What’s The Difference Between SEO And PPC?

Here’s a basic question that a lot of people have for us: What’s the difference between SEO and PPC? In the screenshot of Google search results below, all the ‘green’ stuff is advertising, and all the rest is SEO.


A Google search results page with organic results and ad placements highlighted.

When you look at a Google search results page, a lot of real estate is devoted to advertising. Click image for a larger view.

While this search results page isn’t representative of every Google search results page, it does highlight a few things that tend to be true:

  1. With pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, you often get the customer’s first impression. For search terms that have a lot of ‘commercial intent’ (meaning people who are searching on Google because they want to buy something), PPC ads are shown first.
  2. SEO includes creating and optimizing¬†videos, images, local search, AND traditional articles. In our screenshot we have videos and images highlighted in salmon, articles in yellow, and then we didn’t bother to highlight local (which are at least partially driven by SEO). SEO has a lot of aspects and should definitely be considered complicated.
  3. Google Ads, unlike organic search, are pretty simple. If you want to get as many clicks as possible with SEO, you need to work on video SEO, image SEO, local search, and articles. With ads, you need a Google Shopping data feed and some text ads.
  4. Google has designed their search results pages for advertisers. Google makes money every time someone clicks on a PPC ad on Google.com. So, Google is always working to get more people to click ads. Organic search, on the other hand, costs Google money. So, it doesn’t get the same quality real estate.

Basically, SEO is complex and challenging, and it plays second fiddle to PPC. But SEO is free (kind of), and people tend to trust websites that rank organically a little more than websites that advertise.

Which Is Better – PPC Or SEO?

The short answer is “neither,” but that’s kind of a cop out. It’s true that SEO and PPC both have a lot of value, and no one should exclude one or the other from their marketing strategy.

However, if you’re in the business of selling auto parts or accessories online, we can make a pretty strong case for PPC advertising being the best investment:

  • PPC ads get the first bite at the apple. People who are searching on Google and who are ready to buy a part or accessory are probably going to see ads first, which means PPC advertisers have the “first shot” at selling a product.
  • PPC advertising is considerably less complicated than SEO. To get good results with PPC, you need a data feed, a text ad campaign, and a PPC management company that knows what they’re doing. For SEO, you need written content, good pictures, video, a local strategy, and a strategy for promoting all this content to earn links and get ranked. It’s much, much more complicated.
  • PPC advertising works fast. You can sign up for Google Ads today and start running profitable ads in a few days.

Of course, PPC has one big drawback…every time someone clicks on your ads, you pay. Most of the time, you have to spend a dollar on ads to earn $5-$10 in revenue, and sometimes you don’t even make that much.

With SEO, you can spend $1 on content and earn $100 in sales off that $1 over the course of several months or years.

Pro Tip – SEO Is Not Free

Search engine optimization is often thought of as a ‘free’ way to get traffic to your website. While it’s true that individual clicks on organic search results don’t cost anything, SEO is hardly free:

  • You can’t rank #1 organically unless you invest in content, which means you’re spending money on articles, videos, images, etc.
  • When you invest in content, it can take months or years to see a return

When you hire an agency, you may spend $10s of thousands of dollars a year to get your website ranking on Google. While this usually a good value, it can take a while to see positive returns. If you’ve only got $10,000 to spend this year on a brand new website, and you want the most ‘bang’ for your buck, PPC is probably a better start point.

Summing Up

PPC advertising is paying for people to click on search engine ads that take them to your website.

SEO is paying a marketing agency to create and then promote content to get links, which then helps your site rank #1 on Google.

With PPC, results are fast and predictable, but return on investment is mediocre (500-1,000% return on ad spend). With SEO, results are slow and somewhat unpredictable, but return on investment is much better.

Finally, it’s important to note that you can invest in SEO and PPC advertising at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive, and a smart marketing strategy includes funds for both.

Image copyright: iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo

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