When is the last time you scrolled past page one of Google search results?
Even though Google has the ability to show millions of results in an instant for a single query, most searchers tend to stay on page one—and they normally gravitate toward the top three search results.
This cutthroat digital competition means that crafting a successful search engine marketing (SEM) strategy is absolutely essential for being found in the searches that matter to your brand, , content, and products.
As a B2B tech marketing agency, one of the questions we get asked most frequently by clients is: where do we invest our time and budget: search engine optimization (SEO) or pay-per-click ads (PPC)?
And of course our answer is “a strategic and intentional combination of the two.”
Don’t interpret that answer as vague. A bicycle has two wheels. A see-saw has two sides. With the frequency of Google's algorithm changes, you need both to stay on the cutting edge. Let’s take a dive into the details.
Brutally Honest Pros & Cons of PPC and SEO
Search Engine Optimization: Pros
Because search engine optimization is a strategic initiative for boosting the organic ranking of your content and website pages, when executed in-house, it can cost you zero marketing dollars. A few other pros of SEO include:
- As featured snippets become a prevalent part of Google’s search strategy, SEO gives you the opportunity to take the top spot on the search engine page results (SERP), which PPC can’t do when ads aren't shown.
- SEO allows smaller, more agile companies to compete on the same ground as larger firms. Smaller companies can't outbid larger ones in the PPC auctions.
- PPC only takes up 30% of the SERP, while 70% of the SERP is SEO-based. You lose out on the majority of the SERP if you ignore SEO.
Pay-Per-Click Ads: Pros
First of all, PPC gives you control over the keywords being used, as well as the pages through which they enter your site. Being able to control the user experience gives you a greater opportunity to get a conversion. You might lose them on the path they take on their own. With control comes cost, of course. So, unlike SEO, PPC ad costs can rack up quickly. Fortunately, you can set ad spending caps and use a pay-as-you-go philosophy. This flexibility means you can invest more during times of greater need for your product or peak purchasing seasons. Potentially, the most compelling reason to invest in PPC is the ability to land one of those coveted top three spots on page one.
Secondly, PPC allows for exceptional targeting; SEO targeting will always be a bit of a black box, but with PPC you can define exactly who, where, and what queries you are showing up for. If executed correctly, it results in very little wasted effort, whereas with SEO, you can spend a lot of time targeting with little confidence in the results.
Thirdly, and for most SEO experts who also manage PPC campaigns, PPC allows for tracking the buyer's journey through the process. This gives you a complete view of the keyword that generated the website session and, ultimately, the conversion.
Search Engine Optimization: Cons
SEO is just more opaque by nature in today’s digital environment. Google used to be very transparent about how its algorithm worked but they keep their doors mostly shut on those details today. That only exacerbates these two major cons to SEO:
1. Time Investment
SEO is a ton of work because of its ever-changing nature. While there are hundreds of articles outlining best practices for improving your organic reach, the truth is, Google could change everything tomorrow. There is no playbook. We can't say if you follow steps A, B and C that you will reap certain results. Also, SEO requires constant attention and isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it strategy.
2. Lack of Predictability
In addition to Google’s ever-changing nature, you also have less control over the pages through which your targets enter your site. They may end up in what we in Nashville call the “mud room,” when you want them entering through the “front door.”
In the same way there is competition for a place on page one for organic reach, there is also competition for the preferred placement of paid ads. Competitive keywords can drive up the cost-per-click (CPC), making it much easier to blow through your ad budget quickly. With the reduced ad inventory on search, you ad and associated campaign has to be optimized to ensure it lands in the top section of the results to maximize you ROI, which may mean a lot of costly trial and error.
Strategic Considerations: SEO
SEO is a strategy that integrates your efforts on your website, blog, backlinks, referrals, and social media. It isn’t complete when one of those pieces is missing. You need backlinks and referrals to earn your website authority so that Google recognizes it as a trusted source. You need blogs and content to increase your website’s digital footprint via page numbers and to attempt to land a precious spot on page one. You also need a responsive website that loads quickly when visitors click to come to your site. It all matters.
As you plan to tackle your SEO strategy, here’s what you should know:
- Stuffing your website and blogs with keywords doesn’t work anymore.
- Title tags matter for SEO.
- It’s not about having 5,000 blog posts that are 500 words long. It’s about having 50 posts that are 5,000 words long.
- Backlinks matter for building authority.
- Internal links make your site easier to crawl.
- It takes Google a few days to reflect any updates you make from your site.
- Google could change this tomorrow if it felt like it.
Strategic Considerations: PPC
There are two kinds of PPC ads: search ads and display ads. While most B2B tech companies invest in both, it is important to understand the difference.
Pay-Per-Click Search Ads
These ads display in search results as text. They appear in-line with other search results, making it slightly difficult to tell the difference between paid and organic—which is good for you!
Pay-Per-Click Display/Remarketing Ads
It is no coincidence. PPC image ads are shown to people visiting websites that rent space to ad distributors like Google Ads. Images of your website can appear on other pages across the Internet if a user visited your website without taking action, like filling out a form.
The strong visual elements of a display ad can help showcase your products and differentiators unlike any other paid search ad. They provide an opportunity to stay top of mind and earn website revisits.
Social Media Ads
Depending on who your audience is and the product you offer, social media is a viable option for advertising as well. Although social media ads are technically separated from SEO and PPC, they are worth mentioning because social media, in a sense, is a search engine.
Social media ads offer powerful targeting and strong visual elements that can be more successful than search ads.
Making a Good First Impression: Landing Pages
Unlike with SEO, PPC and social media ads give you the opportunity to strategically choose the pages and content that website visitors see first. From crafting the right calls-to-action, to selling value and earning trust, developing a landing page that earns the conversion you spent your precious ad dollars on is really step one.Back to the question...SEO or PPC?
We are steadfast in our answer: a strategic combination of both.
If you’re really on the fence, here are a few key questions to ask as you plan your strategy:
Who is our audience?
Knowing who your audience is and where they spend their time can help you determine where you invest ad dollars, what type of content you write and keywords you wish to rank for, and even if you experiment with using Bing over Google.
From our experience in B2B tech, PPC search ads, Twitter ads, and LinkedIn ads offer the biggest ROI.
What is our goal?
Are you trying to increase brand awareness? Maybe you need help nurturing leads that are already in your funnel? Setting a steadfast goal (or a couple) can also determine where you invest time and dollars.
What can we afford?
Cost is a factor to consider because you have to pay through a bidding process. You aren't the only one trying to claim a term you want to show up for. Determining a budget for an ad spend, as well as ad management (whether in-house or outsourced), is essential. In both cases, we recommend appointing someone who is dedicated to SEO and PPC to ensure those strategies are aligned to drive new and returning website traffic.
Is there an immediate need?
High sales goals, a new product launch, and/or a competitive marketplace are all reasons to invest in PPC. Unlike SEO, which requires a much longer time investment to see ROI, PPC offers immediate gratification for your efforts and expenditure.
Is Your Company Already Landing on Page One Organically?
You need to see how well is performing organically first before anything else. So if you answered NO to questions 1-4, you should prioritize SEO before doing any paid efforts.
Making a Choice
The majority of online experiences begin in a search engine, so making an impact here is important. As a marketing agency that works closely with many B2B tech companies, we believe that a continuous effort on the SEO front plus a healthy budget on the PPC front will help you meet your goals.
Remember: 57% of of the B2B purchase decision is complete before a customer even calls a supplier. If you need help ensuring that your customers are finding you, our SEO experts will help you master organic optimization, search strategies, paid ads, keyword research, and more. Our pragmatic approach demonstrates ROI from the word go. Click here to learn more.