Search Engines and Online Search
Before exploring the differences between SEO and PPC, let’s rewind a little bit. In the old days, starting from the late 19th century, businesses wished to be featured on printed yellow pages so their customers would be able to find their contact information. 136 years after the yellow pages directory was created, somebody reading a book for finding a business sounds very romantic, doesn’t it? Brightlocal’s yearly survey in 2018 showed 97 percent of consumers are using the internet to find local businesses (rather than using printed advertisements) – bad news for the print industry and great news for all of the eco-activists out there. With online searches, consumers locate not only the phone number of your business, as they did back in the days, but have access to various types of content, including reviews, product types, and anything that might interest them. People search online for everything, and the results they receive sometimes differ from what we want to deliver to them.
With Yellow Pages, everything was clear and straightforward: Your business would have a particular place in a massive yellow book where consumers would locate the number of your business in a specific category. Now the categories have transformed into keywords: Consumers type in a phrase on Google and they see a variety of results for what they are searching. Do you have control over what will show up on their screen? That’s when SEO and PPC come into the game – both aim to give you more traffic and include your business in the search results when it’s relevant to the search query.
What Is Ranking?
When users search for something online, search engines use a particular algorithm that provides the best response to a searcher’s inquiry. The algorithm organizes the results from most relevant to least relevant and this is called Ranking. The more relevant your content is to the user’s search, the higher your Rank.
Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) can be either organic or paid. For organic results, you cannot pay search engines to rank you higher. Instead, your page is going to rank depending on hundreds of different factors like relevancy, authority, quality of content, page speed, and usefulness. However, algorithms for ranking change almost every month to improve the quality of results, and the specific components of algorithms are not revealed to the public. While Google is updating algorithms so frequently, what can you do to make sure your business is included in the search results of your potential clients?
Search Engine Optimization
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of increasing the quantity and the quality of traffic to your website from search engines like Google, Yahoo, or Bing. SEO increases website traffic with organic site visits, which are free (as opposed to paying for each site visit). The Search Engine Result Pages (referred to as SERPs) can be influenced by SEO. Although no one knows for sure how ranking algorithms work, one thing is for sure: Content is king. As cliche as it sounds, this is one of the most important ranking factors that stays true with every algorithm update. If your content is written for the user, if it is informative, qualitative, and updated regularly, then you have a high chance of ranking well.
SEO is about optimizing your site pages for search engines to increase your ranking on Google or other search engines. SEO entails creating quality content, helping the website load faster, updating the website regularly, making it easier for the user to find helpful information, acquiring high-quality links to your website, and more. SEO directly influences your organic traffic – the higher you rank, the more people find you online. It is also the most sustainable source of traffic over time. If you stop doing SEO for a few months, you are most probably not going to lose your rank.
SEO not only increases the ranking of a page but also improves the user experience. And when the potential client is happy with their first experience with your company, they are more likely to do business with you.
What Is PPC, and How Does It Differ from SEO?
PPC stands for Pay Per Click, and the traffic generated from PPC is paid, much like an advertisement would be (whereas SEO visits are free, PPC visits are paid). Results from PPC are either above or below organic results and have an “Ad” icon that shows they are paid advertisements (see image below).
Now, if PPC sounds like a very simple fix to a ranking – it’s not. With PPC, you pay for every time someone clicks on your search results. In some cases, you can choose to pay per views instead of per click. Either way, your position on Google depends on how much you pay. The more competitive a service is, the more expensive it costs for each click/visit to the website. In some cases, it could cost lower than $1 and in some cases it could cost over $10 for just 1 click. Unlike SEO, PPC is not a sustainable source of traffic – if you stop doing PPC, your placement stops showing as well.
So Does It Come Down to Free vs Paid?
Not necessarily. If you are a startup, new on the market or currently have very low rankings, we recommend you consider PPC in addition to SEO. Think of it this way – eventually, you want people to find you online organically and not have to pay for every site visit. That could be eight months or even a year down the road. If you want to see a quicker increase in sales, PPC is a great option to keep you running until SEO ranks you on the first page of Google, Yahoo, or Bing. In fact, PPC has a pretty good Return on Investment (ROI), even though a lot fewer people click on Ad results versus organic results. However, if you are ranking pretty well on the first page of results (organically), there is no need to invest in PPC as your clients will be able to find your business either way.
With SEO, you cannot pay to rank, but you might have to pay for SEO services if you cannot do SEO yourself. With PPC, you only pay once someone clicks on the advertisement, but clicking is just the beginning of the journey. And if you can’t offer high-quality content and your website is running slow, remember, your customers are only one click away from going back.
The average web user won’t scroll past the first 5 results on SERP and 75% of people never scroll past the first page. This shows you how important it is to invest in SEO, whether you do PPC or not. It probably has to do with human psychology – if a business is paying for appearing on a search engine, then it probably couldn’t rank organically, which means Google (Yahoo, or Bing) decided their content was not the best option for their search query.
To briefly conclude the comparison, here are some pros and cons of SEO and PPC.
Search Engine Optimization
- You don’t need to pay for each visit/click to the website
- Continuous flow of traffic
- High-quality and targeted traffic
- Website is optimized
- Good user-experience helps you gain more business
- Customers trust you more
- Results will take longer
- Possible costs for SEO services
- No full control, as no one knows 100% what search algorithms are looking for
- Control over what is showing up on the first page
- Quick results
- You have a guarantee to be on the first page of the results (if you pay enough)
- If you stop paying, the traffic will stop
- There is no long-term strategy
- It can be pretty expensive (especially for law firms, as that is a competitive market)