SEO vs PPC – Which One is Right for Your Business?

SEO vs PPC – Which One is Right for Your Business?
 October 14, 2016

“Which one is better – SEO or PPC?”

When it comes to digital marketing strategies, no two strategies butt heads more than SEO (search engine optimization) and PPC (pay-per-click).

Each one continues to evolve along with search engines and technologies. As such, each also has its own misconceptions associated with it.

When it comes to discussing digital marketing, especially with a business who hasn’t really broken into it yet, the question that often comes up is:

“Which one is best for my business?”

The simple, vague answer to that is, “It depends.”

Though that is an answer to the question, it doesn’t actually answer the question for the person who is asking.

All other factors aside, a preferred approach would be to use both strategically to benefit each other and your business.

However, that is not always possible. Budget constraints, time, available resources, etc. all contribute to the right outcome that suits your situation.

What is SEO?

SEO (search engine optimization) is all about improving a website’s visibility in the search engines in order to increase organic traffic. This is the traffic that comes from a user searching a keyword using a search engine and clicking on the organic search listings (those that appear below the ads).

SEO tends to fall into three buckets or types:

  • On-Page SEO
  • Technical SEO
  • Off-Page SEO

On-Page SEO is all about updating both the content and HTML source code of a page in order to make it the most valuable, relevant, and authoritative resource for the keyword topic being queried (searched).

This includes activities like writing content relevant to a keyword topic and updating title tags and meta descriptions to provide a more relevant description of what users and search engine bots can expect to find in the content of that page. It also includes adding relevant alt text to images and adding appropriate headers to content.

As Neil Patel puts it, Technical SEO “refers to any SEO work that is done aside from the content.” This is all about making your site the strongest foundation it can be for your SEO efforts in order to give your content the best chance of getting the most visibility possible.

Technical SEO includes activities like crawling and auditing your website to identify and fix any 400 errors, redirection issues, and more. It’s about making improvements, like increasing page speed, to ensure search engine spiders can crawl and index your page content as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Off-Page SEO refers to the techniques used to earn inbound links from other websites to your site as well as the signals that tell search engines what others think about your site.

The techniques used in Off-Page SEO include link building tactics, like strategic guest posts, submissions to business directories that are still relevant, outreach for content marketing, and more. Signals include things like the sources linking back to your site, mentions of your brand out on the web, social media shares and mentions, and more.

What is PPC?

PPC refers specifically to pay-per-click, which is a type of paid advertising where advertisers pay a certain amount for every click on their ads. PPC often ends up being used as a catch-all term for several types of paid advertising on the web, even paid advertising on social media!

Not all payment models in paid advertising are pay-per-click, others include paying per thousand impressions (CPM or viewable CPM) or paying per conversion (like a Pay Per Like option in Facebook Ads).

Its basic premise is buying visits to your site while staying within search marketing best practices and guidelines. There is still an element of earning the click, but not to the extent there would be in using organic search methods.

It sounds simple, but a lot of research and time goes into setting up and managing an effective PPC campaign.

You need the right account structure, the right campaign type, the right ad group structure, the right keywords in those ad groups, the right bidding strategy for those keywords, the right ads for your keywords, the right landing pages to go with your ads, and the right targeting options for your audience.

There a lot of moving pieces.

A misstep in any of them can result in a lot of irrelevant impressions/clicks, damage to your quality score, and wasted budget.

Major Differences to Consider

Though both are considered digital marketing strategies, SEO and PPC are very different. When you have to decide between them, there are some major differences to consider in the following areas:


A lot of research goes into setting up an effective PPC campaign, but you can usually get one up and running, and delivering traffic to your site, quickly.

SEO takes time to get started and takes longer to start showing results. It’s an ongoing process that builds over time, not a quick traffic generator, and definitely not a guaranteed traffic generator like PPC can be.

You have to consider the timeline you have for your business goals. If you need traffic right this second and have the ability to pay for instant results, then PPC is likely the better option for you.

If you are interested in a long-term strategy that will set your site up for success and improve over time, then perhaps SEO is a better investment for your business.

Available Resources

Both of these strategies will consume resources – time and money.

You need to take a look at your situation and determine what resources you have available.

This includes internal resources like in-house staff, available budget, resources and content you already have as well as external resources like agencies you know or have partnered with on other projects or freelancers you have worked with previously.

Both SEO and PPC require experience to implement effectively.

The wrong misstep with SEO can result in drops in traffic or in worst case scenarios, penalties from Google that are extremely costly and difficult to recover from. The wrong misstep or series of missteps in PPC can result in a lot of wasted time and money with nothing to show for it.

If you don’t have a team in-house that can deliver on all the necessary objectives, it’s worth reaching out to find a quality, reliable partner who can.


While you’re evaluating available resources, you need to know what kind of budget you’re able to work with.

This will determine what you’ll be able to do, how much you will be able to realistically afford to do, and the extent to which you do it.

Budget constraints may also rule out one strategy or the other.

PPC may not make sense unless you can commit to a certain amount per month.

SEO is a little more flexible. There is so much involved that it’s (relatively) easy to scale services up or down depending on the business and budget.

In a perfect world, you’d be able to do them all with an infinite marketing budget. That’s not reality for a business just starting in digital marketing or picking up again after a period of inactivity.

Sometimes you can go big, which is great, but sometimes it just makes more sense long-term to start a little smaller and build from there.


Competition plays a big role in how “easily” you can implement one strategy over the other.

Neither SEO nor PPC is easy, but things can get a lot more difficult when your competition is way bigger, has been doing it longer, is more well-known, etc.

In PPC, this means the keywords you’re likely wanting to target will have a high CPC (cost-per-click) because they are so highly competitive. With some research and maneuvering, you can still have success with PPC, but your monthly budget required to make a difference may be much higher than a less competitive market.

In SEO, big competition means it can take longer to see results. You’ll have to focus in on your niche and rely on long-tail keyword topics the big competitors might be missing. Again, success is there and can be achieved, it may just take a bit more elbow grease, time, and budget to get there.


In a perfect world, your business would be able to take on both SEO and PPC.

Usually, businesses that are able to do this start with heavy PPC to bring traffic in while they work on SEO. Then, once their SEO efforts have started taking hold, they continue building with their SEO efforts and gradually back off the PPC.

Eventually, they get to the point where their site is considered relevant and authoritative enough that PPC is no longer a necessity. Instead, PPC is used as a booster for launching other campaigns like product launches, new services, eBooks, white papers, or other resources.

Since we don’t live in a perfect world, a situation where the above approach occurs at the very beginning doesn’t happen often. Usually, businesses are in a position where they have to choose one in the beginning, or at least prioritize one and minimize the other.

Both SEO and PPC have the ability to benefit your business and help you grow.

When done well, both are able to increase your revenue so you can continue to invest in marketing and continue to grow.

If you’re in a situation where you have to choose one or put more resources into one over the other, these considerations will help you start the conversation and move towards the best decision for your situation.


Still have questions or need some help figuring out how to market your business effectively?

Reach out to the VIG team for a chat. We’ll help you get your business on the right track!