Throughout my time working in search marketing, one question inevitably comes up when pitching a new client: “Should we focus more on SEO or PPC?”
Consider that question for a moment.
Organic or paid search — they’re fundamentally different yet two sides of the same coin. Having tunnel vision for SEO or PPC doesn’t make much sense when they both help you get to where you want to go. What binds the two strategies together is their purpose: increasing visibility.
It might help to think about this in the context of a basketball team — mostly because I like to make basketball-related analogies.
Hear me out.
Standard teams have five people on the court, typically specializing in one area: shooters, defenders, and facilitators. The best teams find a way to utilize everybody on the court.
See where I’m going with this?
It’s not much of a stretch to apply this principle to search marketing. Ignoring an entire medium is kind of like ignoring players with specific talents on your team. It doesn’t matter if you’re the Michael Jordan of paid search either — this kind of self-imposed handicap only limits what you’re capable of achieving.
Just like MJ needed Scottie Pippen, so too does SEO need complimentary forces like PPC.
The Ugly Word: Budget
Awesome basketball analogy aside, what I’m saying isn’t exactly a revelation.
So, assuming much of this is common knowledge, you certainly have to wonder: why do so many businesses set a priority between SEO and PPC?
I personally believe the answer can be summed up in one ugly word: budget.
Ah, budget, the red tape of the business world. Nobody really likes it and yet we all have to deal with it. Whether we’re talking about clients or marketers, nobody really likes the word budget because it restricts us. There’s often too much emphasis placed on keeping down cost, creating a unique subset of problems for everyone involved in a marketing context.
To begin with, I’ve provided services to small businesses that have been torched by dishonest marketers in the past. You know the story: Small business hires a cut-rate marketing company promising the moon on a dollar-menu budget — the results fail to meet anywhere near expectation.
This budget-first approach can hurt agencies, too. I’ve worked for agencies stuck in bad contracts, contracts where the client expectations far exceeded the work possible within the budget. Suddenly, my agency is forced to choose between working well outside the scope (and losing money) or tarnishing their reputation for good.
Clearly, budget can be very toxic for businesses and marketers alike.
Bold idea here, folks: let’s not focus so much on budget — let’s focus on results. We’ll all be better off for it.
Location, Location, Location!
Grocery stores have a lot more in common with search engine results than you might think.
Take the cereal aisle for instance — a personal favorite of mine. Have you ever noticed that the biggest brands are usually eye-level? That’s no accident.
Major cereal manufacturers like General Mills and Kellogg are willing to pay a premium for eye-level shelves because research indicates you’re more likely to buy it.
That’s right. Let that soak in for a second.
Most of us would rather grab the first thing we see off the shelf than go a bit out of our way to find a cheaper alternative. Consumers typically follow the path of least resistance — a principle that carries over to how we engage with search results.
Recent figures indicate the first page of results receives 90% of all search traffic. To put that another way, less than 10% of people who regularly use Google even make it past the first page. Being on the first page of search results is the Internet’s equivalent of placing your product on the shelf at eye-level.
Just remember — premium real estate comes at a price. You need to make a considerable investment to own and maintain this space. Investing in both SEO and PPC gives you the best chance to own as much of this space as possible.
The True Cost of a Click
Has your business renounced pay-per-click advertising because of its associated cost? Many choose to forgo PPC because they don’t like the idea of being charged anytime someone clicks on their ad. You might be surprised how many people shift their marketing attention to SEO because it offers a “free” alternative.
This attitude hurts my brain.
I can’t believe I need to say this, but SEO isn’t free — the kind that works, anyway.
Make no mistake: just because organic traffic is free does not spare you the expense of putting your website in a position to claim it. Quality SEO is an expense — there’s simply no getting around it.
In stark contrast to your average SEO contract, PPC gives you more control over how much you’re spending. You decide how much you’re willing to pay on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. This kind of flexibility provides a certain amount of freedom. Establishing an airtight budget can also help alleviate any remaining fears you have about its underlying cost.
The Single Greatest Advertising Tactic
Need further convincing?
Bill Hunt, a widely revered figure in the search marketing industry, has gone on record to proclaim, “PPC is the single greatest advertising tactic available to brands today.” Mind you, Hunt shared this bit of wisdom during a Pubcon workshop devoted entirely to organic traffic optimization. More than a few SEOs in attendance — myself included — had to do a double-take.
Here was one of the most preeminent figures in SEO telling us the grass is greener on the other side of the search marketing wall. The reality is PPC holds critical advantages over SEO — accuracy and opportunity chief among them. As Hunt says, “There is nothing that matches the laser precision [PPC] offers to target consumers at the very moment of interest.”
A well-optimized PPC campaign ensures you’re targeting:
- the right people
- at the right time
- in the right place
It’s hard to overstate the value of that kind of opportunity.
With Our Powers Combined …
SEO or PPC?
I think about this question a lot. Ultimately, it’s my job to help people succeed in search. To that end — although SEO is my primary focus — I feel I’d be doing my clients a disservice to overlook the many benefits of PPC.
Are you serious about search marketing? Combine the forces of SEO and PPC together to experience the best results.
by Tyler Thursby
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