SEO vs. PPC: A Side-By-Side Comparison

How to Decide If You Should Do SEO or PPC


Graphic by Rachel Ann Custodio

As a business owner, you weigh the pros and cons of every decision. You want to be sure you’re making the right choice that will propel your business and contribute to its growth. One such decision you may have to make is deciding on whether you should do SEO or PPC to attract new customers.

Both may be new marketing strategies to you, but you know you have to invest in either SEO or PPC (or maybe both) to stay competitive in your industry. Below, I’m going to compare the two search engine strategies as well as go over pros and cons of SEO and PPC.

What is SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a methodology to increase the likelihood of a website showing up in search engine results pages (SERPs). There are more than 200 factors that can determine whether a website shows up for a particular keyword.

What is PPC?

Pay-per-click (PPC) refers to the advertising model where business owners place bids on keywords for their ads to show up at the top of SERPs. Business owners then pay when their ads are clicked.

What is the Difference Between SEO and PPC?

Cost is the main difference between SEO and PPC. You can pay your way to position 1 through PPC. Users who click on PPC ads are considered paid traffic whereas users who click on SEO results are considered organic traffic.

Why is it Important to Rank High?

Search results contain both PPC ads and SEO links. Typically, the first 4 links are paid ads, the following 10 are organic links, and the last 3 more paid ads. The layout of SERPs can also change, depending on the user’s query. For example, there could be a mega menu of 16 Product Listing Ads (PLAs) instead of 4 PPC ads or a Top Stories section at the very top.

The SERP landscape is becoming quite competitive—cluttered almost. This is why it’s important to have either an SEO or PPC strategy in place. Hopefully, my list on the pros and cons of SEO and PPC will help you establish a plan!



SEO: In general, SEO is less expensive than PPC. Your SEO expenses will come from the cost of labor to implement strategies and use tools. Working with a freelance SEO consultant or agency or hiring an in-house SEO will be your main expense.

PPC: Paid search advertising requires you set aside an advertising budget. PPC is a pay-to-play model. If you don’t pay or pay enough, your ad won’t show up. With PPC, you set the amount of money you’re willing to spend on a click on your ad, which is called cost-per-click (CPC). You also set a daily budget and monthly budget.

While you have the freedom to choose your maximum CPC, you have to be strategic about it. Setting low bids for competitive keywords can result in your ad not showing up in the first 4 ad positions. Alternatively, it can result in your ad showing up for the first few hours until your daily budget is hit.

Some keywords can have high price tags too. WordStream compiled a list of the 20 most expensive keywords and found those in the insurance industry, such as auto insurance price quotes, had the highest CPC at $54.91.


SEO: SEO isn’t an overnight project. Ranking on the first page for your targeted keywords is going to take time. There’s a lot of work involved to lay a strong SEO foundation—from doing on-page SEO to building backlinks.

There are also many external factors that can drive or hinge your SEO efforts. Google algorithm changes can affect your ranking, new initiatives can derail your current projects, and competitors can outrank you.

PPC: You can create your Google AdWords account, set your bids, write ads, and begin advertising all within 72 hours. Despite the quick setup, there’s much to learn about PPC.

Similar to SEO, there are many strategies you can do to improve your campaign’s performance. If you forgo learning PPC and its many features, you could end up wasting your advertising budget.

Google Partner Badge

There’s a reason Google certifies individuals as Google AdWords certified and agencies as Google Partners.

There aren’t any Google algorithm updates you need to worry about in PPC, but you still need to watch out for other factors. Negative keywords can drain your advertising budget, competitors can outbid you for a higher spot, and low performing keywords can pull down your quality score.


SEO: Once you have a freelance SEO consultant or employee lay a solid SEO foundation for your website, much of the heavy lifting is done. The emphasis here is on solid SEO foundation.

So long as your bases are covered and your website is ranking on a consistent basis, management can be quite minimal. (Although it doesn’t hurt to stay up-to-date with SEO news and industry changes because it helps you stay ahead of the competition.)

PPC: PPC is easy to set up, but it requires daily management. Since you’re running ads every day, results are instant. The immediate nature of PPC is a double-edged sword. You can make changes to your campaigns on the fly, but you also have to keep a constant eye on your ads to ensure optimal performance. Failing to monitor your campaign’s performance can cost you big time.



SEO: Seeing results from SEO can take time. It can take a couple of months for new websites to rank on the first page. However, once Google consistently crawls a website, the amount of time for it to rank for new keywords is much shorter.

Furthermore, nothing is guaranteed in SEO. You can do everything right, but there’s no way in knowing how Google will treat your website.

PPC: Results are immediate. If you’re willing to spend the money and all you care about is ranking, you can show up in the top position for your keywords.


SEO: First page rankings based on a sound SEO foundation can yield results for a long time. If you were to end all SEO efforts, but maintain the previous work that was done on your website, you could still rank on the first page and receive free traffic for your keywords.

It also helps that users trust SEO links over PPC ads. A study found that an overwhelming 94% of users click on organic results. In the long run, SEO can provide you a high return on investment.

PPC: The minute you stop paying, Google drops your ads from the SERPs. You can retain your desired ad position if you’ve got the budget to do so, but again it can be a time-consuming commitment.

Deciding on SEO or PPC boils down to your goal. Is your goal to be a source of authority in your niche? Do SEO. Is your goal to raise brand awareness in a short period of time? Do PPC. After learning the differences between SEO and PPC, you should have a better idea of which search marketing strategy will best benefit your company. You know, you can always do both SEO and PPC. The two strategies can be quite profitable together if done correctly.