Organic SEO vs. PPC: Which is the Best Approach to Drive Website Traffic?

Organic SEO vs. PPC Which is the Best Approach to Drive Website Traffic

It’s almost universally accepted that omni-bound marketing is the most effective way to drive company growth. Digital marketing has taken the lead in importance, but traditional marketing still has a place in the marketing mix. Marketing managers face the challenge of identifying the right combination of tactics to maximize ROI.

On the digital side, one of the big debates is organic SEO vs. PPC (pay per click). This is because, as you should know by now, Google runs the internet. The statistics don’t lie:

  • Google processes 3.5 billion searches per day — Internet Live Stats
  • Google accounts for approximately 70% of all global desktop search traffic — NetMarketShare

For your company website to be discovered, it needs to be highly visible when a prospective customer performs a search. The question is, how?

Should you play the long game and save money by building up your SEO efforts? Or, should you go for instant results by opening up your wallet to implement PPC ads? If both, what is the right mix, and how do you manage it?

This article summarizes some of the key considerations when weighing organic SEO vs. PPC. You’ll learn the pros and cons and discover numerous statistics. Use this knowledge to decide the best course of action for your company.

Pros of Organic SEO

The search engine result pages (SERPs) are a battleground where companies vie to get found by searchers. When you engage in organic SEO, you are trying to rank as highly as possible to keep a steady flow of traffic coming to your website.

SEO consists of keyword research, on-page optimization, content creation and off-page optimization. Search engine optimization offers these major advantages:

1. SEO is Affordable & Profitable

Organic SEO is a more affordable choice than many other marketing channels. You don’t have ongoing ad payments or any production, printing or mailing costs. And unlike PPC, clicks to your content are free.

This makes SEO a highly profitable tactic, particularly in the long term. As you add more and more content to your website and increase your brand authority, your traffic (leads and eventually customers) should increase as well without a big financial investment.

In 2020, a Forrester study found that SEO improved customer lifetime value, with marketers and executives stating that SEO traffic was more engaged and loyal than traffic generated through paid channels.

2. Search Traffic is Consistent & Sustainable

Another benefit of organic SEO is that your content will be available on SERPs 24/7. You don’t need to continually pay to remain visible to prospects like you do with PPC or social ads. You just need to do occasional maintenance to ensure your pages are fully optimized.

Not all web traffic is equal — sometimes it consists of quality leads and customers, but other times it includes people who will never purchase from you. Traffic generated from organic SEO is valuable because research has found that those users account for more time on page and more pages per visit.

3. SEO is Compatible with the Sales Funnel

Your target audience will always be at different stages in the sales funnel. Some are at the top of the funnel and just discovering your company. Others are at the bottom of the funnel and almost ready to commit to a purchase.

SEO is a logical way to market to people at each stage of the sales funnel. You can provide unique content designed to make them progress to the next stage. There’s no additional expense to target people at the top of the funnel, middle of the funnel and bottom of the funnel like there would be for unique ads that would need to be created for each stage.

4. Organic Search Listings Build Authority

There’s a reason the listings at the top of page 1 of the SERP get the most traffic. It’s because people trust that Google lists the pages that are most relevant to the searcher’s intent at the top. That’s brand authority.

With a well-executed organic SEO strategy, your company can not only rank for more keywords but also rank highly for those keywords. This will build trust in your brand and result in increased traffic to your website.

Organic SEO

Cons of Organic SEO

Organic SEO is a great marketing tool for companies, but it does have its shortcomings. Here are some of the primary disadvantages.

1. It Takes Time to Get Results from SEO

If you’re looking for instant impact, you won’t get it from SEO. It’s a tactic that takes work and needs time to generate results. This is especially the case for a new website or a site that has not been previously optimized.

With organic SEO, you’re playing the long game. Many SEO experts agree that it takes about 6 months to start seeing results from your efforts.

2. Optimizing for SEO Requires Expertise

Search engine optimization requires a fair amount of expertise, both on the strategic side and the technical side. To do it right, you or one of your coworkers will need to take the time to learn how to formulate an effective strategy and then “go under the hood” of your website and get everything optimized.

The alternative is working with an SEO expert from a marketing agency to do some or all of the work for you. Either way, keep in mind that it’s an ongoing job. Optimization needs to occur regularly to keep your content ranking. Tasks include refreshing old articles and removing/replacing old or expired links.

3. Search Algorithms are Numerous & Frequently Change

To keep companies from cracking the ranking code and gaming the system in their favor, search engines like Google frequently update their algorithm. This means you can’t rest on your laurels and stop focusing on SEO once you achieve the rankings you desire.

The frequent changes mean you have to be diligent about monitoring your organic results, adapting when your ranking dips and keeping informed about any changes to the algorithm that are announced.

4. Search Analytics Aren’t as Detailed

Continual improvement for any marketing effort is dependent on data. Without it, you’re left to guess how to maximize ROI. Unfortunately, the analytics available from organic SEO efforts are vaguer than what you’d get from PPC or social media ads.

That’s not too surprising when you consider that search engines regularly update their ranking factors to prevent companies from discovering the secrets to dominating the search arena. It’s also not surprising because Google doesn’t profit from companies’ organic SEO work. Much more detailed insights are available when you utilize Google Ads, the company’s PPC platform.

Organic SEO Statistics

Wondering what the numbers say about organic SEO? Check out these statistics:

  • 53% of all website traffic comes from organic search — BrightEdge
  • The #1 result in Google’s organic search results gets an average click-through-rate (CTR) of 31.7% — Backlinkto
  • Google page one organic listings have a 77.2% CTR — Advanced Web Ranking
  • On the first page alone, the first five organic results account for 67.60% of all the clicks. — Zero Limit Web
  • Only 0.78% of Google searchers click on results from the second page — Backlinkto
  • 53% of revenue is generated from organic search — BrightEdge
  • Organic desktop listings produce 20X more clicks than PPC ads, while organic mobile listings produce 10X more clicks than PPC ads — Moz
  • Google’s search algorithm uses more than 200 factors to rank websites — Backlinkto
Marketing ROI Toolbox

Pros of PPC

The only way to guarantee prime real estate on SERPs is to pay for it. PPC ads such as Google Ads allow you to put your message right in front of searchers.

PPC ads offer these main advantages:

1. PPC Produces Fast Results

While organic SEO takes time to build momentum, PPC ads start generating results right away. Once your ads are switched on, they’ll immediately start driving traffic to your website.

If time is of the essence and you need to generate traffic now, PPC is the way to go. Examples of situations where you should consider PPC are a time-sensitive promotion or a new product launch for which you want to create buzz.

2. PPC Ads Appear at the Top

As an incentive to get companies to purchase advertising, search engines display PPC ads at the top of SERPs above the organic listings. This means the searcher doesn’t even need to scroll to find your messaging.

This is a big advantage since most people don’t dive deep into the search results to find what they’re looking for. Putting your company front and center makes it hard to overlook.

3. Ads Can Be Highly Targeted

Reaching a specific audience with PPC ads is easy thanks to their targeting capabilities. When setting up campaigns, you can specify geographical area, demographics and psychographics to put your company’s content in front of your ideal customers.

You also have the flexibility to create different ads for different audiences and run them simultaneously. This enables you to provide relevant messaging to a variety of purchase decision-makers and influencers in a hurry.

4. You Can Quickly & Easily A/B Test

The analytics provided for PPC campaigns are more detailed than what you get with organic SEO. This allows you to run A/B tests and review the data to fine-tune your ads to maximize conversions.

You can quickly and easily identify what keywords and ad copy are performing the best. Then, you can either turn off low-performing ads or update them with different keywords and copy to boost their performance.


Cons of PPC

PPC does have many pros, but it’s not a foolproof marketing solution. Here are some of its main disadvantages:

1. Ads are Expensive

PPC campaigns don’t exist without money. As the name implies, you pay any time someone clicks on your ad. If you stop paying, your ad goes away, along with all the traffic it was generating.

Additionally, there’s a bidding process for PPC ads where you specify how much you are willing to pay to have an ad for specified keywords. The more popular the keyword, the more you’ll need to pay to get exposure. Costs can add up in a hurry.

2. PPC is Less Profitable

Because you pay for every click (even if the site visitor doesn’t become a lead or customer) and because costs can be high for competitive keywords, your ROI is typically lower. And if the keywords you are targeting continue to get more competitive, the increased ad costs will eat into your profit margin even more.

This demonstrates one of the downsides of PPC. It’s good for short-term wins, but it may not be the most profitable investment in the long run.

3. Ads Get Stale Over Time

As with any form of advertising, PPC ads may have reduced impact over time. When they’re brand new and being seen the first time, that’s when you can plan on the best results. But if targets see your ads multiple times, they will probably get less and less interesting to them each time.

You also need to consider that competitors targeting the same keywords as you will likely have ad copy that is similar to yours. That makes your ad less unique, and thus easier to pass over.

4. Some People are Ad-Averse

Have you ever heard of “banner blindness?” It refers to the action of ignoring advertisements. For years, people have been bombarded by all kinds of advertisements while searching the web. Research has found that some people have reached the point where they skip over PPC ads at the top of SERPs and go straight to the organic results.

This makes it tricky to decide how much to prioritize PPC in your marketing mix. On the one hand, it can be beneficial to have your ad appear front and center. However, if large portions of your target audience intentionally skip over your ad, your marketing budget may be better spent elsewhere.

PPC Statistics

Wondering what the numbers say about PPC? Check out these statistics:

  • 15% of all website traffic comes from paid search — BrightEdge
  • The average CTR for PPC ads across all industries is 3.17% — WordStream
  • 23% of revenue is generated from paid search — BrightEdge
  • PPC visitors are 50% more likely to purchase something than organic visitors — Unbounce
  • 80% of people ignore PPC Ads — HubSpot
Organic SEO vs. PPC graph

Ready to Announce Your Presence on SERPs?

Now that you’ve read this article and expanded your knowledge of organic SEO vs. PPC, do you know which makes the most sense for your company? Don’t feel like you have to choose one over the other.

In the experience of our SEO/SEM experts, utilizing both can be a winning approach. This is especially true if you’re in the early stages of an organic SEO effort. You can implement PPC to instantly drive traffic to your website while you get your SEO to a sustainable level. Then, SEO can take the baton and contribute to your long-term digital marketing success, enabling you to scale down your PPC budget if you so choose.

The situation is unique for every company depending on their circumstances and goals. If you need help with SEO, PPC or both, let us know. We are a full-service marketing agency with a crew of experts ready to help you dominate the competition.

Among our service offerings are keyword research and competitor analysis. A key deliverable that sets us apart from other agencies is we guarantee that a keyword pool of 10 keywords all ranked on the first page, with 2-3 of those keywords ranked in positions 1-5.

Have additional questions about organic SEO or PPC or want to learn even more? Call us at 815.431.1000 or submit this form to contact us. You can also visit the SEO/SEM section of our blog.


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