SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation to give it its full name, is an essential marketing tool that is designed to get your web page noticed by search engines and ensure that it appears at a high position in the search results pages when your potential audience searches using appropriate search terms. These research results are referred to as ‘organic’ search. SEO uses a variety of techniques ranging from optimising your website to make it search engine friendly through to the use of quality on-site and off-site content that people will share and link to.
PPC, short for pay per Click, is a kind of paid for advertising. You bid to appear in the advertisements that appear alongside the organic search results in the search results pages. The bidding process is automatic; you assign a maximum bid for specific key words and phrases and an algorithm uses this along with other factors to decide on when and where your ad will appear. You only pay when somebody clicks on your ad. Generally a well balanced marketing campaign will use a combination of Search Engine Optimisation and Pay Per Click advertising, like Google Adwords.
Appearing high in the search engine rankings
Below is a screenshot of the Google SERPs heatmap which tells you where people’s attention is drawn to and what they notice most on a webpage.
The importance of appearing high in the search pages cannot be overstated. Most people only take note of the first couple of pages of search engine results, so you need to ensure that your brand appears there. Of course just appearing there is no good unless people click on the result to visit your website. Part of SEO is to encourage people to do so and an important aspect of PPC ad design is to encourage people to click on the ad, for instance by including a call for action. The ratio between the number of appearances (impressions) in the search results and resulting clicks is called the click through rate (CTR).
People trust organic search results more than ads
Of course people are less likely to click on an ad than they are to click on an organic search result; people trust adds less. In fact research shows that people are 8.5 times more likely to click on an organic search result than they are on a paid for ad. The CTR of a PPC ad might typically be 0.3% or less.
One of the main advantages of PPC over SEO is its speed. With a well designed PPC campaign your ads can be appearing at the top of the first search results page within a day. SEO takes considerably longer before its impact is felt; maybe weeks or even months.
Costs and ROI
The downside of PPC is that it can become very expensive. For your ad to appear you need to bid competitively against your competition and in certain markets you might end up paying several pounds for each click. It is important to do the sums to ensure that your PPC campaign is generating a satisfactory return on investment. Whether it does is dependent on a combination of the campaign and the quality of your landing pages.
Although with SEO there is a greater lag between investment and results, once your brand or website starts to become visible in the search results pages people will click on it naturally and you won’t be hit by a financial penalty each time they do so. However, SEO isn’t a case of doing it once and hoping that you retain your ranking; SEO should be an ongoing process if you want to keep up with the competition and with the constant changes that search engines make to ways in which they rank web pages. Undertaking an excellent SEO campaign also has its costs, but at least you don’t pay for clicks.
A balanced SEO & PPC campaign
A well planned and managed web marketing project should make use of both PPC and SEO, using them for what they are best at. SEO should be ongoing throughout the campaign with the aim of generating longer term benefits, while PPC is likely to be most effective during the early stages bridging the gap until the gains made by SEO really kick in.
In the longer term you might need a careful balance between SEO and PPC. A large advantage of PPC is that it is measurable in the short term, so you can rapidly adjust your PPC spend in order to maximise returns.