I love when I come across things that are equal, but opposite. A video went viral recently showing a series of words that are their own antonym (e.g. an oversight happens when you lack oversight. If someone left a place, they aren’t left in that place.). Then of course there is chirality, whereby particles that exhibit left handedness or right handedness and are mirror images of each other (learned about that watching Breaking Bad). I’ve always referred to SEO and PPC and “two sides of the same coin”, because while they are essential the same thing (ways to gain search engine traffic), the characteristics of each can be quite opposite of one another. Funny how that plays out, let’s take a look…
Short Term vs. Long Term
SEO is a long-term play. It just is. Even before Google instituted the dreaded sandbox, where new sites must wait a series of months before being granted access to the front page, it was always better to be thinking in the long term. Why? Well, because doing it right can set you up for years of rankings, traffic and revenue. Overdoing it can land you in Google jail (i.e. a penalty), and you’ll have to start over (there is a reason for the saying “blackhat is for the young”).
PPC can get you traffic by lunchtime, or sooner. Google is just itching to take your credit card info and start doling out those clicks as soon as possible. However, Google doesn’t care whether you actually make use of those clicks, or whether you are profitable.
Which one is better? Neither is really better, just different ways to achieve success (hence the theme of this article, opposite but equal). The general approach is to start with a profitable PPC campaign while also investing in SEO, and as SEO traffic builds, you can choose to reduce the ad spend in PPC. (Sort of) Predictable vs. (Sort of) Un-Predictable
No matter how much we study and experiment with SEO, there will always be a ton of uncertainty. Even if we have the current ranking factors down pat, Google is always shifting the ground beneath our feet. Experienced SEOs have come to expect and even embrace this to some extent, but it differs greatly from the PPC side of things, which is generally a solid foundation.
PPC can be “predictable”, i.e. you have access to much more data and can establish ROI metrics much more easily, however don’t be lulled into a sense of security. Google is still trying to get you to spend as much as possible on their platform. Even with all the new fangled “automatic bidding” and “opportunities” tabs, which are dressed as ways to help the advertiser, are really just ways to increase your ad spend.
Optimize for Users or Optimize for Search Engines?
This one might rile up some feathers, but bear with me. PPC will get you traffic immediately, but you pay for every single click, so the real challenge is optimizing the user experience on your pages so that it captures the most possible customers/conversions for your ad spend. Hence, your main purpose should be on Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO). Granted, your “quality score” does have to do with your on-page content, but not quite as much as your SEO (i.e. PPC landing pages can be perfect, but would perform horribly as SEO landing pages). Don’t get me wrong, CRO is still crucial in SEO, but because you need to cater to the search engines first in order to get any traffic, the main focus is on optimizing the content and other ranking factors. In this way, your efforts will always need SEO foremost, and CRO will need to be crafted around that.
Traffic is a crucial element growing and sustaining online businesses no matter what your tactics (SEO or PPC). It’s interesting to see, however, that the two methods for obtaining search traffic can vary so curiously.
Mike Hayes runs Darby Hayes Consulting, a NYC-based SEO and PPC firm. He can be reached at mike (at) darbyhayesconsulting.com.