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Mike Essex

SEO vs PPC: Which Is Better?

27th Nov 2013 News 11 minutes to read

Red and Blue Boxing GlovesAt Koozai we love SEO and PPC and have been using both channels on a mixture of clients for over eight years, yet we’re often asked which is better. With SEO and PPC sometimes seen as natural enemies we thought it would be helpful to pit the two against each other and see which is right for different scenarios.

So in this blog post we decided to have a debate between our two Digital Marketing Managers; Andy Williams and Oliver Ewbank. We asked each of them to pick a side, although it’s worth noting that in real life both Andy and Ollie manage teams who cover both disciplines. For the purpose of this debate however Andy is arguing for SEO and Ollie is arguing for PPC;

1. Which gives a better return on investment?

Andy WilliamsAndy – “SEO provides a far more long term return on investment. If you can gain a first page ranking and stay there, you will see a more consistent income and more longevity within the search engines.

If you compare this with PPC the ad is only there for as long as you are bidding on it. If you are looking for a quick win, PPC is your man but SEO provides you with a far better return on investment long term.”


Ollie PhotoOllie – “PPC generally gives a better return on investment. Continuous algorithm updates, new competition, less data and the need to create superb content has made SEO more expensive.

SEO takes time and time is money. PPC gives you immediate results and if you master AdWords Enhanced Campaigns you can increase conversions with minimum spend.

Remarketing in particular gives a very cost effective return on investment to help you get back past customers, something SEO can never do.”

2. Which is better for conversions?

Andy WilliamsAndy – “Done well SEO will bring you more traffic (providing of course you are ranking well) however I would put it out there that there isn’t much to call between the two when it comes to conversions.

With SEO there is an element of Google ranking the right page for the search term. You would hope that if you have optimised correctly this would always be the page you desired but there is always that element of Google deciding to display a page it (bizarrely) believes to be more relevant. This could lead to a site not converting as well as you would expect.

If you look at the ratio of traffic to conversions, the conversion rate is usually higher for PPC.”


Ollie PhotoOllie – “ With PPC you can target a range of commercial keywords and create individual ads with unique ‘calls to action’. Social, email, review and phone extensions help you convert users immediately, giving PPC the stronger conversion rate.

With PPC you can split test multiple landing pages on the same keyword so you can see which converts better.

Remarketing enables you to target users who are more likely to convert. For example, you can create follow-up offers for people who abandon your shopping cart. Another tactic is to create seasonal campaigns to target users who have previously converted.”

3. Which is better for short term wins?

Andy WilliamsAndy – “On the surface I would have to concede on this one. If you want a short term win, PPC will give you an instant presence. You can’t argue against that. However, an argument for SEO could be put forward depending on the situation. If we were starting from scratch PPC wins but if we were talking about targeting an uncompetitive untapped key term with a well-established site then SEO could well win the day.

A great content marketing piece produced for SEO can also sometimes generate a quick win in terms of visitors and social exposure if done well.”


Ollie PhotoOllie – “PPC can be better for short term wins. You can turn the taps on and immediately get results. SEO campaigns need to be planned months in advance whereas a PPC campaign can be switched on to target real time trends.

For example the Ann Summers ‘Hung Parliament’ campaign would never have worked via SEO.

Short term wins are made easy by scheduling ads. For example, you can run a two hour lunchtime campaign for three days.”

4. Which is better for building a brand?

Andy WilliamsAndy – “SEO all the way. Organic rankings can provide you with more coverage than PPC. You can gain Page One Domination and own that first page for your brand. PPC doesn’t give you that kind of dominance. In fact PPC only gives you a maximum of one listing per search.

SEO provides the full package, online brand awareness, brand reputation and brand promotion.

And you certainly don’t gain knowledge graph information from PPC!”


Ollie PhotoOllie – “Both are essential for building a brand but SEO is probably more important. To build a brand you need a strong social following along with great brand visibility and both are quickly becoming a key part of SEO. Big brands need Page One Domination and this can only be achieved with SEO.

On the other side remarketing campaigns and banner advertising on the Google Display Network are superb platforms to help build a brand. If you want to push your logo and a consistent message the Google Display Network is a great place to start. Another benefit to the display network is you can target users by demographic.

YouTube advertising too is great for getting your message across to a target audience.“

5. How would you compete in a competitive niche with your channel?

Andy WilliamsAndy – “Be relevant and get in front of your audience.

All the best SEO practices come into play to make sure you are competitive, especially making sure technically your site is working correctly and all the on page elements are in place and so on.

Make sure your content is engaging and unique. Create content that people will share or refer to. Have a blog and become an authority in your niche.

Become a detective, research the link profiles of your competition, find linking opportunities based on your research. Be local, be listed locally and be social.”


Ollie PhotoOllie – “To compete in a competitive niche you need to have a superior Quality Score. I would create specific landing pages for all the top converting keywords. This will increase my Quality Score and reduce the Cost per Click.

Competitive sectors tend to be more expensive so I would build up credible remarketing lists on all competing products or services.

I would test all Adwords extensions to see which achieves the best CTR. If exact match keywords are too competitive I would use broad match modifiers and research long tail converting keywords. As a precaution I would also block competitor IP addresses.”

6. What would you do with £5,000 to spend on your channel?

Andy WilliamsAndy – “An SEO budget is slightly different to PPC.

With PPC the budget goes straight into your campaign.
With SEO the money goes where it is most needed.

Personally I would invest in a site made with Responsive Web Design and Technical SEO best practice in mind. With mobile search now becoming more and more important with each passing quarter it is so important to have a mobile friendly site. I’d then use the remainder on a Content Marketing strategy to generate excellent content, which I’d seed with outreach in order for it to get found and create social signals.”


Ollie PhotoOllie – “I would spend the majority of the budget on the search network. If it was an ecommerce campaign then I would put a lot of emphasis on Product Listing Ads. I’d then bid aggressively on mobile devices as there is less room for ad space. The remaining amount would be spent on creating smoking hot landing pages to convert the traffic. “

7. What makes your channel easy to measure?

Andy WilliamsAndy – “That’s a great question considering Google’s latest move to remove all keyword data from Google Analytics. However the rankings are there for all to see and we do still have data in Webmaster Tools (for how long is anyone’s guess).

However Google Analytics still provides us with more than enough information to allow us to monitor the influence SEO has on a site.

But rankings speak for themselves. You optimise for a term and the ranking improves – a very easy way to measure progress, which coupled with organic traffic tracking gives great visibility.”


Ollie PhotoOllie – “PPC is easy to measure in comparison to SEO. Conversion tracking and importing goals from analytics makes it easy to assess the value of a click. AdWords provides valuable keyword data in comparison to SEO where it is now almost all ‘not provided’. You can also implement call tracking to track offline conversions.

The interface will give you stats to measure all aspects of your account including CTR, Quality Score, and Conversions (1 per click and many per click).

Search query reports allow you to see the exact search term used before purchase. You can also run reports on sitelinks, time of day, reach, destination URL’s, geographic data, user locations, devices and much more.”

8. Which is more compatible with social media?

Andy WilliamsAndy –“SEO and Social Media were made for each other.

If you use SEO you should be using Social too. If you believe that social signals are
now important to rankings then SEO is a natural fit.

The crossover is also natural. You write a new blog post on your site and you naturally promote it socially. You create a social profile; you naturally include a link to your site. It’s a natural connection.”


Ollie PhotoOllie – “I would say SEO is more compatible with Social as Social Signals are part of the overall strategy of many projects now. However, Social can be extremely beneficial to PPC. The following tactics for example will help increase conversions:

• Social Extensions – Linking your Google+ page to your AdWords account can automatically show Social annotations in your advert. Last year Google reported that advertisers have seen as much as a 20% increase in CTR from using this extension.

• Third Party Sitelink Extensions – On occasions it is possible to have sitelinks to your Social properties like Twitter and Facebook.

• Remarketing Lists – You can create remarketing lists by collecting IP data through Social media channels. For example a promotional YouTube video.”

9. When can they work well together?

Andy WilliamsAndy – “A great time to use both is when you are looking for an instant presence within the search engines while building up the relevance of your site organically.

It makes sense if you have the budget to use both if this is the position you are in. Ranking organically can take time, especially if you are in a competitive niche, so using PPC in the meantime is the perfect way to bring in the traffic in.”


Ollie PhotoOllie – “SEO and PPC can complement each other in many ways. SEO’s can use AdWords to gain valuable keyword data. PPC can use SEO traffic to build up credible remarketing lists. Click through Rates can be compared to select the best performing ad copy and Meta description. Bounce rates can be compared to select the best performing landing pages.

Social signals help even SEO and PPC thanks to Social extensions.

They work well together when you have both long term and short term goals.”

10. What does the future hold for SEO & PPC?

Andy WilliamsAndy – “From an SEO point of view we all know that things are changing week on week at the moment. Google updates, algorithm updates and with keyword data now all but taken away these are certainly changing times for SEO. One thing is for certain; no matter how many times people write it – SEO Isn’t Dead and never will be.

It is however changing and for me the future for SEO is Social, Local and Mobile (to a point we are part of the way there already). Results are becoming more and more personal and location based, I don’t think it will be long before it is all about appearing locally just as much as it is nationally because if you don’t you will be losing a huge amount of traffic and potential customers.”


Ollie PhotoOllie – “The future is bright for PPC. There have been a significant amount of changes this year and I don’t see it stopping in 2014.

Mastering Enhanced AdWords Campaigns is vital to achieve a profitable ROI. Learning how to manage cross-device campaigns and enhanced bid adjustments will be imperative. If you can get to grips with AdWords scripts you will save valuable time and stay ahead of the competition.

Product Listing Ads, Dynamic Remarketing and YouTube advertising are all areas which I expect to grow. I believe Google will continue to roll out new ad extensions to help improve CTR.”

A big thank you to Andy and Ollie for taking the time to answer these questions, we hope they helped highlight the best ways to use each strategy. At Koozai we recommend a combined approach between both strategies and many of our Digital Marketing Executives learn both SEO and PPC for that very reason. So if in doubt, use both!

You may also find these two free whitepapers useful on each channel: AdWords Beginner’s Guide, Getting Started With SEO.

Please leave a comment below on which channel you feel is best and why to help continue the debate.

Image Source

Red and Blue Boxing Gloves via BigStock

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