Digital Marketing: The difference between PPC and SEO

Digital Marketing The Difference Between PPC and SEO 24f70b2400106f0946faa2d8ed6c1bc4

Jordan Stachini

8 minutes


If the last two years has taught marketers anything, it is the importance of a solid digital strategy. As the world continues to become more digitally focused, the amount of noise in the digital space is increasing – from ads within social platforms, to the use of AI within outdoor digital billboards – digital is only going to keep expanding, and businesses that want to stay ahead, need to keep up.

So, with that in mind, how can businesses ensure they are putting their best digital foot forward? And what are the basic things that business owners and marketers need to understand when it comes to digital marketing? At co&co, one of the most common things we hear from clients is that they want to, ‘do more SEO’ or that they, ‘want to be the first listing on Google’.

The first thing to say is, there is nothing wrong with either of these statements – and you’re not a muppet if you have ever made either of them – but where those statements come from, and where a lot of companies fall short is understanding the difference between SEO and Google advertising (also known as PPC), and how they work within a broader marketing strategy.

In this article we are going to try and unpack this one tiny corner of digital marketing, address some common misconceptions about both channels, and ultimately give you the information to make an informed decision about which (if any) is the right option to take your business forward.

Just a note to all the digital whizz kids out there – we have kept this simple for a reason, don’t @ us because we haven’t gone into the mechanics of how Google’s auction algorithm works. Ta.

Oh, and if you do want to chat about anything in this article – drop us a line.

Let's get to it... What is PPC?

PPC, or (Pay Per Click) to give it its official title, is one of the oldest forms of digital marketing, and while it is mostly associated with Google, it is a method of marketing that can be used across multiple digital platforms – including social media and in-app advertising. Ultimately what it means is you serve adverts on a digital platform, and only pay when someone clicks on your ad.

In the case of paid Google ads (arguably the most well-known PPC platform) these adverts are the first few you see at the top of your search results, that have the little ‘Ad’ icon next to them, and you are effectively paying for your ad to be shown when someone types in keywords related to your offering. For example – a women’s clothing brand would pay for Google to show their ad when someone types in ‘Black dress’ or ‘Red shoes size 6’. The more you tell Google you are willing to pay for your ad appearing on those searches, the higher up the paid results at the top of the page you will be.

As a channel, PPC is considered one of the best in terms of enquiry quality – simply because the people who have clicked on your ad have been searching for it – they are what is called ‘in market’ and have a higher chance of converting because of it. So while the cost of PPC leads can sometimes be higher – they normally produce some of the best ROI.

The key thing to understand about PPC is – you are paying for your place in the Google search results. Where you appear has very little to do with the quality of the page your ad is linked to (both in terms of content and structure), it has nothing to do with how good your overall brand presence is, or how many links to your site exist out there in the abyss of the internet. It is all quite superficial – but very useful for new businesses, those who need quick results, or for seasonal campaigns that have a short window of opportunity to be seen by potential customers.

Ok, so what is SEO then?

If PPC is the quick, down and dirty, instant gratification channel – then SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is the more mature, playing the long game for big results channel. The first thing you need to understand about SEO is – nothing comes overnight. It is a long-term commitment that can take anywhere from 12 to 24 months to really come into its own.

So, what is it? Well, to understand this fully – you need to understand how Google works. While a lot of people believe Google is just a gateway to all of the information that has ever been collated (and it kind of is) what they don’t often understand is that Google has to categorise all of that information, so that a user’s search is matched to the most relevant piece of information out there. The problem Google must overcome is that information has been written by multiple people, and Google needs to work out which author has provided the most relevant response.

(In part), SEO is the is the optimisation of every element that makes up your website – from the content on the pages, to the way the navigation is structured and the users overall experience. Google looks at all of these things to asses the relevance of your site, and then serves it up to the user as a possible answer to their query - the more relevant Google deems your content to be, the higher up the search results your webpage will come.

Outside of improving your own site and the relevancy of content across your pages, another factor to consider within SEO is how other websites interact with yours, and how many other sites rely on your site as a source of valuable content. The most common application of this is backlinks within webpages. So, what are backlinks? Well, backlinks are when another website includes a link within their content back to relevant content on your own site. The more backlinks you have – the more Google recognises the richness and relevance of your content – and up the rankings you go.

In theory, unlike PPC, SEO is often seen as ‘free’, but nothing is free. Whether you invest in a full-time SEO expert to sit within your team, or employ the skills of a company like MadeByShape – one of our partner agencies – to execute an SEO strategy on your behalf… see the backlink there 😉 … it should be understood that effective SEO is a niche skillset, and investing in improving how Google ranks your site so that your customers have a better chance of finding you organically, should be something seriously considered by any business.

Can you do PPC and SEO activity at the same time?

Yes. Yes. And yes again. Where budgets allow, we would always encourage our clients to have PPC and SEO working alongside each other. For growing businesses, PPC allows you to appear and compete at the top of the search results from day one, while investing in the long-term strategy of SEO allows you over time to build up the value of your website, so that you can become less reliant on paying to be at the top of the search results, and rely more on SEO doing the heavy lifting to get you to the top of the page organically.

They sound similar – can I not just get one person to do both PPC and SEO?

Look, the probability of there being someone in the world who is highly skilled at both PPC and SEO is pretty high – but only because there are over 7 billion people on the planet. In our experience – which is a pretty long time – they are very very few and far between, by which we mean – we have never met one.

The perception that a PPC expert could also do SEO, and vice versa, has really come about because both skillsets up until recently, were put to work in the same area – Google’s search platform. But (as we hope we have made clear) what a PPC expert and an SEO expert do in this space is vastly different. It’s a bit like assuming a guy who captains a sailboat around the coast of Cornwall for tourists in the summer, would be able to captain a cargo ship – crossing the Atlantic – in a storm, just because both work ‘in the sea’.

So, in our humble opinion – no, you can’t get the same person to do both things – well, at least not to the same standard that people who specialise in one or the other can. However – if you do find one, send them our way, we have always wanted to meet a unicorn.

All jokes aside, we hope that the above provides a very top-level understanding of how PPC and SEO work. the differences between the two, and how they can be used together. If you are looking to give your digital marketing an audit, expand your strategy or starting out with a blank piece of paper – give us a shout and let’s see how we can help.

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