When to Pay for Search Engine Results and When to Optimize
Search engine referral traffic is one of the cornerstones of online marketing due to its ability to produce highly targeted results. The ability to direct visitors to web pages that address their specific needs–based on their own keyword searches–is a match made in heaven for an online marketer. While no one can doubt the effectiveness of search engine marketing, the age-old question is whether or not it’s better to focus on organic search engine optimization (SEO) or pay-per-click (PPC) as the primary means to drive traffic to your website. Each option has its strengths and weaknesses, and there are plenty of dedicated fans on both sides of the argument. So how can you know when to pay for search engine results versus when you should just focus on optimizing your site for organic SEO? Below are some ideas to consider to help you weigh out your options.
Organic SEO: Pros and Cons
One of the main benefits of organic SEO is that it doesn’t cost any money to implement. This is huge for new businesses that are operating on a shoestring budget. An SEO strategy requires a significant amount of “sweat equity” for it to work well, but as long as you’re able to dedicate the type of time required to pull it off, it can generate a continual stream of free traffic to your website with no out-of-pocket cost. If you choose to go the SEO route, the results won’t be as immediate as you would see with PPC, but with the right amount of effort, the effects of your efforts will snowball over time. You’ll have to consider your marketing objectives to determine if you’re willing to endure a slower start in order to achieve substantial results later down the road.
One huge plus in the SEO column is the fact that organic SEO results are typically considered to be more trustworthy than sponsored PPC ads. According to a study conducted by the web analytics firm Enquisite, organic SEO results are over eight times more likely to be clicked than paid search ad placements. This speaks of the type of trepidation that many searchers have when it comes to paid search results; they’re aware that if they click on a sponsored listing, more than likely some type of sales pitch awaits them on the landing page. Ranking well in organic search results conveys the image that your site is a trusted authority for the topics that pertain to your visitors’ interests, and that you’re offering your information with no strings attached.
Pay-Per-Click: Pros and Cons
Search engine marketing carries the benefit of producing immediate results. You can create your ads, select your keywords and have traffic coming to your website within minutes of setting up your campaign. One of the huge advantages of PPC is that you can instantly find out the traffic levels for different keywords, which enables you to quickly tweak your campaigns in order to focus on the keywords that garner the most targeted traffic. This stands in contrast to organic SEO, where sometimes you can work hard to rank for a particular keyword or keyphrase, only to find out that even the top position in the search engine doesn’t deliver a whole lot of traffic.
Scalability is another benefit of paid search; once you drill down and discover the keywords that produce the best conversions, you can sow more of your budget into those particular keywords, which will lead to more sales and reduced click costs. The only problem with this is that it will take time–and money–to figure it out. This is the main drawback to PPC; the learning curve comes with a price, and if you’re not careful, your expenses can quickly get out of hand. You also have to be very mindful of your campaign settings; stories abound of people who forgot to pause their campaigns or carefully monitor their bids, and then the next day they discover that they have exceeded their budget by hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of dollars.
SEO vs. PPC: The Final Verdict
So which option is best for your business? The answer is actually both. Seasoned marketers understand that utilizing a combination of paid and organic tactics will position your business to profit in both the short and long term. One important concept that often goes overlooked is that by understanding what it takes to rank a site using organic SEO, you gain a wealth of insight into what it takes to maximize a pay-per-click campaign. For example, optimizing your site for organic SEO will help you understand what is required to create a PPC landing page that will earn a high quality score. Monitoring your SEO traffic stats for certain “long tail” phrases can many times give you new ideas for keywords you should bid on with your PPC campaigns. In many respects, organic SEO and PPC feed off each other when you integrate both disciplines into your marketing strategy. By using a combination of both methods, you’ll position yourself to achieve optimal results.