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Pay Per Click vs. SEO

Of the two major online marketing opportunities on the web, which one is the “best bet”? Many people struggle with this question and I believe the answer is, unfortunately, “it depends”.

Both avenues have their strong points and weaknesses and I’ll do my best here to explain PPC and SEO.

Pay-per-click advertising:

Strengths: Pay-per-click advertising (PPC) can be a very effective way to get your website in front of your target audience. There is no argument here. No other medium that I can think of empowers you to zero in on your target audience. Billboards, radio, mail, newspaper all take the machine gun approach for the most part. They spray around your message and hope that something hits your target.

Pay-per-click not only gets your ad immediately in front of a person who specifically searched for what you’re selling, but more importantly, you only pay when that person takes action and visits your site. It’s a beautiful thing and that’s why Google has built a multi-billion dollar industry around paid search. The marriage between search and advertising is a perfect fit with few weaknesses.

Weaknesses: Now that I’ve built-up PPC advertising, I need to offer up some advice on it’s weaknesses. First, I like to compare pay-per-click advertising to the rental of an apartment. You get value and it fulfills a need very well. But, wouldn’t you rather invest your money into a house that you own?

PPC does have many benefits but it does require you to continually put money into something that you don’t own. If you stop funding your account, your website will be off the radar at that exact moment and you will never turn up in another search again.

In addition, PPC can be hard to setup and manage if you don’t know what you’re doing. Google and Yahoo and the other search engines are good companies – and they definitely want to give you value for your money – but their systems are designed to use your available budget. They want your money! That’s why we offer our services to help you and make sure that you’re getting the biggest “bang” for your buck.

The last problem with PPC is what we call “click fraud”. The best way to demonstrate this is the example of the competitor repeatedly clicking on your ads and draining your account. It’s the biggest fear of all search marketers. The search engines realize that this is a problem and that it threatens their business at the most basic level. So, for obvious reasons they’ve done a lot to make sure that someone can’t repeatedly click your ads and empty your account. I can only imagine the army of people that Google has dedicated to reducing click fraud as this is one of the biggest threats to their business.

SEO or Search Engine Optimization

“This is why I like SEO so much more than PPC. Most people are too lazy to spend years researching their topic, years building a brand, years building links, and years building social and customer relationships. We are afraid of failure, afraid of success, and afraid that we are investing too much in one place. But, if someone sees me ranking in the organic results they can’t just clone it…”Aaron Wall

Strengths: SEO or Search Engine Optimization is a great way to market your website. One of the major reasons that we recommend SEO is because it’s a great investment. It’s the opposite of renting your apartment (as described previously). If you put time and money into SEO it’s like investing in a house. If you get rankings in the search engines, you tend to keep those rankings over time. So, if you invest $15,000 a year into SEO and then stop, you now have rankings that will continue to drive traffic to your site – at least until your competition finds ways to outrank you. This takes time and money though and the vision to know how valuable SEO really is. Unfortunately, many people still do not take SEO seriously and that gives those of us who do a big leg up.

The other big benefit of SEO is the “long tail” that it creates. With PPC, you target specific keywords and phrases in your campaign but you may be missing out on many ways that users search for you. Let’s say a user searches for “SEO Consultant Cleveland“. You might have targeted this key phrase in your PPC campaign and that’s good. But, what if someone typed in “How to hire an SEO company in Cleveland”. Chances are, they’ll get completely different results and you might be able to rank for many more words and phrase combinations like this with SEO.

If you’re doing both PPC and SEO at the beginning of your campaign, the other benefit is that you might end up ranking in the organic listings (free) and the pay-per-click listings (paid) at the same time which will give you extra exposure and a better chance of landing this person as a client.

Weaknesses: The problem with SEO is that nobody knows what criteria search engines use to rank sites. At the most basic level we know that Google likes keyword-rich content, but beyond that, SEO requires experience, constant analysis, and work. You have to know the right things, and more importantly, the wrong things to do or you could end up doing more harm than good.

Without getting too detailed, SEO simply requires experience, skill and time – lots of time. That’s why companies hire firms such as ours to do the work for them. Honestly though, anyone CAN do SEO. But the big question is if it makes sense for you to do it based on the time it takes to learn and then keep up with the required work. You also have to consider that search engines are always changing their ranking algorithms as well, which means that you have to find additional time to keep up with new trends and practices.


Both Pay-Per-Click and SEO have their strong points and that’s why we usually recommend that you use both if it makes sense. The best way to do this is to heavily weight the start of your campaign with PPC. This gets you “out there” fast and allows you to have immediate visibility. At the same time we recommend starting an aggressive SEO campaign. Then as your site begins to rank for important search phrases, then you start to back off on the PPC campaign.

Not to belabor the rental vs. ownership concept, but this is how we all start out in life and eventually gain success. We start out renting and gradually work our way to ownership. That’s everybody’s goal and that should be your goal when building an effective online marketing campaign.

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About Chris Auman:

Chris Auman is a veteran digital marketer with over 25 years of experience in the trenches. As Sanctuary’s founder and President, Chris has successfully guided online marketing efforts for companies large and small.

Learn more about Chris.

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