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7 min read

PPC or SEO? A guide for business owners starting out in Digital Marketing

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

In light of the recent research from SparkToro, the search landscape is changing. It’s more important than ever to know about the different channels available to marketers, how they perform and where to prioritise your budget.

In an ideal world, every business would have the budget to invest in both PPC and SEO. Truly integrated strategies enable businesses to:

  • Share data like search query reports between teams to build a better picture of user intent
  • Plan for how one channel will impact upon another
  • Send consistent messaging to their target audience
  • Share visibility on well performing products and landing pages
  • Be present at every stage of the customer journey
  • Own more of the SERP real estate
  • Increase website traffic (even if you’re already the first organic result)

And so much more!

However, sometimes, only one is financially viable. So how do you choose which is right for you?

Below I’ll be highlighting the main factors that might motivate someone to choose one over the other. This is not a comprehensive list of every reason but a summary of their major selling points.


Firstly, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. What do I mean by PPC and SEO ?

A quick overview (feel free to skip if you’re a seasoned pro)

PPC stands for Pay Per Click and (briefly) is online advertising whereby you pay for clicks from relevant users. Typically, as the name suggests, you only pay when one such user clicks your ad (although this is not the only method of remuneration) .

Ads are delineated by the ‘Ad’ or “Sponsored” label.

SEO or Search Engine Optimisation is the practise of increasing your organic search visibility through technical, on site (on page) and link-building activities (off page) to better adhere to Google’s Guidelines.


Why SEO?


Market Share and Trust

According to Sparktoro, organic results get the largest share of clicks. Based on figures from June 2019, of 100 searches on Google:

  • 45.25% of clicks went to an organic result
  • 4.42% clicks on a paid result
  • 50.33% were no-click searches

The full research can be found here.

SEO places your site in contention to have this majority share of clicks. These figures suggest that users are more trusting of the organic results, perceiving (rightly or wrongly) the companies occupying those positions as reliable industry leaders.



Factors like Search Engine Results Page (SERP) features can mean greater awareness for your brand. So what is a SERP feature? Moz have a fantastic blog which, in an organic nutshell, suggests: Google takes content and enriches this to better satisfy user intent in the SERPs.

In the SERPs landscape (that’s Google, Bing and other search engine’s results pages), you have the opportunity to rank for plenty of diverse results. If your business goal is to raise brand awareness digitally, then creating ‘long tail’ content that targets informational search queries can cement your services and products in the mind of prospective customers.

For example, a renewable energy supplier’s goal might be to raise awareness of their brand online. For this reason, they might create blog content on their site on ‘How do solar panels work?’ and similar search queries. If the content answers the users question and is well optimised, this means that the renewable energy supplier will be positioned in front of potential customers that are searching for these terms. If created with E-A-T (expertise, authority and trustworthiness) in mind, long-tail content like this will also help position your brand as a leader in their industry.

SEO enables you to have visibility and presence at an early stage of the conversion funnel. For PPC, it might not make sense to bid on such a term when your budget could be applied to those who are ready to become your customers.



On the face of things, SEO doesn’t incur the same upfront fees as PPC. If your site (either through your own efforts or serendipity) is deemed to be a highly relevant answer to a query according to Google’s algorithm, then it will rank well for your keywords at no cost to you (yay!). If you are not in this enviable position and choose to take on either an SEO agency or an additional member of staff then the true cost of SEO is reflected. This comes as either the hourly cost an agency provides or the salary cost of employees focusing their time on these activities.. However, I would stress that paying (either an agency or individual) for SEO is not a prerequisite for SEO success but having a technically sound site, regularly updating the content and naturally earning highly relevant, authoritative links is – however this is achieved.



As mentioned above, there is no direct cost associated with SEO. As such, were you to stop investing (time, money or effort) and take the month off it is unlikely you would suddenly drop out of the SERPs and see all traffic to your website evaporate. In this sense, there is an element of longevity to SEO.

However, this isn’t to say that if you reach position 1 for your main keywords then Game Over, you’ve won. Oh no. Google makes over 600 changes to its algorithm throughout the year meaning the search landscape is constantly changing and no one can rest on their laurels.


Why PPC?



PPC is not affected by the volatility of the Google algorithm updates. Whilst an SEO result can see both sudden unprecedented increases and decreases in its rankings, paid results stand outside this lottery. As such, it is, to an extent, a less risky form of investment.



SEO campaigns are known for being ‘long-term’, often requiring months of nail biting before seeing the effects of the work undertaken. For PPC, the effect is instant. Once you invest budget, your adverts have the potential to begin driving relevant users to your site and sales immediately.

For your ad to show, it must have achieved a certain Ad Rank. One factor in this is the amount you bid but other factors include:

  • Quality Score
  • Enabled Ad Extensions
  • Context

The full list of features is available here.



PPC campaigns are innately flexible. A useful way of thinking about these campaigns is a little like a tap. When campaigns are going well and driving a good ROI, the tap can be turned on allowing more budget to flow freely through it and the campaign to scale. Alternatively, if performance isn’t great, the tap can be switched off immediately, preventing further budget from being spent.



PPC is easier to measure for certain metrics such as ROI than SEO. Google Ads provides a whole host of metrics that enable you to see how your ads are performing including Impression Share, Click Through Rate and Conversion Rate.

In addition, there are nifty features including the ‘search query report’ which tell you the keywords that triggered your ads. This data can assist you in mining for keywords which perform most profitably for you and deserve bid adjustments and which keywords, if irrelevant or expensive, you might want to exclude.



As mentioned above, ads are delineated by a label displaying “ad” or “sponsored”. However, more and more, they are blending into organic results and, to the untrained eye, almost indistinguishable. For example, shopping ads are being added to the Google Image results and the new mobile search ads have an updated format to encourage click through rates.


To sum up

If you need immediate results and don’t have 6 months of capital to invest before you see impact then paid could be a priority for you. On the other hand, if CPCs are too high and too competitive, a long-tail SEO strategy might be your only feasible opportunity.

However, for businesses looking to aggressively grow with fewer budget constraints then both PPC and SEO are an important investment to make simultaneously.

As a top-level summary, this blog doesn’t account for all the nuances that each individual business will need to consider when deciding which channel is the one for them. If you’d like to speak with a strategist about the right route for your business, please call or email us!