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Brad Brenner

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search engine optimization vs pay per clickYou know how important the Internet is in regards to your marketing efforts. And you know that search engines like Google play a critical role in sending customers to your website. But do you spend your marketing dollars on search engine optimization (SEO) or do you sink the majority of your budget on pay-per-click (PPC) ads? Let’s look a bit closer at both.

SEO. Successful search engine optimization campaigns result in your company (or its products) securing a high ranking in the organic search results.  This usually means securing one of the (typically) ten links on the first page of results – the higher up the page, the better. Of course, this is only valuable if you rank high for the searches based upon the keywords your customers use to find what you have to offer.

Achieving high organic page ranking involves a variety of (evolving) strategies that turn SEO more into an art form than a science. Still, there are basic components involved:

  • Strategic keyword identification
  • Behind-the-scenes coding (Meta tags etc.)
  • Web page design
  • Copy writing
  • Website and web page layout and naming strategies
  • Linking

PPC. Essential, you pay to have your ad appear on a designated search results page. PPC ads are typically found either on the top or on the right side of the page (this may change sometime in the future). You pay only when someone clicks on your ad. The cost per click depends upon the popularity of the keywords you select for your ad placement. Here, keywords are important but not critical. This is because if your ad appears on a poorly selected keyword, no one will click on the ad (theoretically) and it will cost you nothing (theoretically). That is why PPC may be a great way to test keywords you want to use in your SEO campaign.

Like most everything, there are pros and cons with each option:

  • PPC ads appear immediately. SEO may take several months to see results.
  • PPC ensures your message will appear on the first page of search results (if you bid high enough). SEO is not a sure thing.
  • PPC gives you total control over your ad message. While you have some influence over the words used in your SEO link, the final result may not be exactly what you had hoped. Changing it can take awhile.
  • PPC results are easy to analyze using tools specific for that purpose. You can also analyze SEO results but the process can be a bit messier. As mentioned, PPC is also a nice way to test the effectiveness of keywords.
  • PPC gives you total control over your budget. It automatically turns itself off when you reach your monthly limit. SEO costs can be a bit more squishy.

On the other hand

  • SEO links are viewed as being more credible than PPC ads. It’s like the difference between articles generated by PR (high credibility) and the advertisements placed along side them (low credibility).
  • SEO links can remain in effect for a long long time. PPC visibility stops the day you stop paying for it
  • SEO links are longer (than PPC message space) – allowing more of your product differentiation message to appear. With a bit of marketing savvy, this added messaging space could be highly effective at drawing in new customers.
  • SEO links can include much more than your company web page. Strategic PR efforts can create high page rankings for press releases distributed over the Internet, articles in online publications, industry forums, blogs and a host of other “highly credible” sources.

Portland public relations agency results

SEO results: more than website links. Here our client owns first page results with links to blogs, articles and other Internet destinations

But what about ROI?

Considering all the difference, the data that really matters most is conversion rate. Dollar for dollar, which one is more effective at delivering new customers? According to data posted on Triphp.com and other sites, SEO definitely has the edge…and more.

  • 95 percent of searchers click on organic (SEO) listings vs 5 percent on PPC ads.
  • Organic (SEO) links have a 25% higher conversion rate as compared to PPC ads
  • The average cost per click for PPC is .63 as compared to SEO at .07.

While this might be surprising to some, it really only bears out what we’ve found with traditional advertising vs. public relations. People would prefer to look at content (SEO) than advertisements (PPC) and content has much more credibility than advertisements. I know that when I do a Google search, my eyes usually ignore the PPC ads in much the same way as I ignore the advertisement when I’m reading the latest issue of Rolling Stone or Businessweek. And I’m certainly more apt to believe the testimonial found in a feature story than one found in an advertisement.

Does this mean that PPC is useless? Of course not. I think it come down to this:

Both PPC and SEO have their place. Strategically implemented, they can support each other. PPC becomes increasingly viable as the competitiveness of your search term increases (there’s only so many organic spots available on the first page of results).

So if you are looking primarily for immediate, short-term results PPC is definitely what you want. But if you are in it for the long haul – that is you plan on being around for a while and you are looking for steady sales growth and establishing industry leadership, SEO is the way to go.

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Brad Lee Brenner is a master blogger, radio host and founder of Brenner Associates, a public relations / communications firm headquartered in Portland, Oregon. Over the past thirty years, Brad has written hundreds of articles that have been published in trade journals, newspapers and online news sources. His focus of expertise includes technology, the medical industry and communications for the digital age.