There are a lot of acronyms associated with digital marketing and differentiating them can be difficult. While both search engine optimization (SEO) and pay per click (PPC) are key to building brand awareness, there are fundamental differences. SEO is the optimizing of one’s website to improve rankings in organic search results. As the name insinuates, PPC is putting paid dollars behind promoting your brand on search. The most popular search engines are Google and Bing, and they both offer paid search campaign options.
When searching for something online, whether it be a product, service or information, the first place I go to is Google. When I type in the search box, nine times out of ten I’m going to click on one of the first results. In fact, around 32% of searchers click on the first result, about 24% click on the second and close to 19% click on the third.
In order to have your brand be one of the first things someone sees in organic search results, a strong SEO strategy is essential. SEO is based on search terms and keywords, meaning keyword research is crucial so you can incorporate keywords into your strategy that people are searching for. Once you’ve landed on keywords for your brand as well as your brand’s products and services, you can improve your brands search results by incorporating these keywords into your website pages and meta tags and creating content around these keywords. SEO best practices can also be incorporated into press releases and social to generate the most engagement around your content.
PPC, or pay per click, is another name for paid search. Paid search is similar to SEO in that the strategy is driven by keyword research. However, paid search refers to paid ads that show within a search engine’s results. When you see the word ‘ad’ next to a search engine result, that indicates a paid search ad. The most commonly used paid search platform is Google Ads, followed by Bing Ads.
In order to have a successful PPC strategy, you must first do keyword research and identify keywords associated with your brand and its products/services that have adequate search volume. Then, based on these keywords, you can create multiple campaigns in Google Ads using these keywords for ad targeting. You can bid on keywords for a chance to show ads in Google search results — and you only pay when someone clicks on your ad to visit your website. One advantage of PPC is that paid results appear first in search results before organic results. On the other hand, every time someone clicks on your ad, you pay for that click — hence, pay per click.
The top search result is a Google Ad — the “Ad” signifier next to the text means SEMRush is running Google Ads and bidding on this search term. The below result in purple is an organic search result, meaning the page is successfully optimized for SEO and ranks high for the search term “what is seo.”
For most businesses, an integrated PPC and SEO strategy is the key to driving success — the channels complement one another, allowing for maximum ROI.
Keywords that you are unable to rank for organically can be used within paid search campaigns. By combining efforts, you can make the best use of your budget by avoiding bidding on keywords that are already achieving top ranks via SEO.
SEO is the optimizing of one’s website to improve rankings in organic search results. As the name insinuates, PPC is putting paid dollars behind promoting your brand on search.
Analyzing your paid search campaigns can give you great insights into your SEO strategy. PPC allows you to see your results quickly, in real time, allowing you to understand which specific keywords are driving traffic to your website, what messaging is the most compelling and what CTAs are driving the most engagement. This data can then be used to optimize your website — you can take those top performing assets and incorporate them into new and existing content on your website.
One example of this is taking top performing ad copy within Google ads and utilizing this messaging in the headline of a piece of content. You can also use the Search Term section of Google ads to figure out what people are searching for related to your brand or service and use these ideas to either create or optimize content for your brand. Additionally, analyzing which campaigns are working and which aren’t allows you to see what areas of your business might need more attention in terms of SEO.
For a specific search query or phrase that you would like to show up for, you can use SEO to rank organically and provide more information, while using PPC as more of a conversion driver.
PPC has the potential to drive traffic and brand awareness immediately since when you launch a campaign with strong keywords, compelling ad copy and competitive keyword bids, you can ensure your ad appears at the top of search results for whichever keywords you are bidding on. When you have a time sensitive event or promotion within your organization, PPC could be a great approach, as it can have an immediate impact. Additionally, when your company makes an important change and wants to draw awareness to it, such as a rebrand or new product or service, PPC could be a useful tool. Paid search is also handy when you have a very specific demographic you are trying to reach — for example if you are trying to reach people at a specific event, you can geo-target on Google Ads down to a ZIP code.
SEO on the other hand is an amazing long-term investment for a brand. In the long run, SEO is a cheaper play since once you create strong content that drives traffic to your website, you don’t need to pay to promote it, whereas with PPC you are paying for each click. SEO is also more reliable than paid search — once you rank on Google you will continue to gain traffic to your website, if you are continuing to optimize content. If your brand has limited paid media dollars, but want to gain awareness in search, SEO is key for gaining website traffic. Additionally, if you are building your brand or rebranding, SEO is a great way to get information out there about your brand, allowing people to better understand what your brand does before they actively search for it.
Combining your ongoing SEO efforts with PPC can boost your SEO. Paid search does a great job in creating brand awareness because people who do not know about your brand will start to see your brand at the top of their search results when they are searching for similar products or services. This brand exposure further encourages people to start organically searching for and clicking on your SERP links — elements that appear in Google search results including featured snippets, instant answers, knowledge panels and images.
Paid search can be used to leverage your most valuable pages. In order to establish higher page rank in the long term, you need people to link to your content, and you can use paid search ads to get your content in front of the right people. Whereas SEO can generate traffic to valuable pages in the long run, applying paid search can help drive high quality traffic to these pages in a shorter time. As a result, you can drive more traffic to the page, improving online visibility and engagement, generating quality leads up front. Using paid search right away will allow you to quickly figure out what keywords and content are driving conversions and leads, allowing you to have a stronger idea of where to focus with SEO. By focusing your SEO strategy on these successful keywords, you can significantly boost CTRs and lead volume.
A frustrating aspect of search is finding out one of your competitors is bidding on your brand name. If your brand was only focusing on SEO and was not running any PPC campaigns, this could be an issue, because although your brand would appear first in organic search results, your competitors would appear above you on the SERPs. Running a branded campaign on paid search in which you competitively bid on your own brand name would allow you to successfully compete and maximize visibility, allowing the brand name to be shown first.
Integrating PPC with your SEO strategy can be extremely beneficial in growing brand awareness, getting in front of users with high intent, and creating content and website pages that align with organic search. Combining the two is integral in any successful digital marketing strategy and using PPC to guide and optimize SEO will provide a more efficient, data-driven approach to search that will allow for an increase in leads, conversions and overall ROI.