Search marketing consists of two channels: PPC (pay-per-click) and SEO (search engine optimization). Both channels have advantages and disadavatages you need to consider before committing resources to either approach.
Advantages Of Google AdWords Over SEO
Minimal Impact – Most sites won’t need to make design or layout changes in order to use PPC. SEO often requires site design changes, and these changes can be significant.
Instant – Traffic can start flowing in a matter of minutes once a campaign has been launched. With SEO, traffic can take some time to build, and there is no guarantee it will arrive at all.
Pay On Performance– You only pay when you receive traffic. If you do not receive traffic, you owe nothing. SEO requires a large upfront investment with no guarantees of campaign performance. Traffic and visibility isn’t directly controlled by the SEO.
Precise Keyword Targeting – You chose the keyword terms under which you appear. This allows you to run tightly focused campaigns. With SEO, pages can appear under a wide range of keyword terms, and sometimes these terms are unrelated to your campaign. This can make campaigns difficult to measure.
Precise Tracking And Adjustment – You get instant, precise figures, and you can adjust your campaigns in real time. SEO campaigns can be adjusted, but it is time consuming, and the results of which might not be seen for months.
Landing Page Control – You decide which page search visitors see. With SEO, visitors can arrive on any page the search engine has in its index.
Region Control – You control the regions and countries in which people see the ads. With SEO, you have no control over regions or countries.
Buy Position – want to rank #1? You can pretty much buy it with PPC. SEO is hit and miss affair when it comes to ranking, and ranking for highly competitive keywords can be virtually impossible for new sites.
Control Your Budget – You can specify how much you want to pay for any given period, and you can stop and re-start campaigns when it suits you. SEO is largely an upfront cost, and the campaign can’t easliy be switched off.
Time Control – You can control when your ads are seen. SEO has no such control.
Advantages Of SEO
Given the features and flexibility of PPC, why would people use SEO?
It comes down to two things:
cost per click and trust
SEO has zero cost per click. Of course, this doesn’t mean SEO is free. SEO is time intensive, and time costs money. It can also involve third party costs, such as link buying. However, the on-going cost of a well executed SEO campaign can come in well under that of PPC, especially if good rankings are maintained.
People tend to trust the main listings more so than they trust the paid listings. The main listings receive the lionshare of attention and clicks.
In the study “An Empirical Study Of Paid Listings In Product Search And Purchase” (PDF) the researchers found users to be suspicious of paid results:
For paid listings to yield the financial results that are
anticipated by the business community, it is critical that
consumers perceive paid listings and their descriptions
as relevant to their transactional tasks. The results of this
study support previous findings that this may not be the
case, but also provide some guidance for the
development of paid listings. Participants in the study
showed a bias against paid listings in several ways. They
reported an explicit suspicion about paid listings in their
verbal protocols. They rated the relevance of the paid
listings as lower than the organic listings despite the
content of the descriptions being controlled across listing
However, it should be noted that eye pattern studies show both high positioned PPC and organic listings achieve significantly more attention than lower ranking listings, organic or otherwise.
The key location on Google for visibility as determined by the eye activity in the study is a triangle that extends from the top of the results over to the top of the first result, then down to a point on the left side at the bottom of the “above the fold” visible results. This key area was looked at by 100 percent of the participants. In the study, this was referred to as the “Golden Triangle”. Generally, this area appears to include top sponsored, top organic results and Google’s alternative results, including shopping, news or local suggestions.
The Advantages Of Feeding PPC Into SEO, And Vice Versa
Some of the most powerful SEO strategies blend PPC and SEO, taking advanatge of both systems.
PPC is an ideal testing ground for SEO. Typically, the SEO guesses if a keyword term is worth the time and effort of attempting to rank for that term. Perhaps the keyword term doesn’t receive as much traffic as the estimated numbers suggest. By running a PPC campaign on the keyword terms prior to implementing an SEO campaign, the SEO can get more accurate estimate of search volumes. The SEO can also test out the wording of language on landing pages to see how altering the copy to favor search spiders makes a difference to conversions.
Similarly, SEO can feed back into PPC campaigns. Because SEO casts a wide net, traffic logs can sometiems reveal lucrative keyword combinations that the research tools do not.
An SEO strategy, built up over time, should reduce the cost-per-click price of a combined strategy. If a site ranks well for expensive terms, then you may be able to switch PPC bidding away from these terms and use the funds on covering other terms.