Okay, so I admit my title is derivative of cycling legend Lance Armstrong’s “Pain is temporary, quitting is forever…” quote, but I’m an unabashed cycling fan and it helps to make my point as I will explain below.
First, let’s start of with definitions for those of you who may not be so familiar with these important terms:
PPC – Pay-per-click – The pricing structure used by some online channels to charge an advertiser each time a user clicks on the advertiser’s ad. The advertiser usually sets the amount, not the channel. Also called cost-per-click (CPC).
SEO – Search Engine Optimization – the process of improving the visibility of a web site or a web page in search engines via the “organic” or un-paid search results.
While both the above are terms from the world of online marketing, SEO is probably not as well known and is certainly not as popular as PPC. We’ll take a closer look at each and talk about their short and long term benefits. We’ll also explain why PPC is no longer as effective without good SEO.
We’ll start with PPC. First and most importantly, it is a paid form of advertising. Its benefits can be both immediate and significant. In a short period of time, a company can use PPC ads to go from relative online obscurity to being highly visible on the Internet. Imagine appearing on the first page of the results from top tier search engines for keywords related to your business! There are a lot of assumptions here, but all other things being equal, PPC is a far swifter method of online exposure than any other practical method. It is easy to implement, easy to track, and it can theoretically provide immediate gratification. There is also a feeling of having some control – spend more money, get more visibility – with PPC that resonates with traditional advertisers. Conversely, it is also the quickest to reverse if and when the budget runs out and you can no longer pay for ads for your keywords.
SEO, on the other hand, isn’t a specific advertisement for which a company would pay, but that’s not to say it’s free. SEO can take many forms, such as technical changes to the code on a web page, the use of topical landing pages, or the creation of keyword-rich content placed strategically on a website. Of course, when coding and content creation enter into the conversation, so does the realization that there are resources required to complete these tasks such as time and money. Couple this with the difficulty in explaining the benefits of SEO to a company, “So we changed the titles of our web pages, now what happens?” and it becomes clear why SEO can be a difficult sell.
It is also more difficult to measure return on investment (ROI) derived from SEO. For one, it takes time to make the necessary changes, and then more time for them to have an impact on search results. Businesses investing in SEO have to have more patience and trust when implementing SEO than they would in PPC. SEO involves many small, incremental changes that can seem insignificant, but that collectively serve to make a big difference in the eyes of search engines. There is no secret formula or magic to it. It’s just a matter hard work, focus, and quality content creation.
Interestingly, PPC advertising is now dependent upon SEO to a great degree as the search engines’ ranking algorithms have gotten savvier. The quality of search results rely upon a keyword being relevant to an ad, the landing page for which must further be relevant to the ad. A search engine’s business relies on the quality and relevance of their search results. As such, they won’t allow ads their algorithm deems of low quality to show no matter what the advertiser is willing to pay. So by investing more in SEO, you get more for you money with PPC.
While there is more complexity and time involved, the long term ROI of SEO as opposed to PPC is of great importance. PPC traffic may increase at a much quicker rate initially, but over the long term less will be spent on the traffic gained from SEO. With SEO, the traffic spigot doesn’t just turn off when the ads stop. It may not be forever, but well implemented SEO has an appreciable half-life.