Digital marketers have a huge range of tools at their disposal in order to build a business online. Two of the most powerful tools are search engine optimisation and Pay Per Click . A common dichotomy in digital marketing is Search Engine Optimisation versus Pay Per Click. Or SEO vs. PPC. Often when starting a new online business we must decide whether to focus on SEO or PPC.

What is search engine optimisation?

Before comparing search engine optimisation and Pay Per Click we need to have definitions of both.

Search engine optimisation is, in a nutshell, making sure that your website is visible on Google.

This is a gross oversimplification but accounts for around 90% of what search engine optimisation actually is.

Why is getting to the top of Google important?


Being visible on Google sends traffic to our website.  If we are running our online business correctly we can convert this traffic into revenue.

Search engine optimisation is a mixture of content marketing and clever technical tweaks on our website to make sure that Google can access and assess the value of our content.

There are clever technical methods to “trick” Google but remember that Google has thousands of the most intelligent computer engineers in the world. Eventually Google will always win. Sorry! There are ways to get ahead of Google. But all of these methods eventually become discovered and very quickly obsolete.

The key to good search engine optimisation therefore he is simply to have content that Google believes is valuable for its users to find.

This is the “secret”. Produce good stuff. No shortcuts.

If Google leads a user to your website and the the user finds it valuable then Google has just done its job well. Therefore it’s much simpler to just play the game with Google and focus on creating quality content. Work with Google instead of trying to outsmart Google.

Thankfully this is aligned with good practice content marketing.

Therefore the wild West of “SEO hacks” is less and less relevant. Sustainable content marketing and content repurposing practices are now recommended. If anyone promises to get you to the top of Google be wary. There are a lot of cowboy outfits out there over promising and under delivering when it comes to SEO.

search engine optimisation vs pay per click
SEO promises sound too good to be true? They probably are!

Want to REALLY learn about SEO? Moz have a fantastic in-depth starters guide here: Moz Guide to SEO. 

What is Pay Per Click ?

Pay Per Click is just another method of driving traffic to our website. Remember, we drive traffic to our website in order to convert visitors into customers and create revenue with our online business.

Pay per click is simply an alternative method that we can use to do this. Search engine optimisation is one method, Pay per click is another. There are many other methods out there but the focus of today’s article will be on just these two.

Pay Per Click comes in a number of forms. Those you are probably most familiar with include the adverts that appear at the top of Google searches (Google Adwords), and sponsored posts on Facebook, Instagram and other social media channels. Pay per click is basically paid advertising.

search engine optimisation vs pay per click
See the “Ad” next to the top result? That’s Pay Per Click/PPC.

In order to place a PPC direct advertisement you need to pay Google or Facebook money to place the advert on their website/app. This is done through Google AdWords or Facebook advertising. Again this is a gross oversimplification but as a general broad brush explanation should suffice.

Search Engine Optimisation vs Pay Per Click: Long-term versus short-term

The main advantage of search engine optimisation is that once it is set up and working properly Google will continue to deliver free traffic to your website. This means that once done correctly you have access to large amounts of traffic at no-to-low cost for a long time in the future.

A gigantic advantage of such engine optimisation is its persistence. Even if you stop doing such engine optimisation work your traffic will continue. It’s very much an upfront process where high investment and early-stage will continue to pay dividends.

The main disadvantage of search engine optimisation is that to get to this point takes a lot of time, energy and sometimes money. Search engine optimisation is a long play strategy and you should not expect results for at least 6 to 12 months for your business.

It also requires really buying into the idea of content marketing. This is a tricky buying for some business owners as it involves giving away a lot of value for free. This is against the ethos of some business owners and they will always find the SEO is a struggle. Search engine optimisation requires giving value to an audience even if we’re not making any money in the immediate term.

Pay per click : Rapid, Expensive

The main advantage of Pay Per Click is that it is extremely direct. You pay for your advert, your advert appears, and people have the choice to click on your advert, come to your business and buy or not buy. It’s very clear cut.

If you find the correct places (channels) to advertise and use the correct advertising strategies then Pay Per Click can be very profitable very quickly.

The main disadvantage of Pay Per Click is its cost.

To get any real effect from Pay Per Click you need a good size budget. Realistically for a business you will need hundreds if not thousands of pounds per week to invest into advertising budget.

If this investment is turned into revenue and profit immediately then you’re in luck. You can simply reinvest the profits from your advertising into more advertising and rapidly scale your business. Happy days.

However a lot of the time it is difficult to immediately find Pay Per Click strategies that work for your business and your products. It might take a few weeks or months to get into a good groove and in that time you’ll be spending a lot of money with limited results.

This means that Pay Per Click can be a very powerful short-term tactic but the risks are higher.

The other massive disadvantage of Pay Per Click is that as soon as you stop paying Google or Facebook for advertising your flow of traffic stops.

Think of Pay Per Click like a tap. As long as you pay the advertising suppliers they will continue to run your advert. The tap will keep running.

However as soon as you stop paying for advertising the tap is turned off and all the traffic will cease.

Of course if you have a profitable advert there is no need to turn off the tap. But if you find your adverts are not performing for whatever reason and turn off the tap then your traffic will shrivel to 0 and you’ll stop making any sales to online marketing.

Is SEO free?

We often refer to search engine optimisation as a form of “organic marketing”. This is correct: search engine optimisation is organic.

We use “organic” to differentiate from “paid”. This leads some people to think that because something is organic (and therefore not paid) then it must be free? Right?

This is a mistake. As mentioned above if we put time and effort into search engine optimisation even when we stop the search engine optimisation process we do continue to receive traffic from Google. This traffic is technically free.

However, the upfront work of producing that content and putting value out into the world is not necessarily free.

For a lot of blogs yes they won’t need to spend any money. But to produce the amount of content (whether video production, audio production or writing) takes time.

Remember your time is valuable. Your time is worth money.

Just because you are not actively spending money on producing the content does not make it free!

While organic marketing and search engine optimisation can lead to what we can consider “free” traffic in the future the upfront investment is not free.

Instead it takes time, effort and sometimes money to produce something of value for the market that Google will rank and drive traffic to.

SEO vs. PPC: Ideally do both!

Now that you know the basics of search engine optimisation and Pay Per Click what’s the solution?

Ideally do both.

Use Pay Per Click to drive early revenue, get customers through the door and to make a profit as quickly as possible.

At the same time deploy a strategy of search engine optimisation to make sure that later if you do decide to turn off Pay Per Click your traffic flow does not disappear.

This works well because search engine optimisation often takes 6 to 12 months before Google realise the value of work you are putting out into the world. Therefore we use Pay Per Click to bridge this gap while I search engine optimisation work is being done and starting to take affect.

An additional bonus is that are paid advertising work also allows us to very quickly recognise who our customers are and what type of content products and services they react to best.

Pay Per Click gets us in front of a lot of people very quickly so we can start to learn more about our target market. This loneliness can be implemented into a search engine optimisation content marketing.

Otherwise we might be pursuing such engine optimisation content marketing for a long time putting out more and more content each day and never really knowing who audience and customers are.

Therefore in general we recommend running both in parallel. Set up one small yet a profitable Pay Per Click campaigns whilst at the same time producing consistent content for your search engine optimisation.

However we do understand that this may be too much work for some online businesses. Some of you out there might want ONE answer and we understand that impulse. Therefore let’s look at situations in which one tactic or the other is better.

Existing businesses: Pay Per Click

If you are an existing business with revenues in place and you know your market and your sales flow then we recommend Pay Per Click over search engine optimisation.

The reason for this is you need revenue-driving channels. Pay Per Click is far more efficient here than search engine optimisation.

If you already have revenues and profits in place you also have the capital to invest. This capital can be deployed to find Pay Per Click channels that work for you and your business. This means that you can fund the initial experimentation phase. You’ll not run out of the runway and have to stop your direct advertisement experiments. This means more chance of a successful experiment.

New businesses: SEO

If you are a new business or one that is not yet generating significant profits to reinvest into your business then we recommend SEO.

This is a classic time versus money situation. Often new businesses have more time than they do money. Based on this your online business may not have the cash reserves required to set up successful Pay Per Click.

It is much more likely that your online business has more time. You’re better off investing this time into creating quality content for your potential future customers. As such such engine optimisation is ideal for your needs as a new low profit business.

Search engine optimisation versus Pay Per Click: a summary

As with most things in marketing and in life there is no simple one answer.

Instead think of search engine optimisation and Pay Per Click has two distinct useful tools in your toolbelt:

  • They both have their uses.
  • Both have their advantages.
  • And both have their disadvantages.

In general it’s not useful to ask which is best. Which one is better depends entirely on the situation at handAnd your business objectives.

Hopefully this blog article has given you a basic outline of what these two strategies are used for, what their advantages and disadvantages are and which one may be best for you to invest time in money into right now.

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