One of the most important rules of marketing is that there are no magic bullets. When people talk about adopting a broad ‘marketing strategy’, they are tacitly admitting no single approach is guaranteed to deliver results.
Instead, part of the skill of branding and promotions is piecing together a variety of different methods which complement each other in achieving a larger overarching set of objectives.
So when people talk about SEO and PPC as if they are either-or options, they are making a common mistake. SEO, or search engine optimisation, is the collective term for any number of actions which aim to boost how high a web site or web page appears in search results, on Google, Bing, Ask and so on. PPC, or pay-per-click, is by contrast a form of advertising where you pay to appear on search results pages.
Search engines play a massive role in digital marketing. For small to medium sized businesses, around a third of all traffic to their websites comes from so-called ‘organic’ search - people browsing a search engine looking for brands, products or services they want. This explains why SEO is so important - the higher you are in the search results, the more visible you will be.
But some people argue that SEO is slow, inefficient, hit and miss. With so much competition out there, getting those all important top five ranking spots - and in terms of driving traffic to your website, it is only the top five that really matter - is no sure thing. If you want to guarantee your site is visible and people will click through to visit it, you have to pay for advertising.
This is the kind of thinking which leads to viewing PPC and SEO and mutually exclusive choices. Either you want to guarantee results by paying, or you want to take your chances saving a few pennies with a less reliable approach.
Two bites of the cherry
The first mistake here is that PPC does not guarantee better traffic for your site than SEO. In fact, organic search outperforms paid search considerably. The first five results in organic search account for two thirds of all click throughs from search engines. PPC ads, by contrast, generate just 15% of traffic - despite the ads appearing above the search results proper.
But it would be equally mistaken to assume that these statistics prove that paid search is a waste of time. On the contrary, evidence suggests that running PPC ads can complement well-run SEO campaigns significantly, adding traffic you would not otherwise have got.
SEO and PPC campaigns both focus on specific search terms, or keywords, that marketers expect potential customers to use to look for their product or service. If you manage to get your site high in the search rankings for a particular term, and run a PPC ad for those same keywords, you get double the exposure on the same page. Not only that, but Google research has shown that the overwhelming majority of click-throughs on PPC ads come from people who would not have clicked on the organic listing for the same keywords.
People use search with lots of different intentions. Some are just browsing, using general terms to cast a broad net. Others know exactly what they want, and search very specifically. If they are looking for a product or service to buy, research shows that 85 per cent of this traffic goes through paid search. In other words, PPC ads are more likely to convert into sales.
Finally, there is the question of timescales. SEO might be great for generating traffic for your site, but reaching those all important top five rankings can be a drawn out, laborious process, especially if you are starting from a low base. PPC, on the other hand, is immediate - once you create your listing, your ad appears right away. It is therefore a useful way to have a presence on search results pages while your SEO campaign develops. Furthermore, you can use PPC to test out keywords, and draw insights for your SEO from analysis of their performance.