PPC vs. Organic SEO

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In the days of a financial crisis, many ebusiness owners may have fewer fund to invest in a full-bore PPC campaign.  At the same time, writing and promoting takes a lot of time, and time is money.  So which should you choose if you’re working on a tighter budget?  Is it better to have a limited PPC campaign mixed with an organic search engine marketing campaign?  Should you put all your eggs in the PPC basked?  Should you advertise in other ways, such as banner ads (as opposed to PPC placement in search engines)?  In short, how should you use your money?

This is especially problematic with a web start-up.  You can’t gain traction in search engines without buying your way in because it takes months to build up a good PR.  Even if you write an encyclopedia of keyword-targeted content, Google updates PR infrequently.  It’s like Google works by the TV sweeps principle: A few times a year, Google updates its algorithm and in the time between you are kind of running in place, working diligently but with little improvement to show for it.

For this reason PPC makes logical sense: you can instead buy your way into search results to make up for the time when organic placement is not showing dividends.  However, there are two major problems with this:

  1. Quality keywords are hugely expensive and out of the range of most small business owners
  2. PPC campaigns are not as successful as they have been in the past.

Those two issues are precisely why SEO has become such an important part of web development.  PPC campaigns, though useful, can also be a big money drain.  As time goes on, web surfers are less prone to clicking PPC links on the right side of Google’s results or in the top sponsored links section.  Why?  Because in the past, web surfers didn’t understand the difference between sponsored and non-sponsored links.  Now web surfers are much more savvy.  The result is that a growing number of web surfers will click on non-sponsored links on the first page of results because they thinking is: if that site made it into the top ten without paying for it, they must really be the best sites.

The Limits of PPC

One of the main problems with PPC is the limits of space.  In any Google search result, 60% of the links are for organically ranking links, not PPC.  There is evidence that 70% of hits come from SEO placement, not PPC placement.  Add to this the fact that SEO converts at a 25% rate higher than PPC.  This is a tremendous slide downward, as the thinking in the past was that if someone clicked on a sponsored link, they were more likely in the buying mood.

While PPC still converts, it gains less traffic overall than SEO hits.  For instance, the internal pages of a website will link throughout a search engine, while PPC only links to the homepage.  One could make the argument that PPC has a better conversion rate overall: more conversions for less traffic, but this does not seem to be bearing out as it did in the past.  So just as it’s harder to rank via organic SEO than it was, say, three years ago, it’s also harder to convert via PPC.

So let’s get back to the original question: what should you do with your money?  I don’t want to make it seem like PPC is outdated or useless: it’s still the second best way to rank in search engines, behind SEO.  But a quality PPC campaign requires significant management, especially if you are managing a number of different keyword campaigns for a series of sites (which is also highly expensive) and you could be devoting that time and resources towards other free methods, such as promoting content through social networks.

Don’t let this make it seem like SEO is easy shakes: the likelihood of a new site making it into the top ten results for a crowded niche is pretty small.  However, this is true for the most obvious keywords in a niche.  It is still possible to rank very high for keyphrases, such as “How to (do something in your niche).”  There are countless article title and title tag formulations that can rank high, which is why providing new organic content is so useful.  PPC is better for homepage traffic, whereas SEO is better for everywhere else, and given the fact that you’re going to have hundreds upon hundreds of internal pages, and only one homepage, this means your time will be better spent adding new internal pages with a wide mix of possible keyphrases.

You could think about creating a PPC campaign that links to internal pages, but this also not proven to be very effective for conversions.  It’s awkward for a user to come to an internal article, rather than a page that lists products that can be quickly converted.  In this day and age, many webmasters have to go this route because high-ranking keywords are obscenely expensive, but because you’re just as likely to rank high organically for strange keyword formulations, you can tackle these with straight SEO.

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