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SEO vs. PPC – What’s the Difference?

by Hillary Weidner

SEO_vs_PPCSearch engine marketing is one of the most reliable and time-tested tools that digital marketers use in order to gain more exposure for their brand and expand their online reach. Nearly everyone uses search engines to find what they’re looking for on the Internet, so it only makes sense to present your company to search engine visitors at the moment when their interest is at its peak.

You’re probably already somewhat familiar with search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) marketing; both strategies fall under the umbrella of search engine marketing, but they differ in quite a few ways. Below are some points to help explain the difference between these two highly popular strategies.

SEO and PPC: Some Basic Definitions

SEO (also referred to as “organic search”) is all about optimizing your website and content in order to rank higher in the organic (i.e., non-paid) search results for certain popular keywords. For example, if you sell mountain bikes, you would want to target search queries such as “mountain bike,” “mountain bike stores,” “mountain bike reviews,” and so forth. SEO primarily works by way of optimizing web pages through proper coding, creating keyword-focused content that search engines can easily categorize and building links to your website.

PPC (or sometimes “paid search”) is the practice of paying for advertising space on the search engine results pages for certain specific targeted keywords. You will pay a certain price-per-click (hence the name) for any search engine visitor that clicks through to your website as a result of viewing your ad. To run a PPC campaign, you will need to create ads, set up a daily advertising budget and bid on relevant keywords in order to gain visibility for your ads.

Benefits of SEO

One of the most salient benefits of SEO is that you are able to consistently drive traffic to your website by your natural, non-advertising-assisted search engine ranking. If you can rank highly in the organic search results for a popular keyword, you will essentially receive an endless stream of website visitors who are already looking for what you have to offer; this is known as targeted traffic, and it usually results in higher conversion rates.

Not only that, but several studies have indicated that the average website visitor tends to regard the organic search results as more trustworthy than the paid ad placements, but it should be noted that the paid ads still get the lion’s share of the clicks due to their optimal positioning on the search engine results pages.

Benefits of PPC

Pay-per-click is as close to an instant targeted traffic solution as you can get. Whereas SEO typically requires a period of time before your traffic count begins to gain momentum, PPC can drive traffic to your website within minutes of setting up your campaign.

In addition, you will often see more of an immediate impact from any changes you make in your PPC campaigns versus your SEO strategy. For example, if you want to test a certain keyword for traffic potential, you can add it to your PPC campaign right away, and you will basically have immediate feedback as to whether the keyword is viable or not. With SEO, you may have to target a keyword for weeks or even months before finding out its real traffic potential.

SEO vs. PPC: Which One Should You Use?

The decision to use SEO versus PPC will largely be based on your company’s marketing goals. If your marketing timeline does not allow for at least 3 to 6 months of up-front time investment before seeing any real results, you may need to reconsider using SEO as your first choice.

This is the main advantage of PPC; as soon as you create your ads and set up your campaign, you have access to instant traffic. With PPC, you will accrue advertising costs as soon as visitors start clicking through to your website, but the trade-off is that you won’t have to wait for traffic to show up to your virtual doorstep. On the other hand, whether your company is brand new or well-established, SEO is always useful to implement into your marketing strategy; once you establish a solid organic search ranking, SEO can be a gift that keeps on giving.

While there are passionate opinions in both the SEO and PPC camps, there are no rules against using a combination of both strategies–in fact, many of the world’s top companies do just that. The main thing to remember is that whether you choose SEO or PPC (or both), you will need to have crystal clear marketing goals before you even begin, as this will ultimately determine your company’s success.

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