SEO vs. PPC- What Should I Use and When?

John Morton

  | Published on  

May 26, 2021

You’re probably here because you want to generate more traffic to your website.

Traffic is important for keeping your website alive and getting more customers. But when it is estimated that there are between 1.6 and 1.9 billion websites on the internet right now, how can you get people to visit YOUR site?

There are two different schools of thought when it comes to making your website stand out from the rest and increase its popularity. These strategies for promoting your website and driving traffic to your business are called SEO and PPC. 

It’s important to understand what each of these strategies consists of, and the differences between them. Once you know the pros and cons of each, you’ll be able to decide which of these strategies is right for your website at a certain time.  

Let’s start with definitions. 

What is SEO?

The term SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and it is the art of ranking high on a search engine in the unpaid section known as organic listings. 

As an example, here are the two top results that Google provides for the search “seo strategy tips.”

These two results appear at the top of the results page organically. Google decided that they were the most useful pieces of content on the internet for this search query. 

When it comes to your website, the goal of SEO is to make your website Google’s top choice for the keywords and search terms your target customers use. 

The key to SEO is to create great content and follow best practices outlined by Google. 

In truth, SEO can get much more complicated than this. No matter what, when forming your SEO strategy you must always ask yourself: does the content answer the question better than anyone else, and do visitors have a good experience with this content? 

All of your SEO efforts must get you closer to being able to answer “yes” to those questions. If you want to know more about the basics of SEO, you can read a complete newbie introduction to SEO here

It’s widely accepted why SEO is so important for your website, and to summarize: SEO is absolutely critical to the success of your business because it’s the difference between people never hearing about you, and finding your site and resonating with your brand for free. SEO the difference between a few visits to your site’s blog and hundreds. 

Sounds pretty sweet, right? Are you starting to think that maybe SEO is all you need?

You might want to hold on, because paid search has its benefits too. As if there aren’t enough acronyms already floating around in your head we’ve got another one to think about in your business strategy-that acronym is PPC. 

What is PPC?

PPC stands for Pay-Per-Click. The traffic you get from your website using PPC is not free because, as the name implies, you must pay a cost per click. 

PPC is a method of marketing in which you advertise on the search engine results page (SERP). You may have seen these employed by companies before, but did not even recognize them as PPC ads. 

As a quick example, here is an ad that comes up when you search, “how to do PPC”

As you can see, there are four different results that are PPC listings. They are clearly marked with the bolded word “Ad” before the URL on their result. Each of these websites used an advertising platform such as Google Ads (AdWords), Bing Ads or Facebook’s advertising platform to promote a page on their website.

PPC ad listings are placed above the organic results on the SERP, meaning that people will definitely see the ad when it comes up for their Google search. That works a lot better for your website’s visibility than being placed on the third or fourth page of the organic search results. 

But remember, the term is called PPC because you must pay a fee for every user who clicks on your ad being promoted by the search engine or website you’re advertising on. Businesses can end up spending hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars every day on PPC advertising. 

So now that we understand how both of these strategies work, how does one choose between SEO and PPC? It’s important to consider the benefits and drawbacks of each before making your informed decision. 

Pros and cons of SEO

Let’s start with the good news about SEO first.

The Pros of SEO

Credibility and trust

Appearing in the organic results list shows users that your site has earned its ranking by providing trustworthy and quality content. People tend to scroll past ads and click on organic results because they are viewed as more dependable.

Low cost and high ROI

When a user clicks on your website from an organic search result, there is no cost to you. Since more people click on results that appear to them organically and very little costs associated with SEO, there will be a higher return on investment for doing SEO to your website compared to PPC or any other traditional forms of advertising.

Many of the measures to improve the SEO on your website, such as incorporating target keywords, are technically free to do-they just require time and effort to complete.

Lasting strategic advantage

The benefits from SEO will stick-once you get to be the top organic result for a search query, it becomes much easier to stay there and you will be able to enjoy stable visibility. 

The cons of SEO

Time consuming

It’s not easy to rank highly for a search query, especially for popular ones. SEO takes serious and continued time and effort to be effective. It’s not a one time thing to optimize your website, you have to continually be updating and improving the different pages of your website depending on what your target customers want to see and what keywords they’re using. 

Delayed benefits

SEO doesn’t happen overnight, it’s an uphill battle whose progress will be slow at first. You won’t be able to tell if your strategy is working right away, you will need to monitor the action on your website over time to assess how your SEO efforts are being received.

Certain level of expertise needed

In order to make content on a certain topic that ranks highly, you know that subject better than almost anyone. This can be another difficult part of SEO, but it is necessary in order for your strategy to be effective. Your content must provide more value to the user than any other webpage on that topic, and delivered in the right format.

Despite its challenges, SEO is crucial to perform for your website. But how does it compare to PPC?

Pros and cons of PPC

Now, let’s consider PPC.

The pros of PPC

Guaranteed visibility

Like we said before, PPC listings are placed above organic results on the SERP. That means if you bid for a certain search query, you can almost be sure that a user searching with that query will see your result. 

You can also include elements like phone numbers, callouts, and site links to your ad to make what the user sees even more effective at building awareness of your business. 

Fast results

The moment you decide you want more traffic to your website, you can head over and start a campaign. Once you start one, you’ll be able to monitor its progress and the results from it right away. 

This data allows you to make quick changes to your campaign to improve the return on ad spending, and it also gives you more information about your prospective customers. 

Precise targeting

With PPC, you can choose exactly what search terms your ad appears for, as well as what audiences you want your ad to appear to.


You can play around with the formatting of your ads, and even run multiple different ads at once, to figure out what works best to drive sales.

And here’s the drawbacks of PPC.

Costs add up

Compared to SEO, PPC can be much more costly. Bids for search terms that may start out inexpensive can easily spike, driving up campaign costs significantly. 

If you don’t position your ads correctly, these campaigns can also be ineffective with misdirected users clicking on your ad that aren’t actually interested in your business. You need to watch your conversion rate to make sure your ads are effective.

Requires budget

You need to have a decent amount of money allocated to the campaign in order to get your desired results, and hopefully earn money out of the campaign. PPC ads take time to optimize to be the most effective, and so you have to be prepared to take on this expense. However, the more you invest into your campaign, the better your results will be.

Temporary benefits

The traffic that you generate from your ads will end as soon as the PPC campaign ends, and if you don’t have a large budget for the campaign, your success will unfortunately be short-lived. You want to make the most out of your increased traffic while you have it during the campaign. 

With this knowledge of the difference between the organic search results you would strive for by ensuring your website is optimized for search engines and the paid search results you would get through using PPC, you may be wondering, “How do I know when to use SEO vs. PPC?”

Integrating SEO and PPC

Before analyzing when one should use SEO and PPC, it is important to emphasize that these methods do not preclude the other. You will always want to rely on SEO to promote your business but there are also opportunities when you can capitalize on PPC to reap further benefits to your website.

Therefore, the best approach is to integrate both approaches in your business strategy. Now that this observation is made, we will look at the advantages that SEO and PPC offer independent of each other. 

SEO vs PPC, which is right for my business?

When to Use SEO

SEO is best used in several circumstances. Investing in SEO allows your website to gain consistent traffic. While getting to the top page of SERP is an arduous process, once you get there your website is more likely to appear there again.

Unlike PPC, SEO does not require money to guarantee results. When you stop investing money in PPC, the traffic to your website will decline. If you are looking for long-term results, SEO is the better option.

Beyond guaranteeing consistent results, SEO also is used by those seeking to become an expert in their field. While PPC depends on how much access one has to resources, SEO depends on generating a solid reputation as the someone whom visitors rely on for detailed and expert content.

Finally, while this advantage may seem obvious, SEO is cheaper money-wise than PPC.  While SEO is more costly than PPC due to the amount of time you must invest in it, SEO clearly delivers more consistent and expert content than PPC.

When to Use PPC

You may be wondering when I would want to invest in PPC as a marketing strategy. Obviously, PPC works much faster than SEO. Your ads for specific pages on your website will guarantee instant results. When people search for a keyword related to your website, your website will appear near the top of search engine results pages. 

These fast results would best be used for new products on your website, promotions or event related to your product or business.

An advantage of using PPC is that in many platforms such as Google AdWords or on social media, you can target audience members by demographic. This advantage of PPC would be helpful to reach audience members that fulfill any buyer or audience personas you have created.

PPC also allows you to experiment with your content. The PPC traffic you gain to your website speaks to the quality of the content you are promoting. Experimenting with different types of PPC can fuel insights into what is working or not with your SEO strategy.

Finally, if your company is running a time-sensitive offer to customers, you will want to use PPC since it guarantees faster results than SEO.

While PPC does provide numerous advantages, competitive fields can cause these ads to become expensive quickly.

The amount that you invest in PPC depends on the resources available to you. While some larger companies can afford to run PPC campaigns, smaller start-ups will have to be smart with the campaigns they choose to run.

Going Forward

As you can see, recognizing the difference between when to use SEO or PPC is crucial to your marketing strategy.

SEO is the method you will employ every day while PPC is something you may choose to elect for special occasions such as a new product or an exciting development for your business.

To get started on a PPC campaign, check out Google Ads or Bing Ads found by clicking on those hyperlinks.

Now that you know the differences between SEO and PPC, you can begin recognizing the ways in which you incorporate both into your company’s strategy.

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