One of the most common questions online marketers have to answer is what the difference is between SEO (search engine optimization) and PPC (pay-per-click).
It is fair to say that while you may have a wonderful website or product, if you are not getting traffic to it, then none of it really matters anyway. Traffic – high-quality, targeted traffic – is the bloodline of any website, and SEO and PPC are the two main ways to get that traffic coming in.
While the main goal for both avenues may be the same, and people often get confused about which is which on the search results page, search engine optimization and paid search marketing require very different sets of skills and techniques to ensure they are working properly and pushing traffic to your end goals.
So What Does SEO and PPC Look Like?
As you can see from the image below, the major search engines separate the two types of results so they can be easily identified. Basically, the top two to three results and the results that run down the right side of the page are all considered paid search ads, which at the current time are labeled with an orange “ad” (this has changed over time and may change again). Below the paid ads at the top of the page are what are known as “organic results” which is where SEO comes into play.
***It is important to note that there are several variations of search results pages, and this is the basic one. Showing all the different result types is outside the scope of this blog.***
The main difference between search engine optimization and pay-per-click is how you get your listings onto the search engine results pages (or SERPs).
- Pay-per-click functions exactly how it sounds. Basically, you choose the keywords you want to show up for, determine which landing pages you want to drive traffic to, create advertisements to entice people to click, and set your bids depending on your budget and how much you are willing to pay each time a person clicks.
- Search Engine Optimization utilizes a variety of on-page and off-page techniques to help the search engines understand what your page is about so they can index it and rank it accordingly. In a perfect world, the more relevant your content is to the search query (keywords a person types into the search engines), the more likely you are to show up at the top of the results and get found.
Some people like to call SEO “free advertising”, and it kind of is, except that most people do not consider the man-hours it requires to create content and share it so the search engines can easily find it.
When Should You Use SEO?
Search engine optimization – when done correctly – is one of the most cost-effective and sustainable forms of online marketing you can do. SEO takes time, and resources, but will ultimately help make your website an authority on the web. So, when are the best times to do SEO?
- When you want to build an authority website. Search engine optimization is all about creating the best content resources on the web. An authority website will become the “go-to” website for a particular topic for the search engines and – more importantly – the people looking for information in a particular niche. To become and maintain your website as an authority, you will need to consistently generate quality content related to your business.
- When you are looking for long-term returns. Building a great website is much like building a house. You want it to be stable enough to weather any storm the search engines can throw its way and attractive enough to make people want to keep coming back year after year. Most importantly, you want your website to appreciate in value over time. Much like a home, you do this by continually improving upon, and adding on, so people will keep coming back.
- When you want to build long-term trust. The fact is, 85% of people click on organic ads vs paid ads. A lot of this has to do with trust. Searchers understand the difference, and often feel organic results are more trustworthy because the website had to “earn” that position. Whether that is really true or not is up for debate.
When Should You Use PPC?
Pay-Per-Click advertising can sometimes get a bad rap. I said it, and I come from a paid background (the first step is admitting there is a problem). The truth is, paid search is a great way to help get your website in front of searchers and get great returns. So, when are the best times to use PPC?
- When you need quick returns. SEO takes time. There is no getting around that fact. PPC allows you to get your website up and to the top of the search results page in a matter of hours as opposed to the weeks or months it could take if you were using a strictly organic SEO approach.
- When you have a time-sensitive promotion. One of the biggest benefits of PPC is the ability to get ads up and running in a matter of minutes (once the initial campaign is up and running). If you have a limited time offer, or a new promotion you want to promote TODAY, paid search marketing is the best way to make that happen.
- When you want highly targeted traffic. PPC allows you to choose the exact keywords you want to target, and create highly targeted ads to let people know exactly what they will find once they click. You can even choose keywords you don’t want to show up for to make your traffic even more targeted.
- When you suffer an SEO mishap. As much as you try to stay on the good side of Google and the other search engines, sometimes you get caught in a penalty or algorithm update. Other times, you may choose a website design (such as a single page, scrolling design) that are simply not conducive to a good SEO experience. For situations like these, PPC can be a great way to get your website in the competitive space known as the top of the first page.
Should You Use SEO & PPC Together?
The short answer here is: ABSOLUTELY.
SEO and PPC both provide very unique benefits separately that can help drive targeted traffic and great returns on your investment. Often times, however, people choose to focus on one traffic source over the other, or choose to remove paid search once they start ranking well organically.
There is a major benefit to utilizing both sources. I’m not sure what everyone else calls it, but I call it “Real Estate”.
Take another look at the search results in the image above. They are for the search query “web design baton rouge”. See the top result in paid AND the top result in organic? It’s us. If someone is looking for a web design company in baton rouge, chances are pretty good that they will choose one of our listings, simply because there is a lot more space taken up by our results.
We have had numerous clients engage in both SEO and PPC with Gatorworks. Amongst them are a number of vocational or technical schools in need of digital marketing. This includes:
- Delta College: Technical Schools in Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Slidell, Covington
- Medical Training College: Health Career Training School in Baton Rouge
- Avery James School: Beauty School in Lake Charles
- Southwest Schools: Trade Schools in San Antonio and McAllen
- Nuvani Institute: Beauty Schools in Austin, San Antonio, Eagle Pass, Del Rio, and Uvalde.
- Pensacola School of Massage Therapy: Trade School in Pensacola.
These schools have seen incredible results and continue to work with us on a month-to-month basis for both SEO and PPC.
There are always times where one source is preferable to another, but I like to think about this in another way, and that is Return-On-Investment (or ROI). Are you making money? This should be the only thing you are taking into consideration.
All-in-all, both SEO and PPC help bring in traffic so you can convert that traffic into leads, and eventually customers. This is all a part of the inbound marketing process.
The biggest word of caution I can give to any website owner is to not get caught up in being number one, or getting tons of traffic for the sake of getting traffic. Ask yourself, “What is this traffic doing for my bottom line?” If the answer is nothing, it is time to remove that source and focus on the next.
Understanding what your traffic is doing is the most important thing you can do.
If you would like to learn more about how Gatorworks can help you with SEO, PPC, and other inbound marketing solutions, contact us!
We are recognized as a Top Digital Marketing Company on DesignRush. Our digital marketing team in Baton Rouge has worked with companies from Texas and Utah to Florida and Michigan. Contact us today for help improving your digital presence!