SEO vs. PPC: A Look at Why They Work Better Together

Stephen Hoops | |
SEO vs. PPC: A Look At Why They Work Better Together

Virtually anytime you hop on Google to do a search, you’re going to see at least one paid advertisement.  

Chances are that you’re there for the organic listings. So are most other users, which is why search engine optimization (SEO) will be here to stay.

Most people can readily identify ads, but they still click on them. 

Let’s keep it real. I’m a little biased on the subject, but there’s a reason why paid advertising works.

For my fellow cynics, it’s easy to think, “Why click on an ad when organic listings do the trick?”

I’ll admit that because my day-to-day almost exclusively revolves around SEO, I rarely think about pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.

Recently, our friends over at Clutch published a bit of data from a survey of theirs. It’s somewhat eye-opening if you’ve ever been apprehensive about paid search campaigns.

The survey reveals a couple of reasons why people click on ads.

After I read the survey, I came to remember how often people tend to compartmentalize PPC and SEO.

Sure, the two are very different. In reality, we’re talking two sides of the same coin.

PPC and SEO complement each other brilliantly.

Friends and colleagues always ask me, “Is PPC or SEO better for business?”

In this post, I’ll be sharing what I learned from Clutch’s survey, and why SEO and PPC complement each other so well.

Do people really click on paid search ads?

Let’s have a thought experiment.

For the average consumer, Google is a free service. Google is just one part of a multinational conglomerate called Alphabet Inc.

According to PriceWaterhouseCoopers, in 2018 Alphabet ranked as the second largest company by market cap in the world. Fair to say they’re raking in a fair amount of cash, right?

Google Search is still, by far, the biggest revenue generator for Alphabet.

So, where does the majority of Google’s earnings come from?

Ad revenue. And boy howdy, lots of it.

Roughly 84% of Alphabet’s total revenue is because of Google Ads. This revenue also accounts for YouTube and Google’s display network, but paid search earns the lion’s share of those ad dollars.  

Think critically about this—Alphabet wouldn’t be one of the biggest companies on the planet if it relied on “positive vibes” to keep the lights on.

By this fact alone, it would be logical to assume that a lot of people are clicking on those ads.

But these aren’t mindless zombies clicking on random ads.

Something fuels the reasoning behind those clicks.

Before we get into those reasons, it’s important to understand how search engines got here.

The Evolution of Search Engine Marketing

Change is a constant in the digital realm.

And yet, search engines remain as powerful now as they were two decades ago. The Internet has evolved from what it once was, and search engines have had to adapt along with it.

The real reason Google was and still is the leading search engine is that they’ve improved their product over time.

Google knows that user experience is always the most critical component of their success.

(It’s easy to be the top dog when your product is consistently superior.)

The big secret behind why search engines will always be around?

It comes back to the singular goal of every search platform—satisfying intent.

We talked about intent quite a bit in a previous post. Keep in mind that search engines are designed to deliver content that best serves a user’s query.

All search engines are continuously trying to improve the quality of search results so users have a reason to keep coming back.

While satisfying intent explains why people use search engines, it doesn’t explain why anyone would ever click on an ad. Especially when 77% of people can confidently distinguish a search ad from an organic result.

Reasons Behind the Click

People click on ads, but why?

Here are a few of the key findings from the survey I referenced earlier:

A graph indicating the results of a survey about ppc advertising

What I glean from these findings is that most people click on ads because they are extremely relevant to their query.

And this makes sense because you’ll only end up throwing away money if your ads aren’t relevant.

But what’s interesting is when you consider that relevancy is also a core component of SEO.

I don’t want to minimize how important it is to optimize paid search ads.

Other brands also run search ads, and you want to do everything you can to increase the odds of users choosing your ad over the other guys’.

I like to think myself a student of the legendary ad man himself David Ogilvy.

“Good” copy is boring; exceptional copy is sexy.

Tangent aside, it appears that a compelling headline matters less than relevancy.

If you’re familiar with Google’s quality score, then you know that the more relevant your ad is, the more people will see it.

SEO and PPC are trying to accomplish the same thing—satisfying intent.

Now that I’ve hammered the concept of satisfying intent into the ground, this doesn’t really explain how the two can work in harmony.

Choosing Between SEO & PPC

Here’s a fundamental look at just how different they are:

  • PPC costs money; SEO is “free.”
  • SEO is a long-term investment; PPC ads can launch within minutes.
  • PPC copywriting is all about brevity; SEO content needs to be comprehensive.
  • SEO professionals are left to decipher ranking factors through testing and cryptic forum posts from Google employees (no direct line of contact); Google provides training and customer support for PPC.

Another reason people segment SEO and PPC from one another is that they utilize different skill sets.

Below are a few high-level differences between PPC and SEO professionals:

  • PPC requires experience with bidding on keywords, managing budgets, writing short ad copy, and analyzing a unique set of performance metrics.
  • SEO professionals need to have a grasp of how Google’s search algorithm works. This means they need to have a tech-savvy, analytical, and creative mindset all at once.

We’re only scratching the surface when you compare SEO and PPC.

If you’re looking for me to definitively declare which is better for your business, I have to disappoint you.

Both approaches have unique strengths and require leveraging experienced professionals.

So, what CAN I say with any actual confidence?

How to Use SEO & PPC Together

When combined, SEO and PPC can complement each other quite a bit.

Straight away you’re probably wondering:

“Can PPC help organic search rankings?”

I’m going to let you in on a secret.

PPC ads do not have a direct impact on your organic search rankings (and probably never will).

In some ways, I wish they did because it would make my job as an SEO professional way easier.

(Come to think of it—I’d probably be out of a job.)

If Google rewarded brands because they spend money on ads, this would undermine the entire purpose of organic search.

Trust me on this—Google doesn’t want that.

Notice that I said PPC doesn’t have a “direct” impact on organic rankings.

However, there are a few ways PPC and SEO can indirectly affect one another. Specifically, I want to share how a holistic approach can make them both stronger.

1) Share Keyword & Performance Data

Keywords are a singular concept which unite SEO and PPC.

Without extensive research and strategic targeting, all SEO and PPC campaigns will fail.

Keywords are core to both disciplines.

What businesses often miss is that both can share keyword and performance data to strengthen their efforts.

Dynamic Search & Shopping Ads—

For dynamic search and shopping campaigns, these ads are almost always configured to pull data directly from a site.

If the source pages from those websites are not optimized for SEO, marketers are missing out on the opportunity to create better dynamic search and shopping ads.

Site Search Keywords—

For websites with site-search functionality, Google Analytics will capture keyword searches from visitors.

The main goal of both SEO and PPC is to figure out what words or phrases clients and buyers are using to find your products and services.

Site search can yield valuable and indispensable insights into the mind of your target audience.

Converting Keywords & High-Performing Copy

One of the downsides of SEO is that you can very rarely trace conversions to specific keywords.

PPC campaigns, on the other hand, generate loads of performance data on converting keywords. This keyword analysis can inform what keywords to add to an existing SEO campaign or how to reprioritize keywords in a PPC campaign.

Additionally, PPC campaign analysis can show which ad variations led to the most conversions. In turn, this can help SEO efforts with writing titles and descriptions for your best content.

Sharing data is great, but the virtuous relationship between PPC and SEO goes deeper.

2) Increase Visibility & SERP Real Estate

Google has been banging the drum for years about the rise of mobile traffic.

In fact, mobile-first indexing is now one of Google’s most important ranking factors.

(Even for websites with mostly desktop traffic!)

Let’s see what comes up when I get on my Google app and enter “copywriting services,” a phrase that gets roughly 1,900 searches a month.

A Google mobile search for copywriting services

Just ads to start with. OK…I guess I need to scroll a bit.

A screenshot of mobile search results for copywriting services

Hm. Another ad and a “position 0” featured snippet. Still haven’t found my first organic listing!

Another example of a mobile search for copywriting services

Beneath four paid search ads in the example above), a “position 0” answer box, and a list of related searches—I finally found the first organic search listing.

Surely, this must be specific to Google’s mobile experience?

I’m afraid not. 

Here too the first organic listing comes after ads, a “position 0” featured snippet, and a list of related searches.

As you can see, because organic results are being pushed further down the page, it will take a bit of scrolling before a user sees them.

Relying on SEO alone to get your business seen will be a challenge, particularly if you rank lower than the top three organic search results on page one.

If you do have a page one ranking, though, PPC can supplement your chances of attracting even more search users to click.

If you run PPC ads alongside your organic listings, you may be wondering if paid ads cannibalize organic traffic.

According to some crazy in-depth research by a few statisticians over at Google, the opposite is true.

The study had a solid methodology and concluded that paid search ads result in an 89% incremental lift in organic site visitors; that is, people who see your paid ads become more likely to visit your site via organic search. Traffic a site would not have been able to receive without the presence of paid ads in search results.

We’ve actually seen this first-hand.

If you have considerable spending in Google Ads and suddenly pause all campaigns, traffic from other online channels will take a dip. The extent varies wildly, but it happens across verticals.

Tl;dr

As Google pushes organic listings further down its results pages, PPC can help brands claim more “real estate” on page one.

But there’s one more way PPC and SEO can indirectly affect each other.

3) Maintain Consistent Branding Experiences

A fundamental principle of branding is that you should create a uniform brand experience for the various people who encounter your brand. Your brand should leave the same impression, no matter when or where someone sees it.

In the same vein as increasing your overall visibility, PPC and SEO should always be used in tandem to ensure consistency for branded searches.

How would it feel if every time someone searched for your brand name, the ads at the top were all competitors promoting their services or products?

Using both approaches increases your business’ visibility in search engines, so you can control the conversation.

Maintaining a consistent branding experience only becomes harder if SEO and PPC efforts are not geared toward searches for your brand.

Additionally, PPC can be used to offset potentially negative brand sentiment.

You may remember that nearly ten years ago, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was a devastating environmental disaster.

Shouldering most of the public outrage, BP had a PR nightmare on their hands.

To help tell their side of the story and explain their plans to remedy the oil spill, BP launched PPC ads targeting keywords such as “oil spill” to send visitors to a BP news page.

An example of PPC advertising used by BP after Deepwater Horizon

To be fair, the idea was great, but BP’s execution was shoddy and half-assed at best.

The takeaway I would like to impart is that PPC is best for immediacy. In times of negative PR, running ads to help tell your side of the side of the story is something to keep in mind.

In case you didn’t catch it:

  • Don’t create environmental disasters.
  • Don’t send users to crappy, carelessly written landing pages.

Which is Better – SEO or PPC?

Given a choice between only SEO or only PPC—I’d pick neither.

Sit me in a chair, starve me for days, and torture me with Imagine Dragons on repeat—I’d still refuse to pick one.

Believe me when I say that more than ten minutes of Imagine Dragons is my personal hell.

And I get it—not every company has the budget to sustain SEO and PPC campaigns simultaneously.

Still curious about which solution is best for your goals?

For that, you’ll need to leverage the insights of someone with experience in search engine marketing. I’m happy to recommend a couple of smart folks you can chat with to get the ball rolling. ?

PPC and SEO are a match made in heaven. It would be a real shame if you didn’t unite them for search engine greatness.

Stephen Hoops

About The Author

Stephen is the Content Marketing Specialist for Direct Online Marketing. He's passionate about creating quality content and keeping up with emerging social media platforms. In his free time, he can be found hitting the twisties and enjoying life on two wheels.

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