SEO vs. PPC: Which Should You Focus on First?

SEO vs. PPC: Which Should You Focus on First?

SEO vs. PPC: Which Should You Focus on First?. You’re just launching your marketing campaign and want results. If your marketing budget is minimal, SEO may be your only option. If you want nearly instant results and don’t have the luxury of waiting, PPC is your best option. Click on “Start now.” The downside of PPC I already mentioned PPC comes with much higher upfront costs. While other marketing tactics—such as SEO, social media, content marketing, etc.—require maintenance and upkeep, they should still drive traffic to your site even if you take a break. In this scenario, it’s about investing time rather than money into your marketing campaign. It’ll take time to get legitimate results, especially if you’re a new brand. If you choose to go the PPC route, I should point out you’re by no means stuck with Google AdWords. If you were launching a new campaign, would you be more likely to go with SEO or PPC?

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Here’s the scenario.

You’re just launching your marketing campaign and want results.

Not only that, you want the most bang for your buck.

You want to make sure the time and money you’re putting in will bring a large volume of high-quality traffic primed to convert.

In other words, you want a rock solid ROI.

While there is a plethora of different avenues you can take, it often boils down to one of two choices: SEO or PPC.

seo vs ppc
Both are tried and true and will drive targeted leads to your site.

But which option makes the most sense for your campaign?

More importantly, which should you focus on first?

In this post, I highlight the pros and cons of each option, drawing on my personal experience.

By the end, you should know with certainty which path to take.

By the numbers

By now, I am sure you know I’m a huge fan of statistics and data in general.

I find I tend to make better choices when I take the emotion out of it and simply look at the numbers.

So, let’s take a look at some recent statistics from WebpageFX regarding both SEO and PPC.

2017 SEO Stats

  • 93% of online experiences start with search engines
  • 70% of clicked search results are organic
  • 14.6% of all SEO leads close (as opposed to 1.7% of outbound leads)
  • Google fields more than one trillion searches per year
  • 89% of marketers say SEO is successful

2017 PPC Stats

  • PPC visitors are 50% more likely to buy than organic visitors
  • 65% of all high-intent searches result in an ad click
  • Search ads increase brand awareness by as much as 80%
  • 32% of companies use PPC to sell products directly to consumers
  • On average, businesses earn $3 for every $1.60 spent on AdWords

Both of these strategies tote some impressive numbers.

If you plan and execute your campaign correctly, you will get qualified leads, and a reasonable number of those leads will convert.

And while the outcome is essentially the same, the way you get there is completely different, depending on the path you take.

Let’s now go over the pros and cons.

The advantages of SEO

Perhaps the biggest reason marketers choose SEO over PPC is its cost-effectiveness.

The bottom line is you’ll pay a lot more for your traffic with PPC than with SEO, especially if you handle it in-house.

Just look at what the average CPC is like for some of the top industries:

adwords industry benchmarks average cpc
The legal industry is hands down the worst with a whopping $5.88 CPC.

It takes a sizable budget to get a PPC campaign up and running.

And if you’re new to the game, you have to deal with the inherent learning curve, which means it can take awhile to get your CPA and ROI to where you want them to be.

SEO is much cheaper and involves more of a time investment than a financial one.

If your marketing budget is minimal, SEO may be your only option.

Another benefit is the long-term results marketers tend to get.

Here’s a chart showing the difference in long-term performance between organic and paid traffic:

seo sem
Notice that SEO starts off slowly initially, but over time it grows tremendously.

This makes SEO far more sustainable than PPC, potentially resulting in high-quality, organic traffic for years to come.

Finally, you’re likely to have a higher ROI with SEO.

Just think about it.

Every single click you get through PPC comes at a price.

The only way you can drive traffic to your site is to pay for it.

This inevitably diminishes your ROI.

But with SEO, it’s pretty much straight profit.

Because you’re acquiring your traffic organically, the returns are inevitably higher.

Even if you “take your foot off the gas,” you’re still going to drive traffic to your site.

This basically means free traffic.

The advantages of PPC

Hands down, the biggest advantage is the immediate surge in traffic you often get:

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Right off the bat, you can bring qualified, ready to buy leads.

Better yet, you can specifically target keywords with buying intent.

This makes it perfect for new businesses with little to no brand equity.

PPC helps you drive traffic and boost your brand’s visibility in a hurry.

If you want nearly instant results and don’t have the luxury of waiting, PPC is your best option.

Another plus is the conversion rate.

While you may end up spending more overall, paid search results are 1.5x more likely to convert.

And this makes sense, considering advertisers can customize and optimize their ads and specifically target high-intent keywords.

I also think there are way more PPC opportunities today than in years past.

While Google AdWords has had and continues to have the lion’s share of business (almost 80% of companies focus on Google for PPC), there is now a buffet of other options available.

For instance, Bing Ads are starting to catch on, and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter offer paid advertising.

The bottom line is you’re not stuck with AdWords.

The downside of SEO

To be fair, it’s not all puppy dogs and rainbows all the time.

One of the top complaints marketers have with SEO is the fluctuation of search engine algorithms.

In fact, “40% of marketers say algorithm changes are the biggest challenges to SEO.”

Over the years, major updates, such as Panda and Penguin, have caused serious disruptions to the SERPs, and many marketers have felt the negative impact.

So it’s important to point out SEO isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it strategy.

It requires plenty of maintenance, and you need to stay updated on current trends.


Just the thought of an ugly penalty is enough to make many SEO marketers squirm.

Just recently, some sites saw their traffic decline by as much as 90% with Google’s “Fred” update.

Not to freak you out, but penalties can happen even if you have the best intentions and would never dream of engaging in any black-hat SEO tactics.


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