It’s “Back to School” week for most of us, and I thought what better way to celebrate it than by offering up a lesson on two marketing tactics that seem similar on the surface, but are in fact very different: SEO and PPC. Our new “Accelerator” SEO Starter Package has proven to be incredibly popular with many small and mid-sized local businesses, but some of the feedback we’ve gotten has illustrated some fundamental misunderstandings about what SEO is, and how it differs from PPC.
If you’re an advertiser, it’s especially important to understand the differences so you can not only choose how to best invest your marketing time and dollars, but even more importantly, so you know what sorts of results you can expect from that investment.(spoilers: PPC performance tends to be the polar opposite of SEO performance)
SEO (search engine optimization), at its most basic, involves understanding what words and phrases customers are using to find businesses like yours, and then tactically integrating those keywords into your online presence (e.g. mobile website, desktop website, blog, social media, etc.). For example, if you run an auto repair shop, important keywords would include ‘auto repair’. You would then make sure that ‘auto repair’ appeared within places like site content, and meta page titles and page descriptions.
In a nutshell, the goal is to help search engines judge your online presence to be more relevant to a searcher than your competitors’. The more relevant you’re judged to be, the higher on the list of results returned to the searcher will a link to your website be placed. We discussed why this is so important in a recent blog post. SEO costs tend to mirror web development and design cost models if an SEO professional is hired. There’s also a time cost associated with SEO due to the required research and content creation.
Because SEO isn’t built around the idea of push advertising (it’s really more a pull tactic as it’s customer demand for specific keywords, which in turn defines what content is and what isn’t relevant to those customers, that drives SEO), SEO is also referred to as “organic”.
PPC (pay per click) is like SEO in that keywords are at its core. But unlike SEO, PPC is really built around the concept of push advertising.
One PPC tactic involves out-bidding a competitor for a better position on the search results list, when specific keywords are used for that search. In this case, you might use Google AdWords to bid $2.00 on ‘auto repair’, in an effort to make sure a link to your website or a banner ad is displayed prominently in the returned results when a user searches using the keyword ‘auto repair’ in Google search. When a user searches on ‘auto repair’, and assuming you’re not outbid, you ‘win’ and your site link is displayed above and before your competitors’.
Another tactic is akin to running a print ad in a publication, only with PPC, you’re running a banner ad on a website. In most cases, pricing models are built around the idea of charging <X> amount per click, so costs are performance driven. However some vendors do offer flat-rate PPC solutions.
SEO vs. PPC
Is either one ‘better’ than the other? It boils down to what’s the answer to the question: “What are your goals?”, and are they long term or short term?
SEO: The Long Term Drive
- Higher up front costs (compared to PPC), but costs decrease over time as the majority of content and website optimization is done up-front.
- Results are not immediate, and there is usually a low initial ROI (meaning, fewer clicks) at the beginning of a campaign. But long-term performance far exceeds PPC, and it should continue to rise over the lifetime of the campaign.
- Does require some level of on-going maintenance in the form of content and site updates.
PPC: The Short Term Push
- Typically lower initial costs than SEO, though a decent up-front investment may be required if you’re bidding on popular keywords.
- Costs can remain relatively static over the lifetime of the campaign if one is pursuing a fixed-cost solution, otherwise, PPC costs are strictly performance based.
- Results are typically immediate, and ROI is decidedly higher than SEO over the short-term. But results usually peak early in a campaign’s lifecycle and are not sustainable over the long-term.
- Requires little (if any) on-going maintenance. Many PPC platforms are mostly automated. Users enter in desired keywords and bid amounts, and the PPC platform does the work for them.
Optimally, do both. PPC can drive immediate traffic to your mobile website, while SEO sustains and builds on your web presence over the long-term. But if marketing time and dollars are limited, you’ll likely get the most bang for your buck by investing in a solid SEO strategy. Just trust that though you won’ see immediate results with SEO, you will see them over time.
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