Anyone with their own website wants to attract as many visitors as possible. There are many ways of building up traffic, but in this article we will only concentrate on two, namely search engine optimization (SEO) and PPC advertising.
We will look at the advantages and disadvantages of each method of internet marketing and consider when one or the other is more appropriate, as well as when to use both. To start off, here is a definition of each method:
Pay-per-click advertising (PPC) involves acquiring an advertising spot on a search results page for a certain user request. Most search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, Bing! etc, sell advertising spots, usually from 3 to 8 ads at the top and on the right hand side of each results page. PPC is also sometimes known as contextual advertising, because the adverts that are displayed are relevant to the search query entered by each user.
In the picture below, PPC ads are marked red, while organic, or non-paid, search results are marked green.
Search engine optimization (SEO) can only be implemented with the help of an SEO specialist or SEO company, whose task it is to optimize the text and the meta data on the site, arrange external links etc. These measures ensure that the search engine starts ranking a website higher in the organic (non-paid) search results. This cannot be achieved without the help of a specialist.
It’s important to note that in general, it is not a good idea to exclusively use one or the other site promotion method, since most large companies successfully combine both. We will look at this in more detail later on. Yet all the large companies started with either one or the other, having looked at the advantages and disadvantages of each method before making a choice. This is what we will cover in detail:
Advantages of PPC:
- Easy start
- Easy to make predictions
- Easy to target particular audience
- Flexible campaign management
- High traffic conversion rate
Disadvantages of PPC:
- High price per click
- Limited target audience
- A necessity for regular investments
Advantages of SEO:
- It costs nothing
- The effect is long-term
- Better audience coverage
Disadvantages of SEO:
- It’s time-consuming
- The results are difficult to predict
- No guarantees
SEO and PPC – a combined effort
Advantages of PPC
PPC is a very useful tool for young start-up companies that have just begun their business activity. All you have to do is register an account, top-up your balance and create two or three PPC campaigns – just a few hours of work before you can welcome the first visitors on your website!
Easy to make predictions
In any business it’s important to be able to estimate additional expenses and forecast the expected income, and PPC is perfect in this respect. After an initial test campaign, a specialist can usually easily and accurately predict the cost per click, the average level of traffic and other similar factors based on the available advertising budget.
Easy to target a particular audience
It’s easy to gain traffic for a specific search, such as for example “cheap flights from Chicago to Miami” from Beverly Hills. Or do you need customers to respond to a search for “international calling cards to Algeria” from Brooklyn? No problem! You can add and remove regions whenever you please, so you only gain exposure to the relevant geographic areas.
Flexible campaign management
In PPC campaigns, you can “fine-tune” dozens of different parameters, which is a priceless feature in some cases. PPC enables you to quickly reorganize your budget if you discover that a search for, say, “cheap VPS hosting” is more convertible that just “VPS hosting”, plan a day-long “last-minute” tour and be ahead of your competition when a new model of iPad is brought out.
High traffic conversion rate
According to information acquired by Enquisite, PPC traffic is twice as convertible as organic traffic. The main reasons for this are:
- Firstly, you can fine-tune PPC campaigns, setting keywords, targeting the correct audience etc (outlined above);
- Secondly, you can test different landing pages and adjust accordingly. It’s true that organic traffic can achieve similar results, but this is much more complicated, since the incoming audience is too diverse and unpredictable.
Disadvantages of PPC
High price per click
This is the only real disadvantage of the PPC method. If it costs you $1 to attract each visitor and you only earn $1.1 in return, then laziness is the only reasons for using this method, according to one of the leading SEOs, Rand Fishkin.
But in real life each click is quite expensive, especially in fields with high levels of competition. This is also the main reason that marketers pay attention to this method.
Limited target audience
Recent research has shown that a large proportion of Internet users don’t click on advertising links at all (the author of this article is one of them). Thus, this method will only attract the attention of around 25% of all users.
A necessity for regular investments
This one is obvious: if you have the money, you have the visitors. As soon as the money runs out, the site loses traffic.
Advantages of SEO
It costs nothing
Obviously, the traffic gained from search engines is free, since there is no cost for each click on organic search results. But the method itself is not without cost, since SEO specialists must be paid for site maintenance. Yet it is still cheaper than the PPC method, where the tech support must also be paid for on top of other costs.
The effect is long-term
SEO is of little use if you are after instant, short-term results. Quality website optimization is an investment with a long-term horizon.
Better audience coverage
This is not just an empty claim and has been proven many times in the past. Enquisite, the major research agency, has discovered through careful analysis that one PPC click can be equated to 8,5 organic clicks. Remember that a large proportion of users never clicks on PPC ads.
Disadvantages of SEO
It takes at least several weeks, if not months, for this method to take effect. SEO companies will normally ask you to wait for two to three months before reviewing the results of their work.
The results are difficult to predict
Unpredictable results are this method’s greatest handicap and force many marketers to stay away from it. There is, of course, a certain logic in that, since there is arguably no point in investing without a clear indication of the qualitative and quantitative expectations.
There is no clear answer to the all-important questions, such as: how many visitors will the site attract each day? When will this number reach a particular level? How will they be converted into customers? What if it doesn’t work?
SEOs depends greatly on changes in search engine algorithms, which is one of the main reasons for this shortcoming.
An SEO expert’s prediction of future traffic, target audience indicators etc. is a very vague estimation, since even the very best experts in the world cannot guarantee certain results.
In that sense, SEO specialists, just like lawyers or doctors, can never guarantee the success of their undertaking, yet always place their reputation at stake.
SEO and PPC – a combined effort
In conclusion, there are a number of things worth remembering.
Combining the SEO and PPC methods lets you attract the maximum available audience
Here’s an example:
This site appears three times in response to a search for “Boston replacement windows”, namely in the top advertising window, in the search results for local businesses and in the third position of the organic search results. This illustrates that combining the two methods brings in more traffic than using either one separately.
PPC is a great springboard for subsequent SEO campaigns
As mentioned already, future traffic is hard to predict from specific keywords. A simple test PPC campaign lets you gain an approximate estimate before embarking on a longer-term marketing ploy.
A joint effort is not just a dream!
If there is one thing to take away from this overview, it is the fact that the SEO and PPC methods are not mutually exclusive, even though they must fit into one budget. A smart marketer can skillfully combine the two to gain optimum results.
And if your budget will allow it, it would be wise not to discriminate against either method.