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25th September 2009 |  Written by

SEO v. PPC Again…. Experts Trade Punches In TweetFight

Yesterday I was watching my tweet stream when I saw someone who I really respect saying some things I was really shocked about, so being Twitter I pinged him a tweet and even more shocking replies came back! Don’t you love social media.

Some Background…
PPC v. SEO is a really long debate. A really long debate. At WMA we are focussed on Return On Investment, so my view is that while everyone wants no. 1 rankings, as long as PPC is producing a positive ROI why stop. If I could spend £1 and make £3 I’m going to do it every day. In fact, I want to spend £100 and make £300. Just feed the machine.

The Offending Tweets…

“design your website first for search engines”
“pay per click is NOT search engine optimization. once you get SEO working, you can turn your PPC off”
“PPC is good as test. but shld take limited $ & go for lowest cost / sale, which is even MORE content for SEO”

By the way, in honour of fairness, the tweeter is Mike Volpe from Hubspot, and some of these might be out of context.

I mean come on, build websites for SEO first? What about Conversion? PPC should be a limited test? Turn PPC off it is profitable. Mike is a total Guru online, how can he be saying this stuff?

The Enlightenment
Mike kindly pointed me to a post by Hubspot when he replied to my tweet, and to be honest it opened my eyes. I talk about ROI, but the post went even better than that.

Basically, the article said;

  • PCC aka Google Adwords is a real time auction where it is hard to build a competitive advantage (ed. Apart from a great quality score, mature account and good click through rates)
  • That we are all looking, or should be looking for a Sustainable Competitive Advantage, which translates into what gives you an advantage that still works after initial growth and that stops others from reducing your profit? (Which now I read this, PPC is very susceptible to with people spending more)
  • There are 3 things you can do. Create great technology which is hard to copy. Have uber effective methods of distributing products and reaching new markets which are hard to learn. Have an operational advantage which is hard to reproduce.

The post is saying that SEO is a competitive advantage, because if you are doing really well with pay per click and some upstart comes along with a big budget, a bidding war starts. One of the reasons why we love Google Adwords is that we can have a client on the front page of Google in 3 hours, but it also reduces the barriers to entry for a competitor. In this situation, your lead acquisition cost goes up as now the choice for your potential clients/leads is bigger. At this point it does not matter about the quality of product, it’s the marketing and lead generation front end which people are seeing.

For SEO, you have an aged domain (www address), you have built relationships with bloggers who publish your content, people tweet about you, you have build up a lot of incoming links to great content and your website traffic raises monthly. This is much harder to buy, and really hard to buy quickly!

So, the end paragraph of the article which we are in agreement with

“Don’t get me wrong.  I have nothing against PPC.  For many businesses, it’s a great way to get profitable traffic through the search engines.  I just think that over the longer-term, an investment in SEO will likely yield better results and more sustainable competitive advantage.”

The Final Word
Well, this turned out to be a voyage of discovery, and it has made me think a little differently but I still think our viewpoint is right and that Mike’s tweets were a little black and white! I still respect the man!

If you are starting from a standing start, PPC/Adwords is like rocket fuel, but in some markets, starting your Adwords account is like taking a step into the lion’s den. You can win but you might get a little bashed and bruised along the way. I would say this, but that’s why Digital Marketing Agencies like us work out well, because we already battle hardened!

Although many people think PPC is sexy, it’s no excuse not to do SEO. I know it’s hard to invest in something for up to 12 months before seeing a result especially when the alternative shows a profit in its 12th hour, but SEO works better especially in the long term. It’s harder to duplicate and if worked on continuously it will become a sustainable competitive advantage.

So for strategy purposed, start with PPC, run SEO in tandem, know that PPC is more susceptible to disruption, but when something is producing a positive ROI, don’t stop it!

Any comments? What do you think?

Your Comments

  1. Good points Guy. But whether an organisation uses PPC and/or SEO effectively is still only part of the equation. The biggest, most successful and most profitable web companies have spent most of their marketing budget in OFFLINE promotional activities, not PPC and/or SEO. Don’t get me wrong, both PPC and SEO clearly have a place, but the focus – as you rightly say – should be on ROI. People often compare the ROI of PPC vs SEO but then don’t make the comparison between these elements of marketing AND offline methods. In other words you might spend £100 online to get £300, but you might have been able to get £500 if the £100 had been spent offline instead.

    The problem with offline is that it is much slower to produce those results than, say, PPC alone.

    Essentially, it’s about the mix of marketing activities and too many people believe it’s either PPC or SEO or something else. In reality it’s about using a range of online and offline marketing methods that (via testing) produce the greatest ROI for each individual business and/or sector.

    And there’s one other problem – if a company puts all their money and expertise into SEO/PPC how will they promote their business and make money when search as we know it dies (which it will…!)?

  2. PPC and SEO target different kinds of searchers. It is hard to get the attention of an information seeker with a PPC ad, here SEO rules.

    On the other hand if a searcher is actively searching for a deal on a specific product, she might respond to an offer of “Free shipping, order before Sept. 31.” These kinds of offers are impossbible to consistently manage with SEO.

    Bottom line: If your SEM-consultant claims that SEO is better than PPC, or PPC better than SEO: Fire them!

  3. Pingback: SEO v. PPC Again…. Experts Trade Punches In TweetFight | SEO Blog … | Toronto SEO | SEM | PPC Tips & Internet Advertising

  4. Off course there is off-line, but to keep in the subject:
    There is the mention of the guy with too much money and over bids
    clicks and your costs went up. Heck a guy can open 13 sites and 13
    adword accounts and own the front page if he wants to pay for it.
    Relying on SEO isn’t any better that I see. A Google employee that
    wakes up on the wrong side of bed and de-indexes a couple of sites is
    as likely. The Google dance and algorithms that change how often?
    (This past February they changed it 7 times, that is every 4 days!)

    I have always thought, design for people 1st. (That sort of backs the
    PPC model) and machines 2nd, but when you start looking at it, SEO and
    PPC with high converting pages are not that different. what you do for
    one is 90% of what you would do for the other.
    And as long as putting a $1 in and you get $3 out, no one but an idiot
    would turn that off. Even if they are getting $3 free as well. (5 is
    bigger than 3, last I heard) And one approach doesn’t preclude the
    other. Having your site in the top 5 organic sites AND on the front
    page at the best converting position seems to be what you really want.
    Is there really a disagreement about that? 😉

  5. I fully agree with guy and his line of thinking.

    Some of the most successful projects I have been involved with have been those where SEO and PPC were working in perfect synch.

  6. I think the whole debate misses the point. Getting eyeballs (SEO or PPC) is just a small part of the new customer acquisition process. Companies go through a buying cycle — and having the right content and the right approach can move them through the buying cycle.

    Personally, I believe businesses ought to back up and look at the entire process for engaging and winning business.

    Looking at SEO and PPC is like planning a trip across the country by planning where we’ll eat breakfast. You need to eat, but…..

  7. They really are two different beasts that react differently. SEO is not just about ranking well but proactively marketing yourself online in order to become visible. If your PPC budget runs out and your ads come down where will your business be if no SEO has been done?

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