It’s a common question that comes up time and time again in the digital marketing community: “which is better for promoting your website, Google Ads or SEO?”
While many seasoned search marketers will be quick to say “both” or “SEO all day,” the answer to that question (as it pertains to your website), isn’t that simple.
Although both channels are intended to help you achieving optimal search visibility for target keywords, PPC advertising and SEO each deliver different types of results, and in different time-frames. In short, choosing exclusively between Google Ads or SEO is like eating only apples and only carrots. Both have a unique purpose in supporting a healthy balance to a greater marketing strategy.
The Argument for SEO
In the decision between Google PPC and SEO, the argument for SEO is probably the more popular of the two. The most obvious reason being organic traffic is entirely free, meaning you don’t have to pay for clicks or impressions.
According to CTR studies based on Google’s search results, more than half of users will click a website listed in the top three organic rankings. This goes for both mobile and desktop search, however desktop users are even more likely to click the organic results and overlook Google paid ads.
So what could be better than securing top organic search visibility and generating a healthy volume of free, highly-qualified traffic as a result? For many businesses who find success with SEO, it’s a game changer that can spark tremendous growth.
However the fact of the matter is, SEO and ranking in the organic search results has become insanely competitive. Even for modest keywords that see less than a hundred searches per month, attain top three rankings is often a long-term battle.
The Argument Against SEO
As alluded to above, SEO has become incredibly tough over the last five to ten years. With more and more professionals, business owners, and website owners privy to the marketing value of SEO, it’s become one of the hottest commodities in the digital marketing community.
In turn, it can be very difficult to outrank competing sites, especially if you’re targeting popular keywords that see a substantial amount of search volume. Having a well-optimized website that’s properly keyword relevant is a good start, but rarely alone will achieve page one rankings.
In addition to outranking fierce competitors, Google itself is making it harder and harder for SEOs maximize their search visibility. In addition to Google Ads, the local 3-pack (while considered organic) is its own set of search results that are defined by unique ranking factors. These listings often occupy the top of the search results (below Google Ads), pushing top ranking organic listing further down on the page.
Take a look at the 3-pack for “small business CPA”. Not shown in the figure below are four Google Ads positioned above the 3-pack, making the organic listings almost half way down the page.
Nowadays, cultivating link equity and building domain authority is absolutely critical to becoming a strong contender in the organic search results. Unfortunately, whether you’re building links manually or earning them naturally with great content, this critical side to SEO takes time. And as a result, most SEO strategies require several months to actualize.
So while SEO is an important channel for any good web marketing strategy, it’s often a long-term effort that takes time and patients. But with an effective content marketing strategy and active social media presence, results can be accelerated as a site’s credibility, trust, and authority grows more rapidly.
The Argument for Google Ads
One good thing about Google Ads, especially recently after the interface has been simplified, is that almost anyone can learn how to use it While there are a number of video training courses online, even without proper training, any advertiser with modest computer skills can set up a new campaign and get their ads showing in the search results.
Unlike organic SEO, another benefit to Google Ads is that you can literally have your ads showing in mere hours, sometimes even minutes depending on the nature of your ads and the approval process. Any business or brand that wants to take ownership of a particular keyword can do so fairly easily, assuming they’re outbidding other advertisers competing for that keyword.
Google Ads are also becoming more prominent, and therefore popular, in the search results. In turn, PPC ads are actually trending toward a higher overall CTR than ever before. This is especially true for shopping-related keywords, as well as the mobile search results where users must see at least one or two PPC ads before scrolling into the organic listings. As an example, take a look at the mobile search results in the figure below where users see nothing but Google Ads (Shopping and Search Ads) in the top fold.
Lastly, Google Ads be the perfect testing ground for SEO. Many savvy search marketers will bid on particular keywords of interest to see how well they convert (or generate leads, sales, etc.) before committing to a long-term SEO strategy. This smart play can help marketers determine which keywords are really worth prioritizing in a more competitive, organic landscape.
The Argument Against Google Ads
Although almost anyone can set up and run Google Ads, it’s still a platform that requires experience and working-knowledge to run efficiently. Without a general understanding of Google Ads fundamentals, you can easily burn through your budget without much to show for it.
Considerations like choosing the right match types, using the proper ad networks, employing the ideal bidding strategy, leveraging new features, and setting-up location targeting and ad scheduling – these are all things that can make or break a campaign. Or at the very least, can make your campaign an efficient, sustainable growth-enabler that turns a favorable ROI.
Choosing Between Google Ads PPC and SEO
Hopefully by known you’ve gathered enough insight to known that PPC advertising with Google Ads or pursuing an SEO strategy are both very unique endeavors. Certain businesses and brands will find success with Google Ads, but should also be open-minded about the opportunities exploring SEO.
Conversely, business that rely solely on SEO and organic search traffic need to consider the old adage “don’t put all your eggs in one basic.” Google is a highly dynamic machine and a site’s rankings are never permanent. It’s always smart to consider a multi-channel approach, whether that include Google Ads, social media, content marketing, or ideally, all the above.