PPC vs SEO | Which Advertising Method Is Better For Your Business?

search engine optimization toronto

SEO and PPC have evolved into the go-to marketing methods for many local businesses today.

As the marketing landscape has shifted into new advertising methods, many traditional methods such as billboards have passed their prime. Today’s world is all about digital marketing for businesses, as having a strong digital marketing presence is essential for success in nearly all of the industries today. Two of the most common digital marketing methods are Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Pay-per-click (PPC). Both of these methods may be similar, as they focus on driving quality web traffic to the websites of businesses using a search engine. However, their approaches to driving web traffic differ. When a web user searches for something on Google’s search bar, the search engine results page (SERP) displays results that relate to the search. These results are both paid and organic, which SEO and PPC tailor to. An SEO strategy focuses on attracting site visitors organically, by boosting the SERP ranking of your business, while PPC uses paid tactics to get your business to rank high on the SERP page. Both are effective marketing methods but the million-dollar question is which is better: SEO or PPC? We will discuss this throughout this article.

What are the major differences between SEO and PPC?

SEO and PPC may both utilize a search engine, but have notable differences:
  • Speed:  The first differentiating factor between the two marketing tactics is speed. SEO is a very timely process, as a business cannot reach the top of the search rankings overnight. It can take an average of two years to reach the top of the SERP page on Google (according to a study conducted by ahrefs). This time is not set in stone as various factors including the business industry, keyword selection, content type and the optimization process all dictate the time that it will take for your business to complete SEO optimization. It should also be noted that it will not necessarily take two years for your page to rank on top of the SERP page, but your SEO must be updated consistently. Some SEO professionals can get your page to rank within a few months, using proper keyword research and other SEO practices. 
    • However, getting to the top and maintaining your position at the top are two different things in SEO, as SEO principles change frequently. This means that SEO could experience algorithm changes over time, meaning that you need to be consistently updating and optimizing your SEO routinely to solidify your SERP ranking. On the other hand, PPC is a much quicker process in getting your business to display at the top of the SERP page. Using PPC, your business will be displayed as an “ad” at the top of the SERP page, over all of the other organic results. However, it should be noted that ads can be overlooked by consumers; we will talk more about this later in this article. 
  • Cost: The next factor that is different between SEO and PPC is cost. For PPC, you will need to make a direct purchase, regardless of the ad platform that you select. Though there is no direct purchase for SEO, there may be some purchases that will be required. As mentioned earlier, SEO is a timely process that will require consistent content creation, new graphics and developers in some cases. However, even with all of this, it does not guarantee that your page will rank high. With PPC, you are making a purchase that will ensure that your business is listed at the top of the first SERP. 

Other differences include:

  • PPC professionals need to know how to bid on keywords, how to manage budgets, how to write ad copies and how to use metrics to improve their campaign
  • SEO professionals need to have a thorough idea of how Google’s search algorithm works and determine the optimization tactics to appear organically at the top of the SERP

What is SEO?

  • Now that you know the main differences between SEO and PPC, we can now dive into what SEO really means. SEO is the practice of improving the quality and quantity of your website traffic through organic search results (according to Moz). This means that SEO is a method of creating informative digital content so that search engines and potential customers can easily locate your website. To do this, you will need to optimize your website based on a variety of ranking indicators. There are over 200 ranking indicators that take into account when determining SERP rankings, but they can be narrowed down into four different categories: On-page SEO, off-page SEO, technical SEO and user interaction signals. 
  • Here is more information about each of the SEO categories:
On-Page SEO:
  • On-Page SEO is an important factor when it comes to website optimization. It involves optimizing many of the components of your website including using short and descriptive URLs, creating effective title tags and meta descriptions, adding your relevant keywords to parts of your website (e.g. header tags, URLs, etc..) and creating Alt tags for images. 
  • On-Page SEO keys in on creating descriptive content that matches the searches of web users. High-quality content can go a long way in getting search engines to favour your business over competitors and it demonstrates that you are informed enough to provide clients with products or services.
Off-Page SEO
  • Off-page SEO is anything that is done outside of your website to indicate reliability. This can include signals such as high-quality backlinks, business mentions, high reviews, optimized business listings and citations.
User Experience
  • User experience is the focus of fulfilling the needs of your customers. Of course, the biggest factor that determines the success of a business is how many customers they can attract, this is what user experience prioritizes. In terms of digital marketing, you want your potential customers to learn about your business and its products/services straight from the search results. A visually-appealing web page will be ineffective in gaining web traffic if it has limited content. Not enough content on your website will lead to a high bounce rate and this will give your business a low SERP ranking due to the limited amount of keywords. This demonstrates the importance of optimizing your website so that it can provide your web traffic with an effective user experience.

As for Technical SEO and the User interaction signals, these elements of SEO are more complex, so we will need to break them down in a separate article.

The advantages of SEO

The advantages of SEO include:
  • Improve site visibility: SEO focus on boosting your SERP ranking, so that web users can conveniently find your website.
  • Organic clicks are free: There are no direct costs associated with SEO, to run a SEO campaign it is free. It will take you time and resources to maximize the effectiveness of your SEO campaign, but the benefits are hard to ignore.
  • Sustainable results: Once you find your way to the top of the SERP rankings, all you need to do is keep up with SEO’s changes from time-to-time. This will result in long-term sustainability so that your business can stay on top of its SERP.
  • Stability: As long as your website is correctly optimized and updated regularly, your SERP position will not be volatile. When compared to PPC, SEO is significantly less likely to cause your SERP ranking to fluctuate. 
  • Long term cost-effectiveness: While a PPC strategy involves paying for every click, SEO does not carry any long-term costs. While you may want to hire an agency or a team for your SEO campaign, this will not be a long-term cost. As a result, your traffic and conversions will grow.
  • Organic results are more valuable than paid results: a study conducted by SparkToro indicates that organic search results will gain around 10x the traffic when compared to paid results. 

The disadvantages of SEO:

The disadvantages of SEO include:
  • Timely: It can take months for your site to rank at the top of the SERP rankings. You will need to thoroughly optimize your website, perform keyword research and consistently create content for your website to reach the top of the SERP rankings. With PPC, you will see results shortly after your campaign is live given that your bids are high enough. 
  • Investments: You will need to invest in SEO to succeed in a competitive market. While SEO may be free, you will need to come up with a strategy involving technical SEO, content creation, link building, data analysis and marketing tactics. It would be difficult to come up with strategies for each of these factors on your own, so you will need to hire an SEO team or SEO agency to have a higher chance of succeeding.
  • Being consistent in keeping up with SEO trends and changes: Given that Google frequently updates the principles of SEO from year-to-year, you will need to keep track of these updates. If you fail to do so, it could be detrimental to your SEO strategy.
  • No guarantees that you will outrank your competitors: Even if you do come up with a proper strategy, it is not a sure-fire thing that it will work. However, if your strategy succeeds, your business will reap the benefits. It is a calculated risk that you should consider taking if you have the time, resources and patience to come up and implement a successful SEO strategy. 

What is PPC?

PPC (Pay-per-click) is a method of advertising that is a simple concept compared to SEO. PPC uses an advertising technique where advertisers place ads on Google and each time a web visitor clicks onto it, the advertiser is charged with a fee. PPC is also known as CPC, paid search or search ads where all fall into the category of paid search marketing. 

PPC attempts to gain web traffic through paid ads on search engines such as YouTube and Amazon. PPC also gathers traffic from industry-focused platforms, social media platforms and display ads. If implemented correctly, PPC can benefit your SERP ranking and improve your website traffic. But PPC is more than a one-step process, it involves time and resources for ad creation and determining a target market on top of a monetary purchase. To find success in your PPC campaign you will also need to know certain ad processes and tools from ad platforms. You can either take the time to learn this on your own or work with a trained professional to learn about how the tools work. These may be disadvantages, but depending on the goals of your business, it may be worth implementing an PPC strategy for your business. 

Do people actually click on paid search ads?

To determine if people click on paid search ads, we can take a look at how Google has evolved over its time. Search engines have gained power through their adaption to the internet over the years. Google is currently the most powerful search engine as they have continuously improved their products and services. When improving their products and services, Google prioritizes user experience over all other factors. Google has discovered that satisfying your users is the most important component to succeed as a search engine. Google has found ways to improve the precision of finding search results that web users search for. This demonstrates why consumers use search engines such as Google to find a product/service instead of going to a store and trying to find what they need. 

When a web user searches for a product or service, they will click on the results that relate to what they are searching for. This concept is no different for ads, as optimizing your paid search ads is crucial to get quality web traffic. When creating a paid search ad you will also need to consider how you can stand out over other search ad competitors. Focusing on how you can improve your quality score will increase the relevance of your ad. 

The advantages of PPC

  • Quick Results: As soon as your PPC campaign goes live, you will see immediate traffic, clicks and conversions. On the other hand, SEO can take months before you see results.
  • Appears at the top of SERPS: On both desktop and mobile platforms, PPC ads will appear on top of all of the other organic results. The SERPs achieved by PPC cannot be obtained strictly through SEO.
  • Boost your business’ presence: PPC presents many opportunities to target web users to click on your ad. By adding things such as phone numbers, callouts and site links, you will be able to enhance the online presence of your business.
  • Less campaign-based investment needed: A typical PPC campaign requires a paid search specialist and possibly a content writer for ads and landing pages. This makes investing in a team significantly cheaper than investing in a complete SEO team.
  • Multiple effective advertising formats: PPC gives you multiple options to target your consumers with search ads, shopping ads, video ads and Gmail ads (etc..). Compared to organic listings, paid ads have many more options to target consumers.
  • Provides a lot of data: By running a PPC campaign, you will have access to determine the keywords and ads that customers click on when making a purchase, as well as the weaker keywords and ads that you may be running. This makes it convenient for you to make changes to your campaign so that you can improve your ROAS (return on ad spend). 
  •  You can pinpoint target audiences for your campaign: in your PPC campaign, you can target your searchers based on factors such as location, time of day, the device in-use (etc..). 
  • You do not have to pay as close attention to updates: With SEO, Google updates its ranking factors each year. However, with PPC, you are not focusing on organic results, rather you are bidding for the top spot.

The disadvantages of PPC:

  • Can be costly: With PPC, you need to pay for every single ad click that leads to your website. Depending on your industry, click costs can vary greatly, ranging up to $10 per click.
  • “Pay for results”: With an investment in PPC, you are paying in the hope that your ads will generate relevant web traffic. This is not a guarantee and it could backfire if you do not get enough quality web traffic to your website. 
  • High competition = higher click costs: If your competitors begin to advertise their websites while you are attempting to conduct a PPC campaign, it will drive up your click costs.
  • Other costs: You will need to pay for a professional that knows how to implement a PPC campaign or employ someone that would be able to manage your campaign.
  • Ad traffic stops once your campaign stops: If you decide to stop your PPC campaign, you will need to consider if your website can still acquire web traffic without the ad leads. If you have a thorough strategy then your website would not completely rely on your PPC by itself.
ppc campaign in toronto

Both SEO and PPC each present their unique advantages and disadvantages.

Can SEO and PPC affect each other?

Though SEO and PPC follow different methods, they have an impact on each other to a certain degree. You can carry out an SEO strategy without PPC, however you need SEO to conduct an PPC strategy. Although without any PPC investments, your SEO campaign will take a significant amount of time to flourish. For PPC, you will need to optimize your webpages and depending on the quality of your optimization, it will have an impact on your PPC costs. To determine the relevance of your page and its content, Google calculates a “Quality score” based on factors including click-through rate, landing page quality and the overall score of your Google Ads’ account. By including an effective call-to-action using keywords, you can improve your quality score. By getting a higher quality score, the advertiser will not have to pay as much for clicks. The performance of your PPC campaign can also be affected by ad copy.

Can you combine SEO and PPC towards a successful marketing campaign?

The answer is yes, you can. By combining your SEO and PPC campaigns, you can bolster your overall marketing campaign. But how can you do it? Here are the best ways to combine SEO and PPC for your marketing goals:

Using Competitive Keywords

  • For both SEO and PPC, researching and choosing effective keywords is essential for your marketing campaign. To improve your SERP ranking, you will need to determine keywords that relate to your products/services while ideally having low competitiveness. For PPC, you will need to bid on the keywords that you select, so determining keywords that fit these requirements will benefit your SERP ranking. If you are not sure of how to find the best keywords, try using a keyword tool, Google ads keyword planner is the best place to start.

Here are the main areas where you need to place your best keywords:

  • Dynamic Search and Shopping Ads
      • Though keywords are not required for dynamic search and shopping ads, it is important to use them. When working with dynamic search and shopping campaigns, configuring your ads to get data directly from a site is important. The source of the data-retrieval pages should ideally have relevant text in the metadata and H1 tags to maximize its performance. 
  • Site Search keywords
      • When it comes to site-search keywords the end goal is to get as many keyword-based searches from web traffic. Site search keywords will make it easier for relevant web traffic to find your web content. 
  • Converting Keywords and High-performing copy 
      • One of the most troublesome disadvantages of SEO is that it can be difficult to track conversions resulting from specific keywords. This is not the case for PPC, as these campaigns can generate performance data based on converting keywords. PPC campaigns will determine the ad variations that lead to the most conversions. When used alongside SEO, you can determine the best keywords to include within your content. This can make it easy for campaign managers to determine the best keywords for a marketing campaign. 

Optimizing user experience

  • Google highly values user experience and favours websites that are convenient for users. User experience can act as a make-or-break factor for your SERP ranking. As the mobile market has grown, having a mobile-friendly website is more important than ever. Using a platform such as Google AMP to make your website mobile-friendly, can go a long way into determining your SERP ranking.

Utilizing data at hand

  • We have already stressed the importance of having strong keywords, but using resources to determine how your ranking can improve is a smart move. To determine which of your pages are generating good results and those which need to be improved, you can use a platform such as Google Analytics for your campaign. You can also determine what can make you stand out within your industry or geographical location, by focusing on these factors, you can boost your local SERP ranking.
  • You can also gain valuable insights from your PPC activity and apply it to your SEO strategy. With PPC, you can get fast, real-time data that can assist you in better ad creation for your SEO strategy. For example, discovering the strongest terms and keyword groups in terms of conversion rate can help you decide how to allocate your campaign budget. You can also gather data from conversions, ad headlines, messaging and calls-to-action (CTAs).

Own Brand Bidding

  • This may sound strange, but sometimes one business may bid on another’s brand name. For the business that is receiving the bid, it could cause their SERP rankings to drop. Even if your business were to have the highest ranking on the SERP, a competitor that submits a bid for your brand name could surpass you if you are strictly relying on SEO. In this case, the best solution is to use PPC to bid on your brand terms to maximize your visibility. This will increase the odds of a consumer clicking onto your site as you will have a site ad result alongside an organic result.


  • If you have any web users that have previously visited your website and you want them to return to your website, you can use a retargeting tactic. With retargeting, you will be able to form a list of people who previously interacted with your website. For example, if a web user had abandoned a cart on your website or they had previously visited your service pages, you can create ads that persuade them to return to your website. You can use ads such as Google Display ads to visually persuade them that your product/service is worth the purchase.

Using shopping ads

  • Shopping ads are important for businesses that are selling their products online. Due to its visual appeal and easy-view price, consumers are more likely to click on a shopping ad. The convenience of being able to view products and their prices quickly stands out to consumers over ordinary shopping results. To maximize their impact, using shopping ads with SEO can boost your brand’s visibility on SERPs.

Along with this, an SEO + PPC strategy should complete each of these steps:

  • Brainstorm a strategy that suits your brand and industry: This is easier said than done, but you will need to map out a concrete strategy for your marketing campaign. While creating a strategy, you should take into account the importance of adding visual content including videos and images for your ads and website to stand out over your competition. 
  • Examine your website + landing pages: Determine if your website can benefit your campaign. For example, can you make changes to the code or edit the template of your website? If you cannot, then you might need to build a new website to fulfil SEO and PPC principles. For a PPC campaign, all that is required is a landing page that can persuade web users and turn them into conversions. Tailoring your landing page to support your PPC campaign will lead to more conversions.
  • Determine the best ways of implementing your campaign: While executing your campaign, keep in mind that you cannot directly control the SERPs relating to your products/services. Both PPC and SEO are not sure-fire strategies, as they both have their limitations. PPC has a budget that cannot exceed a certain amount, so make sure that you target keywords with low competition but a high relation to the products/services that you offer. You should use SEO to find the best chances of your website having a high-click through rate. 
  • Use PPC to test your content: While paid search has always relied on testing and learning, its importance has magnified in today’s world. As everyone is staying at home due to uncontrollable circumstances, most consumers are shopping online. With this in mind, you can experiment with variations of brand messaging, graphics and content to identify what works the best for your audience. 
  • Go beyond Google: While having a strong presence on Google’s SERPs is effective alone, to take the next step you should consider advertising your products/services on other retailer sites and search engines. For example, Amazon’s advertising techniques are effective ways of showcasing your products.
  • Utilize Ad extensions: When searching for products and services, consumers are looking for reputation signs of a company. Using ad extensions including callout and structured snippets, you can showcase features such as doorstep delivery. Google even provides badges for your Local Inventory Ads for features such as “Curbside pickup”, making it easy to display your companies additional information.
  • Be consistent with content creation: To attract the niche of your market, you should be consistently updating the content of your website and your listings. You can do this by using your SEO data to determine which pages need an update in their content. You can use paid search to generate traffic and cover gaps in your content.
  • Keep your inventory numbers up to date: By using Google’s local ads, you can keep your inventory levels up to date through synchronization of your store and your store inventory on Google search. Many consumers are including “in stock” in their searches with the development of the pandemic. This demonstrates the importance of focusing your marketing efforts on the products that you can sell today.
  • Use automation to your advantage: You may have control over manual bidding for your business, but frequent demand changes may come along with it. To counter this, you can use automated rules and AI-led bidding to get a better idea of your true demand. Automation utilizes market insights, then applies it to your SEO and PPC strategy.

How using SEO and PPC together can benefit you:

Using SEO and PPC together can bring you the following benefits:
  • Boost visibility + SERP visibility 
    • Running a stand-alone SEO campaign for your business can be difficult, especially if you have a lower ranking than the top three SERP results. PPC will guarantee your search result to appear near the top of Google’s SERP, but this does mean that web traffic will click on your website? The best answer to this question is that by having a paid search ad businesses can significantly increase the number of organic site visitors. If your paid search ad fails to generate clicks, it could mean that web users are more interested in clicking onto your organic website after seeing the ad. By running a PPC ad together with an organic SEO website, you can boost the organic traffic of your website instead of just running an SEO campaign. 
  • Maintain consistent branding experiences for your consumers 
    • With your brand, you want to build a reputable experience for consumers regardless of your industry. Using PPC and SEO can boost your brand’s visibility so that you can stand out apart from your competitors. To maintain a proper branding experience for your SEO and PPC campaign, you will need to tailor web searches to your brand. By conducting keyword research and optimizing your website, you will be able to do so.
  • Sharing SEO data with PPC
    • By acquiring organic traffic through SEO, your PPC campaign can use its data to improve its performance:
      • Improve the layout and flow of a PPC landing page using the SEO data 
      • Lower PPC expenses by finding out the best keywords with high organic rankings and less competition
      • Identify more PPC keywords that relate to the organic performance and goals of your campaign
      • Use your SEO insights to determine how to improve the quality and landing page performance of your PPC campaign
  • Sharing PPC data with SEO

    • You can also use insights from your PPC campaigns to benefit your SEO strategy:

      • Recognize potential SEO keywords or improve the content by realizing strong PPC search terms based on conversion rates

      • Update page titles and meta description tags based on successful PPC ad copy and call to action (CTAs) to increase organic search click-through rates

      • Fill in visibility gaps of organic search by using PPC campaigns to determine quick trends in search queries, highly competitive organic results and specific topics where you can illustrate your message

      • Before gaining organic visibility, you can promote your content to your target market and examine its success
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To maximize the online presence of your business, it is best to use both SEO and PPC.

So let’s get back to the question at hand, which is better SEO or PPC? The answer is that it depends on your circumstances. If you have a lot of available time and a limited budget, SEO would be the way to go. If you have the resources but not the time, then you should consider PPC. However, on their own PPC and SEO do not have a high chance of success. The best method is to run a campaign featuring both PPC and SEO, as there is a much higher chance of gaining conversions and relevant traffic for your campaign. Looking to implement effective  SEO and PPC strategies for your business? Contact our team at 23e2 Digital Marketing – PPC | Web Design | SEO.

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