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SEO, PPC, or do you need an integrated approach?

The life of a business owner or entrepreneur revolves around decisions. Every day is filled with choices, designed to yield the best possible results for a business bottom line. In most cases, that means ensuring that sound financial decisions are made – especially when weighing up the great debate of speculation vs accumulation.

This means deciding how much to spend on marketing for many business leaders – and which areas of this field will stretch investment furthest. Most marketing campaigns revolve around organic search engine optimisation (SEO) or pay-per-click advertising campaigns (PPC) in the online age. This makes it essential that you understand the strengths and weaknesses of each approach.

What's the difference between SEO and PPC?

On paper, there is one fundamental and critical difference between SEO and PPC. SEO is – in theory, at least – free. It involves building your brand's online reputation and presence by impressing and appealing to Google's algorithms, soaring to the top of any search results page and attracting the eyes of consumers like moths to a flame.

Pay Per Click, as the name suggests, involves a financial outlay. A PPC marketing model involves bidding on keywords related to a website in Google Ads (neé AdWords). Should a bid be successful, the website in question is guaranteed to sit pretty at the top of page one of any relevant Google search (albeit marked with the word Ad). Every time a consumer clicks on this link, however, Google is entitled to a financial reward.

Of course, these explanations are a significant simplification of what is actually a complex discipline. While free SEO tools are available to help build organic traffic, it takes experience and expertise to put them to the best possible use. Google's algorithms could generously be described as 'flighty', and a full-scale update can render an SEO strategy outdated overnight. Successful businesses invariably bring in professional assistance for their SEO needs.

PPC is also not quite as simple as "pay X for a Google keyword, earn Y in revenue thanks to enhanced traffic to a website, announce record profits for the year." How much you pay for a keyword, and whether our Google overlords will even accept your bid, depends on various factors.

Is PPC or SEO better for an SME?

Before we answer this question, we need to consider why we are asking it in the first place. Why would be a business work with SEO or PPC? The answer, concerning both approaches, is to attract more business by appearing at the top of a Google search. Given that 75% of people do not scroll past the first page, a lot of online content is going ignored.

With this in mind, it seems like a no-brainer. Take the financial hit and pay for PPC advertising, so you're always at the top of page one. This way, everybody who launches a search relevant to your business will see your website first, click on the link, and hopefully make a conversion. It's so simple that it's strange that nobody else thought of it first.

Herein lies the issue – they did. We're willing to wager that every competitor to your business is also seeking a piece of that PPC pie. The average Google search will allow for a maximum of three or four paid ads. These slots are not provided on a first-come, first-served basis. The Big G decides who will make the cut, just as they do with organic traffic.

Now, to understand why this is, you need to think about it from Google's perspective. Google isn't just a verb; it's also a business. The model of Google is simple enough, and it has led to a 92% global market share of search engine traffic for a reason. It provides users with what they need, quickly and efficiently. Fail to do so, and people will quickly start to flock to Bing or another competitor.

Google is only interested in placing high-quality, relevant adverts at the top of its pages. To determine what will make the cut, Google assigns every website on the web with a Quality Score, from 1 to 10. The higher your score, the greater your chances of placing a winning bid – at a reasonable price per click – on a keyword. If you are planning to bid on primary, popular keywords, you really need a Quality Score of 8 or higher.

So, SEO is better, right? Afraid not – it's just as reliant on this mythical Quality Score. Google does not judge and rank websites purely on how much traffic they attract (though this is undeniably a factor.) Other elements that play into how highly Google will rank a web page include:

  • Relevance to a particular search term
  • Quality of copy - keyword-stuffing will not get you anywhere, while poor spelling and grammar will be punished with the wrath of an embittered English teacher
  • Speed of page loading (avoid anything that makes performance suffer, such as autoplaying video adverts)
  • Mobile-friendliness of a website
  • Bounce rate and other user behaviours

There are various other ingredients that Google use in their secret sauce for ranking pages, most of which are kept close to their chest. The simple reality is, though, if you're organic SEO ranking leaves a website floundering midway through page 3, PPC is unlikely to be an effective marketing strategy on anything but the most niche of keywords. Instead of focussing on one over the other, you'll enjoy much more success with an integrated approach.

How to integrate SEO and PPC

Having established that SEO and PPC should be used hand in hand, it is vital to understand how to achieve this.

The first step is to review your Quality Score and identify any potential areas for improvement. If that means completely redesigning or refreshing your website, so be it. A low Quality Score is not a sticking plaster solution and will continue to plague your attempts to enjoy a successful SEO or PPC campaign until resolved.

Next, assess the price of keywords for a PPC campaign. The costlier the keywords, the more valuable they are considered by Google. This gives you a firm footing to build your organic SEO campaigns around. The more success these enjoy, the greater the price drops of the keywords for a PPC campaign will become as you attract visitors naturally.

Once your organic SEO approach is starting to yield results, it's time to re-embrace PPC. Now that you are in good standing with Google and your target audience, you can pay for these plum spots at the top of the page. This will cement your status in the hearts and minds of consumers and make it probable that your PPC campaigns will turn a profit. After all, clicks alone will not keep the lights on – you need conversions. By establishing your business as a market leader, these are considerably likelier to arise.

Finally, you can use PPC to reintroduce evergreen material to your audience for content marketing purposes. New visitors will discover your site through a paid advert. If they like what they see, they may bookmark your page and return for more insights in future – regardless of whether you are still paying for a PPC ad. This will bolster your site's statistics, increasing your Quality Score and aiding your organic SEO approach.

As you'll see, SEO and PPC are really two sides of a similar coin. Do not be fooled by the surface-level differences between these approaches – it is not an either/or choice. The reality is, combine your PPC and SEO approaches and the marketing snake will gleefully eat its own tail for a prolonged period – and your business will reap the rewards.   

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