  • $ per click…$$$ over time
    At the end of the day, it’s all about the money. You get what you pay for. In this case, you get “clicks.” It’s all good if the return on investment (ROI) is quick and high but what if it isn’t? The costs are just going to pile up over time. Moreover, the competition for keywords can get much tougher in time which means shelling out more money.
    Getting your website to rank quickly is what PPC is all about. However, ranking quickly doesn’t guarantee success. Correct keyword targeting and attention-grabbing ads will draw in clicks while well-optimized landing pages will have higher chances of getting conversions unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen overnight. Multiple, continual testing is required in order to make this happen and this will lead to high costs month after month.
  • Sole Dependency
    If you are solely relying on your PPC campaigns in marketing your website, then you will be in big trouble should it fail to stop showing your ads at any time. This could happen for a number of reasons but perhaps the most common occurring one would be the budget limitations. Once the ads slow down or completely stop, the percentage of traffic that came from your PPC campaigns will be the same percentage of traffic that will vanish like magic.



  • SEO labEssentially “free”
    Unlike PPC, you don’t shell out money for every click your website gets. Ranking in the organic search results is a result of doing best practices (white hat SEO) which doesn’t require any direct form of payment.
  • Long-Term Return On Investment (ROI)
    Links play a big role in organic search results ranking. High quality backlinks will definitely give your website a big boost and as long as the link is live, its effect remains. This goes for all your SEO campaign initiatives that are successfully seeded. In the long run, it also becomes the more cost-effective option.
    Research shows that there is an average click ratio of approximately 70-30 in favor of organic search results. Once again, in the long run, the possible conversions will be more exponential with SEO as opposed to PPC.


  • Turtle-Speed Startup
    Your SEO initiatives may not immediately have any effect. For example, if your website can be found on the fourth page of the SERPs, it’s highly unlikely for you to reach the first page in just a few days. The safest bet would be in 6 months time.

As you can see, each has its own advantages and disadvantages. So how do you know which one to focus your efforts on? Or are you really limited to choosing just one of them?

Have you ever head the saying “the best of both worlds?” Well, it might be a good idea to consider applying this statement in this particular case. Is it possible to have a coordinated effort between SEO and PPC? Let’s list down the possibilities.

1. Wider Screen “Real Estate”

If you ask any marketing specialist out there why they do what they do, they’d tell you one thing: to establish greater visibility for the brands they handle. It’s the basic of basics. The more exposure you have, the higher the chances of people taking notice of you. If you can dominate the SEO and PPC sections in the search engine results pages (SERPs), there’s no doubt that your traffic will increase. Establishing a firm foothold in your market adds credibility to your brand’s image.

2. More Data Is Always A Plus

Having both SEO and PPC campaigns run simultaneously gives you more data to work with. If     you’re thinking about what keywords to target for your organic campaigns, it would be a good idea to try them out first with your PPC campaigns. Once you’ve determined which keywords    convert best, then you can integrate them with your SEO. Likewise, if there are keywords that are too difficult to rank for using SEO, then you can just adopt PPC initiatives for them.

On-Page factors such as title tags, meta descriptions, and even your page’s content all matter    for both SEO and PPC. It would be too time-consuming to solely rely on SEO to do your testing.    Aside from keywords, PPC ads can also be used for testing purposes. Using the headline and description lines to test your title tags and meta descriptions respectively is a good strategy to work with.

Having a good quality score is essential in order to decrease cost-per-click (CPC) and increase your ads’ position in the SERPs. The key is to make your ads and landing pages highly relevant to each other. Knowing the best practices in SEO, such as content writing and page layout, can aid you in designing and structuring the best landing pages for your ads.

3. Implement Campaigns that need Immediate Results

When SEO can no longer fulfill the needs of your business, it’s time for PPC to step in. One such situation is when you’re running a time-sensitive marketing campaign. These are usually the seasonal campaigns. If you’re running a clothing website and you want to advertise your summer line, by the time your SEO initiatives start to kick in, it could already be autumn before you begin to see its effectiveness.

Another scenario would be to counter negative public relations (PR). If you happen to run a fast-food website and there’s an article that’s rapidly spreading bad rumors about your business, you will need to initiate damage control as soon as possible. Target the same keywords and counteract the negative publicity.

4. Balance out your costs

As we all know, PPC stands for pay-per-click. Imagine yourself paying approximately $6.00 per   click for a business-related keyword. If you multiply that by 50, you’ll be paying around $300.00 just for that keyword alone. It would be pretty easy to get around 50 clicks per day. In order to cut down on costs, you might definitely want to consider slowly transitioning to SEO as soon as   you’ve established which keyword/s convert/s best.

This tells us that SEO and PPC strategies don’t contradict each other but are actually complementary. What one lacks, the other makes up for and vice-versa. At the end of the day, both strategies have only one aim: to provide the most relevant results to users in order to get the most number of conversions possible. As such, the integration of both strategies is the best approach. After all, it’s still a numbers game.

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Sean Si

About Sean

is a Filipino motivational speaker and a Leadership Speaker in the Philippines. He is the head honcho and editor-in-chief of SEO Hacker. He does SEO Services for companies in the Philippines and Abroad. Connect with him at Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. Check out his new project, Aquascape Philippines.