Which is better for business: SEO or PPC?

Which one should you put your resources into?

Truth be told, the answer isn’t one or the other. You need both to succeed!

While both channels focus on increasing traffic and sales, there are key differences between the two.

If you’re not sure where to start, this article will guide you through the differences between SEO and PPC, the pros and cons of each, and how to use both channels together as part of a sound digital marketing strategy.

SEO Vs. PPC: What’s The difference?

Before diving into the pros and cons of SEO and PPC, it’s important to define the two.

Defining SEO

SEO, or search engine optimization, helps your website rank in non-paid search listings. Typically, the higher rankings you receive, the more traffic you gain to your website.

Organic search results used to be referred to as the “10 blue links.” However, the search engine results page (SERP) has become more sophisticated.

Organic results can be comprised of any or a combination of the following:

  • Organic listings.
  • Maps.
  • Knowledge panel or graphs.
  • Featured Snippet.
  • Images.
  • Videos.
  • People Also Ask box.

Here’s a modern-day example of an organic listing. Notice that the top listing has an original posting date of 2014!

An example of two organic listings on the Google search results page.Search from search for [how to make sourdough bread], Google, October 2023

Defining PPC

PPC, or pay-per-click, focuses on targeting users with a combination of keyword and audience targeting to display paid placements on the search results page.

Like organic listings, historically, paid search ads were made up of headline and description text.

Today, PPC ads on the SERP can show much more than basic ad copy. Other elements that may be present in a search ad include:

  • Sitelinks.
  • Images.
  • Star ratings.
  • Business Profile location.
  • Phone number.
  • And more.

Here’s an example of a current paid search ad listing:

An example of paid ads listing on Google results page.Search from search for [area rugs], Google, October 2023

Comparing SEO And PPC

A typical search results page has a combination of both paid ads (PPC) and organic (SEO) listings.

ads vs organic in SERPSearch from search for [escalade for sale], Google, October 2023

Besides the costs associated with SEO and PPC, there are other key differentiators between the two.

What’s The Difference Between SEO & PPC?

Indirect costsDirect cost per click
Traffic potential ongoing, unlimitedTraffic potential limited to budget
Takes time to see resultsAlmost immediate results
Often perceived as more credibleCan be perceived as less credible
Can be difficult to compete in certain industriesCan compete directly with larger competitors
Targeting by keywords and phrasesVariety of targeting options
Long-term lasting impactImpact lasts as long as campaign runs



A comparative table outlining the main differences of SEO and PPC.Image created by author, October 2023

SEO Pros And Cons

Investing in SEO has many business advantages but also has its downfalls.

Let’s take a look at some of the pros of SEO.

  • SEO can cost less in the long term. Technically, SEO traffic is “free,” because you’re not paying the search engines per click, unlike PPC. SEO efforts do require indirect costs, such as hiring an SEO expert or agency, optimization tools, and more. By investing in quality resources, the “cost” will pay off immensely in the long run.
  • SEO can provide sustainable, consistent traffic over time. Early efforts into SEO can help drive traffic to your website, even if PPC budgets are limited – or even cut. Over time, having a well-optimized SEO strategy can help reduce the reliance on paid search and increase marketing efficiency.
  • SEO can increase your brand’s credibility and trustworthiness. Sometimes, ads get a bad rap, and users are more likely to trust organic results. The higher you rank, the more you’re perceived as an authoritative source by your target audience.

Even though you can reap massive rewards through good SEO, it doesn’t come without its pitfalls.

  • Requires patience to see results.
  • It’s highly competitive.
  • Ongoing effort to maintain results is necessary.
  • Search engine algorithm updates can impact website visibility.
  • Quality content can be tricky – especially for small businesses.
  • Organic visibility can be impacted by ad dominance on the SERP.

Defining key goals and measurement protocols from the start makes it easier to determine if your SEO efforts are paying off or if pivots are necessary.

PPC Pros And Cons

Before deciding to invest in PPC, make sure to weigh the advantages and disadvantages.

Here are some of the key pros of PPC:

  • PPC is highly targeted, allowing you to reach the right audience. There’s a variety of ways to target ads, including keyword, demographic, lifestyle, contextual, placement, and more. Narrowing your reach helps ensure your PPC budget is driving the most relevant traffic to your website – and, ultimately, better customers.
  • PPC can show immediate results. Setting up your first PPC campaign can take as little as a few hours. Unlike organic traffic, which takes time to prove its efficiency, PPC ads can start serving almost immediately after a campaign launch. PPC is a great way to increase website traffic and sales in a short window of time.
  • PPC is easier to test and experiment with. Not only can PPC show results quickly, but it’s also faster to scale and optimize. A/B testing can be performed at scale and usually within the ads platform like Google Ads. The faster data is gathered, the faster it can be analyzed, tested, and optimized for better results.

Like all other channels, PPC has its downfalls.

  • It can become extremely expensive.
  • Ads are sometimes perceived as less credible.
  • Traffic stops as soon as the budget is gone.
  • Ad efficiency can decrease.
  • Keyword targeting has loosened in recent years.

You should have a better idea of the pros and cons of both SEO and PPC.

Now it’s time to answer the burning question: SEO or PPC?

Should I Use SEO Or PPC?

This topic is highly debated with lots of opinions.

The short answer? It depends.

In a perfect world, both SEO and PPC efforts are consistently prioritized.

But we live in an imperfect world, and sometimes choices need to be made.

If you must choose between one or the other, there are certain situations where using one channel makes more sense.

#1: You Have A Limited Budget

If you’re stuck with a limited budget or even no marketing budget, SEO might be a more cost-effective strategy in the long run.

Focusing on building quality content to build brand awareness through SEO best practices can help drive long-term traffic to your website.

It’s the up-front, indirect costs associated with finding the right person, agency, and/or tools that are needed for SEO to pay off down the line.

#2: You Have A Niche Product

In order to get organic traffic, your site needs to rank for topics or keywords that users are already searching for.

Remember: search doesn’t create demand; rather, it captures demand.

If your product or service is in a niche industry, gaining organic traffic might be harder or take longer.

In this scenario, investing in PPC can help drive rapid brand awareness and give your site a much-needed nudge in traffic.

#3: You’re Preparing For A Product Launch Or Sale

Like the last situation, you could be launching a brand-new product in the marketplace – something that’s never been introduced before.

If people don’t know what it is, they won’t know what or how to search for it!

Or maybe you’re announcing a huge sale on your website that has an end date.

Utilizing PPC around a large product launch or promoting a sale is your best bet in this scenario.

When promoting sales, not only can investing in PPC drive more traffic, but you can also utilize ad copy or promotion assets in search or shopping ads.

#4: You Have A Local, Brick-And-Mortar Business

If you’re a local business, investing in local SEO is crucial for long-term success.

A sound local SEO strategy can help your brand appear in local search results, which is crucial for attracting nearby customers.

Ensuring your website or Google Business Profile (GBP) ranks high organically helps reduce the reliance on local PPC ads.

#5: You Have A Highly Competitive Product

This situation is complicated and can truly be an either/or scenario.

If you have a highly competitive product, organic ranking will take a lot of time, effort, testing, and patience.

But does that mean you shouldn’t do SEO in this scenario? Absolutely not!

Investing in SEO in a competitive industry is still well worth the effort. However, PPC allows you to compete directly with larger companies with competitive keywords.

But keep in mind that competitive keywords come with a price tag.

If you have the budget to invest in competitive keywords, PPC can help boost traffic and sales in the immediate term while you still work on your long-term SEO strategy.

Using SEO And PPC Together

Perhaps a better answer to the highly debated question of SEO or PPC?

You should be using both.

It’s a common misconception that SEO and PPC compete against each other.

Successful brands leverage both SEO and PPC because they complement each other – not compete!

Let’s look at some ways to use SEO and PPC together.

#1: Link Search Console To Google Ads For Data Sharing

There’s a lot to be learned from linking Search Console to Google Ads.

With the paid and organic report in Google Ads, you’ll see data insights that benefit both PPC and SEO initiatives.

For example, you’ll see how often pages from your website are showing organically and what search terms triggered those results.

Looking at the paid and organic report helps you better understand how PPC ads and organic results work together and where to focus and prioritize efforts.

If organic rankings are struggling for highly competitive keywords, PPC ads can help boost visibility for those keywords.

If your site is ranking well for lower-volume, niche keywords, then those may not need to be prioritized in your PPC program.

#2: Promote Organic Content Via PPC Ads

If you’re spending hours creating website content, but nobody sees it, that could be seen as wasted effort.

Boosting content such as blog posts, videos, or whitepapers via PPC ads can reach your target audience much faster.

That quality content can rank high in the long term, but it will take time. Use PPC or paid social media ads to make that content seen!

#3: Use PPC To A/B Test Copy And Landing Pages

One of the many benefits of PPC is faster learning and testing.

But these learnings don’t just apply to PPC ads. They should be applied holistically!

If you’re testing ad copy or a landing page design that produces a clear winner, those winners should be rolled out on your website.

This is another clear example of how PPC investment pays off, not just directly shown in traffic and sales from those ads.

In Summary

Instead of thinking SEO vs. PPC, start thinking SEO and PPC.

The two can, and should, work together to maximize your online presence and supercharge sales and leads.

There can be times when SEO should be prioritized over PPC and vice versa.

In every case, what’s right for your brand will depend on many factors, like the ones presented above.

By keeping both SEO and PPC top of mind, you’ll come away with a stellar holistic digital marketing plan that has the two working together.

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Featured Image: TarikVision/Shutterstock

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By Rose Milev

I always want to learn something new. SEO is my passion.

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