The SEO vs paid search debate is an ever-present component of digital marketing strategies. After all, both are crucial in generating website traffic and revenue.

But how are these two techniques different? And more importantly, which one is best suitable for your business?

Both search engine optimisation (SEO) and paid search have the same purpose. Digital marketers apply them primarily to make your website or pages more visible on the search result pages.

But they differ in terms of implementation. With SEO, the goal is to boost your ranking through content production, keyword search, competitor analysis and so on.

On the other hand, paid search involves similar SEO techniques but with the addition of a paying process to enhance online visibility.

Let’s compare SEO vs paid search more by identifying their pros and cons. We’ll be highlighting a few digital marketing goals as well to see which of these two delivers best.

Pros and Cons of SEO

SEO is the organic way of making your website more search engine friendly. You can do this by producing and auditing content, applying technical and off-page SEO, incorporating keywords or analysing your competitors.

When people type in search terms or queries online, search engines like Google will then display the most relevant results or pages. Your chance of appearing on the first page depends on your optimisation efforts.

And as people see your site often on the SERPs, your visitors increase as well as your authority and conversion rate.

Pros of SEO

Here are some advantages of adding SEO to your marketing strategy.

1. It is more inexpensive in the long run.

SEO requires a lot of resources, including time, money, tools and professional skills. But after creating content that improves your ranking and organic traffic, the same content will continue delivering results without additional expense.

Compared with paid searches, customers constantly clicking on your link will not cost you anything. SEO is also highly scalable or able to generate compounded results.

For instance, when you create an optimised URL structure, that same URL benefits both your existing and future pages.

And so, when we compare SEO vs paid search, the former is undoubtedly more cost-effective.

2. It enables customer touchpoints throughout the sales funnel.

Some of your customers are at the top of the funnel and still getting to know your brand. Others are at the bottom and ready to make a purchase.

In that case, you can incorporate SEO into your blogs, how-to guides or case studies to target various audience segments within the funnel.

SEO can then help enhance a customer’s journey and direct him accordingly to the sales funnel.

Infinite Ace_Sales Funnel

3. It works 24/7.

Search traffic with SEO is more stable and has no on-and-off switch. Once you start optimising your content, adding links and structuring your pages, organic traffic will continue to flow.

It’s like setting up a constant promotion for your brand without the extra cost. On the other hand, your website will stop appearing on the SERPs when your marketing budget for paid search runs out.

We can also compare SEO vs paid search this way: you own the traffic with SEO, while you only rent it with paid search.

4. It showcases brand authority and creativity.

A properly executed SEO benefits your brand in two ways. One is it helps build trust with your audience. The other is that it indicates subject expertise, which search engines consider a ranking factor.

And once you’ve established positive branding, you can easily tap into other creative ideas to level up your brand’s value. Publishing long-form blogs, designing infographics or posting a video series are examples.

Doing this should help you outperform the competition, too.

Cons of SEO

Keep these drawbacks in mind when applying SEO.

1. SEO results take time.

When we consider speed in the SEO vs paid search debate, the former takes more time to deliver results than the latter.

But take note. Paid search provides immediate results as long as you keep paying. On the other hand, SEO results that take time to materialise can continue long after your initial investment.

But how long does it take to see SEO results? It depends on several factors, but typically it will take six months.

2. Search engine algorithms change over time.

Search engines like Google change their algorithms to ensure their users get the best results. The core web vitals update in 2021 is one example. Algorithm updates also prevent black-hat SEO tactics from being predominant.

While these changes are good, they also require regular monitoring of your SEO strategy and performance. And failure to do so could affect your SEO ranking and allow your competitors to take over.

Search engine optimisation, after all, is a continuous process. You have to watch out for changing factors like market behaviour and technology to sustain SEO success.

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3. SEO needs professional skills and expertise.

Understanding SEO strategies and implementation can be a little overwhelming for business owners. These also require time and know-how to ensure you’re on the right track and not wasting resources.

Moreover, SEO is not a set-and-forget tactic. Working with an SEO agency to monitor your performance on the SERPs is crucial to success.

Pros and Cons of Paid Search

Paid search or pay-per-click (PPC) is the counterpart of organic SEO. It’s an advertising technique that aims to put your website on the SERP but for a fee.

As users type in specific keywords or queries, the search engine will display the ad you’ve created alongside your site for them to visit.

The payment you make to the advertisers (search engines) depends on the people who click your ad – hence the name, pay per click.

To emphasise the SEO vs paid search difference, try typing in a keyword on Google. Then, look at the top results with an “Ad” tag next to their URL.

These are examples of PPC ads. The ones that follow without the Ad tag are the organic SEO results.

Pros of Paid Search

Here are reasons why you should consider PPC in your marketing effort.

1. It puts your website on top of organic results.

Studies show that users are likely to click on paid and organic results that appear on the first page. Moreover, it is rare for users to venture to the other page results to find answers to their search.

These findings instantly put websites with paid search at an advantage. With your ad sitting right on top of the SERP, online users notice your site link first.

Also, in terms of the SEO vs paid search comparison, PPC is more stable against algorithm changes.

2. It generates fast results.

Organic SEO provides long-term benefits that take months to happen. Paid search is a better strategy if you want to see results within a few hours of launching your campaign.

Start-up businesses can significantly benefit from this by outranking competitors immediately. It also helps new websites perform better in the SERPs, particularly those with low domain authority.

Infinite Ace_PPC Strategy

3. It lets you target your most specific customers.

Organic SEO can make your website more visible to your target audience. But not all of them are buy-ready customers.

With PPC, you can bid on keywords to further screen your market. You get to access targeting options such as age, interest, marital status or past online activity.

You can even use PPC ads to retarget visitors who did not purchase anything after visiting your site. This ability makes PPC more controllable and cost-effective.

4. It allows you to run A/B split tests simultaneously.

A/B testing is a technique where you can two different ads simultaneously to see which one makes the highest return on investment (ROI).

After gathering test results, you have the free hand to further optimise the ad or retain the one that converts better.

It’s an excellent advantage to maximise results and resources used for your PPC campaign.

Cons of Paid Search

Like SEO, PPC also has its share of disadvantages.

1. It is more expensive.

PPC ads may promise faster and well-targeted outcomes but for a price. The cost is even steeper for more competitive business industries.

Remember, each time a customer or visitor clicks on your link, there is a corresponding payment to be made. And once your market budget runs out, so does your traffic.

2. It typically results in lower profits.

When we consider earnings in the SEO vs paid search comparison, SEO is likely to generate higher profit margins. That’s because it requires fewer resources to put up and provides long-term results without significant costs.

On the other hand, PPC can only give short-term wins. You need to pay extra to acquire visitors or customers, too. Naturally, you would have to make it up by increasing your product or service prices, thus reducing your overall profit.

3. It has a shrinking ROI potential.

According to a study, clicks for desktop and mobile organic listings are generally higher than PPC ads. One possible reason is the saturation of businesses using this strategy.

This influx also led to price inflation of Google Ads bidding and cost per click. The prevalence of ad blocking software also hinders conversions.

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SEO vs Paid Search: Which Strategy is Best?

Both SEO and PPC are excellent strategies for building up your brand, boosting your ranking and increasing traffic. But it’s best to know when to use either to maximise results and resources.

To help you out, we’ve identified typical business goals and the ideal marketing strategy to achieve them.

Goal: Exposure

If your business aims to widen the market reach and enhance brand awareness, choose the SEO strategy. Compared with PPC, this choice will let you rank in multiple search engines and for various keywords without the extra cost.

A single high-quality content following SEO best practices can expand your reach more than paid ads. Also, once you gain a good ranking spot, you get better online visibility or exposure than other campaigns.

Goal: Instant Results

If you need to promote your product and generate sales fast, choose the paid search strategy. Having your website on top of the SERP is the best tactic for targeting visitors with strong purchase intent.

PPC advertising is also the ideal choice if you need time-sensitive or seasonal offerings to reach potential customers in the quickest way possible.

Goal: Trust

If you want to attract customers through expertise and trustworthiness, then SEO is the way to go.

You see, PPC ads can appear forced and intrusive. And online users know that companies that use them are paying their way to the top spot. In turn, people often do not trust paid links enough to click them.

On the other hand, organic results represent expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (EAT). Users know that the owners of these links worked hard to be relevant and reputable.

Goal: Budget

If you have a limited marketing budget, SEO is a more practical route to take. While both SEO and PPC need the right service agencies to set up, SEO is a smaller investment with bigger returns.

With PPC, you would have to pay more to get similar or extra visitors than its SEO counterpart. PPC is also more expensive to implement for businesses in more competitive industries.

SEO is also a more sustainable strategy that will continue to deliver results even if you stop your SEO efforts for a while. Ranking earned through paid ads, however, will not stay when you stop paying.

Goal: Dominate Search Results

If you want to preserve your ranking in the SERPs, paid search should give you that control. That’s because PPC remains unaffected by search engine algorithms, market behaviour and similar variable elements.

This goal is not easy to achieve with SEO, though. Several reasons can cause your organic ranking and traffic to drop. Moreover, even if you apply SEO changes to your site, improvements will likely take days or months to happen.

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So, which strategy should you apply? Well, both are excellent and effective. But the choice between SEO vs paid search highly depends on your business status and goals.

The key to their successful implementation is knowing how to use them and understanding their pros and cons for maximum effects.

Ideally, start addressing your most crucial business goal first and use one of the two digital marketing strategies. Then work your way from there.

Later, when you see fit, apply both SEO and Google Ads to your marketing efforts to gain even better outcomes for your business.