If you’re a seasoned digital marketer or if you’ve kind of done digital marketing in the past decade, you probably saw the title of this blog post and scoffed – yeah of course they’re not the same thing, Charli, duh.

Bear with me here, I’m about to make some good points. Hopefully.

I’ve talked previously about some of the similarities that SEO and PPC share, and how they work pretty well together as part of a wider strategy. For example, they both involve keyword research. It also serves both channels well to have your site technically sound and providing a great user experience.

But I so often see SEO and PPC lumped into the same role, or the same team, because they both involve (for the most part) Google. Does it make sense for the same person to deliver both for a business, whether that’s as part of an in-house team or an outsourced agency? Probably, yes. Is it correct to assume that because an individual or agency excels at one, they do at the other? Not so much.

And by the same token, I am often involved in conversations where it’s suggested that PPC can act as a stop-gap solution to drive traffic to a site while SEO catches up. You can do this, but you should approach with caution. Which leads me onto my first point.


Organic traffic is free, paid traffic is as such

I will stop with the obvious statements soon, I swear.

If you’ve opted to drive a bit of awareness or are trying to get a newer brand off the ground with a bit of PPC, it’s important to remember that it’ll never really replace a good organic strategy. If you’re outsourcing PPC to an agency, you’re going to be paying a management fee on top of your AdWords spend – typically an AdWords budget below £1000 shows very little return, so you could be looking at least £2000 spend on PPC alone. For the same price, you could get a couple of days focus on SEO, building the authority of the site, shifting you up through the rankings, and getting you those all-important free clicks.

Am I trying here to suggest the merits of SEO outweigh those of PPC? No. Both strategies have their place in digital marketing, and if you’ve got the budget for PPC, then it can be a great way to drive some numbers to your site. What I’m saying here is, it’s a long-term play. Think about how you’re going to balance PPC and SEO spend going forward – because you may find that the return on investment with PPC doesn’t quite add up. Keep an eye on conversion rates, cost per conversion, and total return on ad spend. Identify opportunities where you could leverage SEO to target the more expensive keywords.


Theory vs proof

One of the main benefits of PPC over SEO (other than the acceleration to the top of the search results) is the level of information you get about how people are engaging with your content. Start a campaign off and running, and within an hour, you can see what keywords people searched for to trigger your ad, how many clicked, how many converted and how many didn’t. You get a bit of this with SEO too, but with an element of guesswork and “filling in the blanks”. Using a tool like Google Analytics, you’ll often find that the percentage of traffic which shows the keyword people used as “not provided” is in the mid to high 90s. I’ve recently seen it go as high as 99.7%. This is Google simply protecting it’s logged in users – if you’re logged into Google, you search for something and click on someone’s website, Google protects you and some of your data from that website’s Analytics. I could get into the politics of this and how I think it’s Google’s ploy to drive people towards Ads, but I won’t.

So, analysing the individual success or effectiveness of certain keywords when it comes to SEO can be challenging. You can obviously track rankings, overall performance in terms of organic traffic, and the conversions it drives, but you can’t dig down into which keywords do (or don’t) provide the most conversions. This involves a bit of connecting the dots and using other metrics like landing page views and search queries via Search Console to glean any real insight. If you ain’t paying for it, you gotta work for the data, say Google. Probably.

Both approaches therefore require slightly different states of mind and slightly different skillsets. PPC is almost a pure commercial play – this amount of investment = this amount of return. This isn’t working – change this. Conversion rate is low – try these tactics. Turn up the budget, see what that does. SEO is more of a dark art. A good SEO specialist can think commercially too, but they’ll spend a lot of their time in the depths of Analytics, and finding creative ways to rank better for key phrases.

To bring this ramble to a conclusion, I guess this is my manifesto. For employers – SEO and PPC as skills or specialisms should be nurtured and trained in their own right. You cannot assume that expertise in one means expertise in the other. Don’t employ an SEO specialist and when they merrily arrive for their first day on the job drop the PPC bomb on them. For businesses – approach both strategies with a slightly different hat on. Think about how they fit together in the complete picture, but consider how each can play a different role in contributing to sales.


If you’d like any more guidance or advice on SEO or PPC – get in touch.