Search Engine MarketingSearch Engine Optimization

Is SEO Better Than PPC In The Long Run?

By January 7, 2011 November 16th, 2012 9 Comments

The two main forms of search engine marketing includes search engine optimization, or optimizing the organic listings, or pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.  But which will benefit your business in the long run?

Many small businesses come to us with the ultimatum that they have X dollars to spend, and will either choose to spend it on SEO or PPC, but not both.  The fact is, they should consider spending in both areas.  Here is why:

  • The PPC ads can provide instant traffic, and simple campaigns can be set up in a matter of hours.  SEO will take weeks to set up, and months to achieve noticeable results.
  • Setting up your PPC campaign will provide some of the necessary keyword research to start your SEO campaign anyway (although the targets will likely be different, it’s a good starting point).
  • The PPC campaign click-throughs and conversion rates can provide some intelligence back to the SEO campaign; however, be aware that PPC visitors will behave differently than an organic visitor.
  • The SEO campaign will force you to develop more keyword-rich content, driving more long-tail searches.  The PPC campaign will force you to create well-designed landing pages that you can A/B test for best results.

So why then is SEO more beneficial to my business in the long run?

It essentially comes down to the cost, and what stays with you after the cash is spent.  Check out the graphic below.  You can see the slow, gradual increase in performance of the SEO campaign, while the PPC campaign is more “instant”.  Once the SEO effort performs well and you start to appear on the first page of results for some of your primary keywords, you get this area of what we call “maximum exposure” – where your paid ad and organic listing appear on the same page.  It has been said that this type of exposure can lead to a higher chance of getting a click – on the organic listing – up to 7 times more likely.  That’s interesting that the paid ad provided the necessary brand exposure to get a user to click on your FREE organic listing.

seo vs ppc


So let’s consider what happens after you stop spending in both areas.  Maybe you are in a budget crunch, or you ran out of funding.  The PPC ads come down immediately, and you are no longer visible to potential customers.  With SEO, your time, effort and money will sustain itself for weeks, months, or maybe even years.  This means you’re not going to lose your rankings overnight, and the SEO work will still give you exposure to new potential customers and drive more leads and sales to your business, even though you’ve stopped spending in that area.

Also consider the ROI on both programs.  A click in PPC for a competitive keyword can cost you $4 (let’s say), whereas an organic visitor can cost you merely pennies (take you monthly SEO spend and divide it by the total organic visitors during the same period).

So if you only have X dollars to spend, don’t count out your SEO program.  Instead, split your budget across both and get the maximum benefit for your money.

Ryan Kelly

Ryan Kelly

Ryan is the founder and CEO of Pear Analytics and has helped hundreds of customers with their Internet marketing since 2003. He has spoken on various topics of SEO, Analytics and other marketing at conferences in New York, Chicago and Vancouver. Clients he has consulted include Sears, KMart, CareerBuilder and PEER 1 Hosting. Ryan currently teaches two Internet marketing classes at Trinity University in San Antonio.


  • Michele_Goetz says:

    SEO gives benefits to PPC and vice versa. The key is strong SEO to improve PPC performance. Yes SEO gives longevity, but PPC gives reach beyond helping to gain permission to extended and reach new markets. One pitfall is that going dark in PPC can cost in dollars in the long run. Better to optimize tight vs an all out retirement. There is also the difference between B2B and B2C. SEO is more significant in B2B where the purpose is lead generation and nurture. In B2C there is more opportunity in a click to purchase where PPC is strongest.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ryan Kelly, 友澤大輔. 友澤大輔 said: Is SEO Better Than PPC In The Long Run? […]

  • PPC and SEO should always be assessed separately in my view. As long as you can see decent profit against both activities, then there is no reason to stop either of them. It only becomes problematic when you’re not sure what each one is delivering.

  • As mentioned below, I am a firm believer in looking at the entire landscape before going in any set direction, and it all depends on the website in question.

    If I’m working with a Fortune 500 client with a multi-million dollar search budget, I will absolutely recommend a long term SEO program that targets mid-to-high competition keywords. Conversely, if I’m talking to a small client with not much budget in search overall SEO will invariably be relegated to a back burner issue – of course with the input to the client that it’s absolutely important to their long term success.

    Always remember to bring short and long-term ROI into focus and it makes things a lot easier, in my opinion.

  • The online marketing world will forever debate which channel is the best, SEO or PPC. My immediate reaction is better for what? My personal opinion is that SEO is not better than PPC and PPC is not better than SEO.

    Both channels accomplish the same goal and have the ability to deliver business value. The key is understanding your client, their challenges and goals and devising a strategy that best fits their business need.

    If you’re working with a client that has immediate positions to fill, an SEO strategy would not make sense for them. Taking it a step further, if those positions are very niche or unconventional as in a chicken sexer or snake milker it’s possible that neither channel would be successful.

    Generally though, the majority of organizations would benefit from a combined, holistic strategy allows you to reach a broader audience.

  • I also believe that SEO is the best form of search engine marketing though it is more complicated and is harder to attain the best results. SEO if done perfectly will give us top ranking for our main keywords in organic search and that will drive traffic for long periods of time in as little cost possible and is easier and cheaper to maintain than PPC.

  • Troy Glancy says:

    I’ve had issues with this as well. Customer want to spend the money but only on something they can see now. I.E. PPC views.

  • JackWitson says:

    I am totally in favor of writers of this post about seo better than ppc.

  • TheSeoPortal says:

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