Due to its complexity and constant evolution, the world of internet marketing may often seem confusing, overwhelming or completely incomprehensible. There are too many new terms to learn, concepts to grasp and methods to test, all of which can pose a significant challenge to anyone entering the online marketing arena for the first time.
What regularly causes confusion for newcomers is the difference between SEO (search engine optimization) and PPC (pay-per-click). Although both methods fall under the broader category of using Google to promote your business, they’re very different from each other. Hopefully, we’ll clear up the confusion by explaining each term and the differences between them and by providing examples of situations in which one is preferable to the other.
As you already know, SEO stands for search engine optimization, an umbrella term which encompasses the various methods you can use to improve your site’s ranking among the so-called “organic” search engine results. When you search for something on Google, it does its magic by taking into consideration hundreds of factors and pieces of information and then presenting you with the results it has calculated to be closest to what you were looking for.
Search results can never be 100% perfect, so Google is constantly changing and improving its algorithms, consequently changing the effectiveness of various SEO methods. Due to this constant evolution, an SEO method which might have worked up to a year or even a month ago might suddenly become less effective, obsolete or even detrimental to the success of your SEO campaign. In practice, that means you have to stay tuned to what Google is doing if you want to stay competitive with your website through your SEO efforts.
This quick explanation wouldn’t be complete without shining some light on the previously mentioned term of “organic” search results. The term organic (or natural) is used to differentiate between those results which the search engine algorithms have found to be most relevant to your query, and other results which appear solely because an advertiser has paid to have them displayed when a specific term is requested. This second method of optimization – having paid results appear among Google’s search results – is also known as PPC ads.
As the name suggests, pay-per-click (PPC) ads are those which come up when the user is searching for a specific term and that are paid for by you, as the advertiser, whenever a user clicks on them. Unlike organic search results, PPC ads are not dependent on your SEO efforts and require an entirely different approach. With AdWords (Google’s PPC advertising service), your goal is to drive targeted traffic to your website through ads which will appear among organic search results (currently, they are placed above, below and on the right side of organic results). You will pay a fee each time a visitor clicks on your ad, effectively paying for each visit to your site gained through Google.
You can already see the big difference between SEO and PPC. With PPC, you are no longer relying on optimizing your site so that Google recognizes it as worthy of being shown to the user; you are paying Google for the privilege instead. There is an important similarity between the SEO and PPC, though; the ease with which you’ll get to your targeted market using either of these methods will largely depend on the size of your competition. The more popular your chosen term is with your fellow PPC advertisers, the more you’re going to have to pay for your ad to be seen. So while PPC advertising can deliver guaranteed results, it comes with an unavoidable cost and can quickly become quite an expensive endeavor.
If you are not actively following the latest trends and news from the SEO world or conducting your own SEO experiments in order to test new ideas based on recent changes and personal experience, you can easily fall behind your competition in terms of your search engine presence. If you’re in a competitive niche, falling behind might mean that your site will be listed so far from the top search engine results that it will rarely or never be seen by your targeted audience. With PPC, however, all you need to do is create your ad, choose the appropriate search terms and be ready to pay for each visitor.
While each approach has its place within a well-developed online marketing strategy, a combination of the two will give you a certain SEO advantage. Since a properly optimized website will continue to bring you visitors, it’s usually better to devote your resources to a good SEO campaign. However, PPC can come in handy, for example, in the early stages, while you’re still testing the water and trying to decide which search terms would work the best for you in terms of conversion rates and giving your website some quick exposure. If you’re new to the internet marketing game and these terms seem confusing, it’s reasonable to seek experts to help you optimize your site, which will save you both time and money.