If you want the short answer to the above question then the answer is a definite no. PPC is not better than SEO. It is however different from SEO and is in some cases more useful. In other cases, SEO is more useful. Thus, it’s important to understand the two systems and why one of them may be useful in one case and not in the other. So let’s take a look.
What is PPC?
In case you are a complete newb in this business, PPC stands for Pay Per Click. It’s a system of advertising where you get to put your ads on various websites all over the Internet and then pay only when people click on your ads. Probably the most popular PPC system available on the Internet is Google’s AdWords by the way though there are others.
Other kinds of ads are PPV (pay per view – you pay per 1,000 people who see it regardless of how many clicks you get) and CPA (cost per action – you pay only for those who make a purchase). There are also solo ads and context ads amongst others, but that’s not really the point of our discussion here.
PPC is a great system for getting lots of eyeballs to your site really quickly. It doesn’t require you to build up a portfolio of backlinks and Google doesn’t care if your site is completely brand new but blanketing the Internet with PPC ads. They will generally be happy to have you use their AdWords program to advertise your stuff regardless of how new your site is (as long as it fits their guidelines that is).
Thus, PPC can be very useful when you are trying to get a site noticed quickly and don’t have the time to wait for SEO to do its magic. It can also be helpful for giving your website an initial boost once you’ve created it and before your SEO efforts have the effect you want them to have.
The catch of course with PPC is that it can get to be pretty expensive pretty quickly. I recently put up a blog post here about what are known as second tier PPC networks (well most of them were – some are PPV) and these do tend to be much cheaper to use than the big guys like Google’s AdWords. The problem is that they often don’t have the reach of fine tuning capabilities of AdWords.
Now, if you happen to be targeting a relatively low competition niche, then PPC could easily pay for itself as long as there are people willing to buy whatever it is that you have for sale. So for example, if you wanted to run a website about an obscure problem people have with oil fueled heaters, you could easily make PPC pay for itself.
On the other hand, if you were to target a really tough niche, for example, make money online, the odds of actually getting enough people to click and buy whatever it is that you have for sale are pretty small. Ultimately, you would then end up wasting money on PPC.
There is also an issue with what’s known as ad blindness. People tend to ignore ads that they see on the sides and bottom of a website because they’ve gotten used to seeing them everywhere. Thus, PPC has a limited effect since you will not get some customers regardless of whether or not you have a saturated PPC campaign for your keyword.
In fact, one study I read showed that just 20% of people clicked on the paid ads when they were displayed on Google’s first page with 80% clicking on the organic listings. Of course, if you can’t make it to the first page because your SEO campaign is still very new (SEO does take time), then PPC can be helpful even if all you get is one out of 5 clicks.
SEO by comparison is free to create (although these days, it’s best to hire a professional to help you with getting all the ins and outs right). It does however take a significant amount of time to make SEO do the job and you do have to work hard to keep yourself in the top place, especially for a very competitive keyword.
In essence, SEO is the kind of thing that you want to think of as being a long term investment which will get you plenty of benefit later on in the life of your website because it will ultimately pay for itself many times however. However, unless you are trying to rank for a relatively low competition keyword, the chances that SEO will work quickly are pretty small.
In fact, in most cases, SEO companies (at least the honest ones) will admit that they cannot guarantee you the top position in Google no matter what they do. However, that doesn’t mean that they cannot guarantee to help you to build up a solid portfolio of links which will get you at the very least into the top three positions.
The thing to remember is that unlike PPC, SEO is designed to work on an organic level. The intention here is to make your site appear to be popular by getting the word spread far and wide. Let’s go back to my favorite analogy regarding SEO to understand how the two are different:
I’ve often said that SEO is kind of like being in high school and trying to climb the social ladder. In essence, you are trying to get to be popular. One way you do that is by getting some of the popular kids to notice you for whatever reason that they notice you (maybe you have an in with them because one is your older sister or maybe you’ve been friends with them for years).
The other way to get to be popular in high school is by starting out slow and building up – you work your way up the social ladder by identifying what might be called “low hanging fruit” of people who might want to be your friend and who aren’t super cool but aren’t total nerds either. You then work your way up the social ladder slowly by building a larger and larger base of people who know you and like you.
SEO is basically the same –if you get yourself onto the website of a major influencer, then you are likely to be catapulted all the way to the top of the Google rankings. On the other hand, you can also get yourself noticed by simply pushing yourself in lower level websites and getting more and more people to notice you.
Now, getting back to the question of PPC versus SEO, I’m reminded of a classic 1980s film called Can’t Buy Me Love. It’s a silly high school film where a kid decides to approach a super popular girl in the school and help her out of a jam in exchange for allowing him to hang out with her and become “cool by association.”
PPC is kind of the same thing – you are in essence trying to jump the line and become popular by paying for the privilege of doing so. Eventually, your hope is that by having paid for becoming popular, you will no longer need to pay for it because your SEO (i.e. your own coolness factor) will have made you into someone people respect.
Another issue to keep in mind with PPC by the way is that there is always the problem of click fraud. In essence, this is where unscrupulous website owners will deliberately click your link repeatedly in the hope of being able to grab some extra cash from you. Google is pretty good at detecting this but not everyone is as vigilant about it.
When using SEO, click fraud is obviously not an issue because people will find your website based on whatever keywords you are ranking for and nobody is going to have an incentive to keep clicking your links (unless of course they want to see what you’ve got on your site). Of course, it is also possible that you could end up with a hacker trying a denial of service attack, but that’s rare…
Look, the bottom line is that PPC and SEO should never be considered to be mutually exclusive of each other. Each kind of traffic definitely has its place in the mix of getting your business before the eyeballs of the masses. They are simply vastly different from one another.
So should you look only at SEO? Of course not – even though we sell SEO services here, we understand that there are times when some PPC would be very helpful and we’ll recommend it if that’s what you need. On the other hand, looking only at PPC is also a bad idea because you will ultimately end up losing out on lots of customers who would never ever click a PCC ad.