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The FutureProof Blog

SEO vs. PPC – Organic Search or Paid Ads?

A FutureProof Digital we are very much into organic traffic, high quality content, topical authority and what’s now called, Holistic SEO. But of course, there are other ways to promote your website. Some of our clients use Google Ads. We don’t run the ads for them, but they often ask us which is best, and where they should be spending their time, effort and money. It’s not a simple case of SEO vs. PPC, there is a time and a place for both.

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Ok, so SEO vs. PPC is a bit of a click-bait title. This should be the title, but it’s too long… “In this post we’ll take a look at what SEO and PPC are, the pros and cons of each and most importantly, when and how different types of business should use them.” We are very much focused on SEO here at FutureProof Digital, it’s what we do, but there is a time and a place for pay-per-click advertising, and it should be part of your marketing plan in 2024 and the years to come.

SEO vs. PPC

Why is SEO Important?

SEO is a catch-all term for the strategies and tactics used to increase a website’s rankings in the organic (free) search results, and in turn website traffic and sales. If you want to learn more about SEO, check out this post about our SEO Audit process, below are extracts and key takeaways from that post describing some key SEO ideas and concepts.

Keyword Research

Every content marketing plan starts with a list of seed keywords. Many businesses start this process with brainstorming and customer analysis, but for many small businesses we have a readymade list of seed keywords; the products and services that the business provides.

Content Marketing

Writing and publishing content that isn’t directly focused on driving sales but instead targets customers with information they need related to your products and services. We use two key concepts in our strategy, topical authority and keyword clustering.

Topical Authority

Topical authority, in the context of SEO, relates to the perceived expertise and credibility of a website within a specific subject area. It is now thought of as the key component of a website’s ranking. Each topic is different, but in theory, ranking one or two posts for keywords within a particular topic is very difficult, while post number 50 will shoot to the top of the rankings shortly after publication.

Keyword Clustering

Keyword clustering describes a strategic approach to content organisation that seeks to enhance the semantic relevance and coherence of each post. Through clustering, content is aligned with user intent and so single posts rank for more terms. In the past, content creators would write individual posts to rank for terms that mean broadly the same time. Keyword clustering groups these terms together and provides readers with everything they’re looking for, not just a small piece.

On-Page SEO

The term “on-page SEO” describes various techniques designed to make a website more relevant and more discoverable, for both search engines and visitors. Here’s a few of the basic elements that everyone can implement.

Keyword Optimization

Research and incorporate relevant keywords into the various elements of your pages; titles, headings, meta descriptions, content, image alt text etc. However, maintain the flow of your writing and never just “stuff” keywords in, this harms user experience and Google hates it too.

High-Quality Content

“High Quality Content” is an objective term, but a great place to start is the results page for the keyword you’re targeting, that’s what Google likes, and you need to do better. Your content needs to be well-written, informative, and most importantly, it needs to satisfy user intent; what is the reader trying to achieve, or what answer do they need to the questions they have.

Title Tags and Meta Descriptions

Use your target keywords in title tags and meta descriptions, this tells Google what the page is about and can also improve click-through rates (CTRs). These elements provide a brief preview of the content to users and should be compelling, but again, don’t stuff keywords in there, make searchers want to click your result, they have very little SEO impact anyway.

Heading Tags (H1, H2, etc.)

Headings are really important, for readers and for SEO. A logical and optimised heading structure helps to organise your content and improves the reading experience. Google reads them too, and uses them to understand your content, even ranking the terms you use, in some cases Remember to use your target search terms, and also related topics if you can.

Internal Linking

Internal linking plays a huge role in SEO, it’s how Google travels around your site, and identifies topics. A well designed internal linking structure helps Google discover and index your content more effectively. It also helps distribute link equity (domain authority) throughout your website, improving the rankings and traffic of other pages on yoour site.

Local SEO

Small businesses are very often local businesses, and they need a different type of SEO from larger, national businesses. Local SEO focuses on the search results page customers see when they search for goods and services in their local area. This includes local search terms, directory listing management and Google Business Profile optimisation.

Off-Page SEO & Link Building

Link Building can be seen like good old fashioned PR but in a digital context. In essence, earning and acquiring links from other websites back to yours. These links act as votes, signalling to Google that your content is valuable. Think of it as a popularity contest; the more high-quality websites linking to you, the higher your site’s credibility. Learn more about link building…

Technical SEO

Technical SEO is hugely important for all business websites. It covers crawlability and indexation, as well as mobile usability and site speed. These are often the first jobs included in our SEO recommendations, and the first to be done. Technical issue fixes can have a dramatic effect on rankings… fast !!

How to Perform an SEO Audit - The Complete Small Business SEO Guide

What’s so Great About SEO?

We are SEO people here at FutureProof Digital, more specifically, small business strategies based around local SEO and content marketing. We believe that it’s the best way for SMEs to grow their business, online and offline. Here’s why…

A Cost-Effective Source of Traffic

“SEO is not just for large corporations, every business can access the knowledge and skills they need to dominate the search results.” This is our motto, and we believe in it. When done right, SEO can be the most effective, and cost effective, form of advertising there is. With PPC, or any type of ad, you have to keep paying, over and over again, SEO keeps paying you. A piece of content you write once can keep driving results for years, for free !!

Target Your Customer’s Needs

People search for things in different ways, and many are not ready to buy yet, they’re looking for information first. SEO can capture potential customers at every stage of their journey, and once you capture them, with the content they need, you have a huge advantage over businesses just “selling” to them, because they trust you.

SEO is a Long Term Brand Strategy

Turn off your adverts, on Google, or social media, or even TV, they’re gone and so are the customers. SEO, and content marketing specifically builds a strong brand, sustainably over time, and that’s what all businesses should be trying to do. You want loyal customers, who tell their friends how great you are, and return again and again; think Apple, it’s a brand, not a business. Business owners need to think of their website as an asset, like a vehicle or a property, they have a valuation of their own, based on traffic and ranking potential. Traffic comes from rankings, and rankings come from great content.

What’s not so Great About SEO?

SEO is not perfect, nothing is. It might not be right for your business, you might prefer the certainty that PPC advertising offers. Timescales, the learning curve and the high levels of competition do present challenges, especially for small businesses in crowded markets.

SEO can Take a Long Time

There is no route to overnight success through SEO, it takes time, and the more competitive the landscape the longer it will take. But there are strategies, local SEO for example, that will generate traffic and sales relatively quickly, while you build up authority with Google. Long tail keywords also offer excellent opportunities for small businesses, here’s a simple example;

You run a cake shop, and you launch a recipe blog to drive traffic to your website. Ranking for the term “cake recipe” will take a very long time and may be unachievable for the average business. Ranking for “gluten-free chocolate fudge cake recipe” will be much easier and much faster. It will get way less traffic, but you can make up for that by writing more long-tail posts.

SEO Tactics Constantly Change

There’s no getting away from it, SEO changes all the time. The strategies that worked perfectly 5 years ago no longer work at all, and what works today will no doubt be ineffective in 5 years time. To run effective SEO campaigns you will have to keep yourself up to date with what Google is looking for in terms of content and best practices.

Search Competition can be High

PPC appeals to many businesses because it gives them the ability to compete with much larger businesses by outbidding them for clicks, but we don’t see this as a sustainable long-term strategy. Yes, competition can be high, but the methods outlined in this post, and other SEO posts on this website, can work to level the playing field, even more so than PPC.

How long does SEO take to show results?

What Is PPC?

The acronym PPC stands for pay-per-click, and is a catch-all term for online advertising where a cost is assigned to each click, as opposed to display advertising which is generally charged at a rate per 1000 views. PPC can also describe social media advertising, Facebook for example, but what we are talking about here are Google Ads, on search results pages.

Setting up Google Ads

Google Ads need to be set up right, if you’re to have any chance of success. A well-crafted Google Ads campaign can offer substantial returns, even for small businesses provided it is executed correctly. In this section we are talking about running PPC ads in a small business context, for service based businesses. Selling products is very specialised and I’d recommend doing a lot of research before taking that on yourself.

Keyword Targeting & Bidding

Selecting the right keywords is, as they say, “the whole ball game,” you have to get that right or your campaign is sure to fail. First you need to select the right keywords for your business, then group them together, and finally implement a bidding strategy for these keywords, sometimes at a granular level.

Keyword Research – You need to start with keyword research, you need to match up the words and phrases relevant to your business with the words and phrases used by your target audience. There’s tools to help you, Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush, or Ahrefs. What you’re looking for are high traffic volume keywords with moderate competition. Start by entering your services, and the tools will guide you through the rest of the process.

Keyword Grouping – Next, organise your list of keywords into groups based on themes or categories. Later on, because of this grouping, you’ll be able to better target your ads as well as write better ad copy and landing page text, this will improve your ad relevance and quality score in the long run.

Bidding Strategy – Last, choose the most suitable bidding strategy for your business and your budget. Options include manual CPC, automated bidding strategies like target CPA (Cost-Per-Acquisition) or ROAS (Return on Ad Spend), you should research these extensively first. Whichever you choose, you need to constantly monitor your bids to make sure you’re not over paying or under bidding.

Audience & Location Targeting

Next up, audience and location targeting. This enables you to reach the right people with your ads, in the right location. If you’re more familiar with social media advertising then this will be where you’re most at home. Let’s look at segmentation, targeting and retargeting in more detail.

Audience Segmentation – Google Ads does have audience targeting options; they are way more limited than social media, but remember, the primary objective here isn’t to target the person, it’s to target what they search. You can filter by certain demographics, interests and behaviours then tailor your ad messaging and offers to appeal to that audience segment.

Location Targeting – Geotargeting allows you to specify specific locations where your ads will be displayed, the location of the person performing the search. This is hugely important. If you run a service business then you should only target locations where you can provide that service. If you sell products then you should limit your ads to locations you can deliver to. 

Advanced Targeting Options – Using a combination of Google Ads and Google Analytics you can target people who have visited your website, and more than that, you can target them based on what they did, for example; if they added a product to the cart and then left, or they viewed a specific service page. These strategies can be difficult to master so be careful with them, but they can also be very powerful.

Ad Creation & Copywriting

Persuasive ad copy is the final piece of the puzzle, it’s how you get customers to click your ad and in turn drive sales. There can be other factors, depending on the type of ads you run, but for the most part a PPC ad has two components, the headline and the description text.

Ad Headlines – Attention grabbing, that’s what your headlines need to be; state the value proposition or USPs and get people to click your ad and not the others. You need to have the keywords people have used in the search query and you need to emphasise the benefits of your product or service.

Persuasive Ad Copy – All the same rules apply to the ad copy, the same as the headline; attention grabbing, including keywords, focus on benefits. Google also gives you a lot of help, they give you a score, and they also give you the option to enter multiple headlines and descriptions, using the best one on your live ad.

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Why Invest in PPC

Even in a small business context, PPC advertising has a role to play. For example, as we’ve learned already, SEO can take some time to show results, so what do you do in the meantime?… Google Ads are a great option. And there is some overlap; if you want to increase your Quality Score and get your cost-per-click down, then many of the jobs are SEO jobs. Let’s look closer.

PPC Drives Instant Results

Well maybe not quite instant, but certainly fast, faster than SEO. You set up the ads, you set up and optimise the landing page, you pay for the click and the customers will come, that’s it. That’s why it’s so appealing to some business owners, and they never do any SEO, because what they start out doing works, so they keep doing it.

Complete Control & Flexibility

With PPC business owners have complete control over what type of customer they bring in, how many of them there are, and where they come from. If set up correctly, they also have a lot of control over their marketing budget, and it can be increased at a predictable level of growth and return.

Measurement & Testing

PPC platforms offer extensive tools to business owners in terms of analytics and testing. In an SEO context, business owners have to do a lot of this themselves. Google Ads for example, runs tests automatically, to see which ads are performing best and showing them to more people. It’s also clear on a day to day, and month to month basis, how well each campaign is performing.

Add a User to Google Analytics 4 - 5 Easy Steps

The Drawbacks of PCC

Like SEO, PPC is not perfect, it does have drawbacks, that will cause issues for some businesses. Below we’ll look specifically at the learning curve and investment issues that PPC have.

Difficult to Implement

We don’t manage Google Ads for clients here at FutureProof Digital, even though we are pretty good at it. The reason is that we believe it’s important to be an expert in something before you charge customers for doing it for them. PPC is difficult, regardless of what YouTube gurus might tell you, and if you get it wrong you can lose a lot of money, and a lot faster than you might think.

Constant Reinvestment

If you optimise a web page for a high value search term, and you get it to the top of search results, this page can keep earning money for your business indefinitely. Of course, SEO needs management, but once you have the page and it’s ranking, your future marketing cost is pretty low. PPC on the other hand requires that you keep paying, over and over again, and this cost is only going to increase. The moment you turn off the ads, the money will stop coming in.

SEO vs. PPC. Which is better?

Both. Sorry but it’s true. We tell most small businesses this; Start with SEO, do the groundwork, then use PPC to bring in customers while the SEO takes time to work. Over time reduce the amount of ad spend in PPC and move it into SEO, content marketing, even email… channels YOU own.

When to use SEO

If you’re operating on a tight budget with a focus on long-term sustainable growth, then SEO is for you. In reality, SEO is no longer optional, you simply have to do it, and the sooner you start, the better. You can start the SEO process yourself, there are any number of online courses and YouTube channels to help you learn. The Moz Beginners Guide to SEO is a great place to start, also the Moz YouTube channel, and if you want to get a certificate check out The SEMrush Academy.

When to use PPC

If you need instant traffic and sales, from a specific target audience, and accurate data analytics then PPC might be for, especially when you’re just starting out. If you have the budget to invest, and you don’t have the time to learn SEO yourself take a look at Google Ads. But, as we’ve learned it can be difficult to learn, in which case social media advertising, on Facebook or Instagram, might be better for you.

A Holistic Search Marketing Strategy

So, what’s the story, is it SEO vs. PPC… no. It’s choosing which one is right for your business, and at what stage of their development. If you start SEO today will you increase your sales tomorrow? NO, but will you grow a long-term sustainable marketing strategy that will scale with your business? YES.

If you start running Google Ads today will you increase your sales tomorrow? Probably YES. But in the long-run, is it sustainable to focus on this alone and do no SEO? Absolutely NOT.

What every business needs is a holistic search marketing strategy. Combining organic search and paid search, using the best of both to maximise your return on investment, that’s what will grow your business in the long run.

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About Adam Bermingham
This blog is dedicated to helping you stay ahead of the curve, with insights into the latest trends, tools, and best practices. Whether you’re a business owner, marketer, or web designer, we have something for everyone. We bring you expert advice, tutorials, and case studies to help you optimise your online presence.

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