Many in the SEO community contend that pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is a waste of money. Since PPC is about buying clicks from the search engine, and since SEO is about earning clicks from the search engines, many SEO consultants argue that PPC is just throwing money at a problem instead of working toward a solution.
While it is likely true that SEO has a better long-term ROI than PPC, the fact of the matter is that PPC advertising shouldn’t be compared to SEO. Why, you ask? Because PPC is advertising and SEO is marketing. Comparing the two is no more appropriate than comparing an iPhone 3G to a hunk of stone (as funny as that may be).
Let’s start by acknowledging that marketing is a process. If you’re a search engine optimization consultant, for example, then you’re probably a marketer because of your systematic approach to your craft. Aside from optimized site structure, your most important tasks are:
- Working with your client to generate great content
- Leveraging that content to build links
By “leveraging,” of course, I mean using everything from old fashioned email link requests to directory submission to press releases to social media to get the word out about your client’s site so you can build links. As part of this link-building process, you will very likely use advertising to seed or promote your content.
Advertising, you see, is a tool we use in the marketing process – comparing advertising to marketing is like comparing flour to bread. It’s true that you can’t have bread without flour, but it’s also true that no one wants a PB&J between two clumps of flour.
Therefore, when someone asks you to compare SEO and PPC, you’re making a mistake if you answer that question directly. If you start talking about how PPC is faster but SEO offers better long-term results, you start having to justify strategic spending, and pretty soon you’ve muddied the waters.
Instead, talk about how PPC is an advertising tool only. Like any form of advertisement, PPC can be effective in the right circumstances. However, advertising is not a be-all end-all approach to growing a business. To really become big, businesses need a marketing plan…and SEO is a great way to market.
By changing the direction of the SEO versus PPC conversation, you’re promoting strategic thinking and setting more realistic expectations about the SEO process. Everyone understands that strategies like SEO take time and require consistent effort, but that the rewards are almost always worth the trouble.
What PPC Should Be Compared With
Since PPC is advertising, the costs and return on a PPC campaign should be compared to other ad mediums like print, radio, and television advertising. In that light, PPC offers tremendous value. Compared to traditional media, PPC ads are more targeted, the ROI is considerably easier to track, and the cost is almost always lower.
In some cases, PPC advertising can also be compared to sales staff. Depending on the type of business, pay-per-click ads might be able to generate a sale. If, for example, you find that $40 of PPC ad spend consistently results in a sale, and if that sale earns more than $40 in profit, PPC has essentially become a profitable employee rather than a line item in a marketing budget.
SEO versus PPC: The Flawed Debate
Members of both the SEO and PPC communities find themselves being asked to debate their efficacy compared to the other, but engaging in that debate is bad for everyone involved. If a business owner becomes wholly dependent on advertising to generate revenue, they expose themselves to great risk when there’s a shift in the marketplace.
Conversely, if a business owner chooses to ignore advertising, they’re stunting the growth of their enterprise and likely missing out on some low-hanging fruit.
By debating the merits of PPC and SEO in a vacuum, all SEO and PPC consultants ignore the larger point: both SEO and PPC can help a business meet its goals, and that’s how the two should be evaluated.