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  • Writer's pictureToucan Insights Staff

PPC vs SEO: Which one Should you Use?

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PPC vs SEO: Which one Should you Use?

1. Introduction: Search Marketing Strategies

In the realm of search marketing, there are 2 distinct strategies that you can implement to increase your page rank.

They are called SEO and SEM (PPC). Here is where a lot of people get confused.

Both strategies have the goal to increase your online visibility and drive traffic to your website. This is where the similarities stop.

Reading on, we will explain these two terms and what differentiates them. We will also give general advice on when you should use one or the other or both.

2. Organic vs. Paid results (PPC)

There are two types of results on search engines, organic results and paid results.

Paid results (PPC in marketing) are usually placed above organic search results and the former has a small sign saying ‘Ad’ in front of them to make it clear companies paid for those ad spots.

Both have different characteristics and they can be used independently or simultaneously to increase your brand visibility on search engines.

  • SEO or Search Engine Optimization are the organic strategies that are used to increase your rank for organic search results. These practices consist of providing value to your visitors through your content and also to design the technical aspects of your website based on search engines recommendations.

  • SEM or Search Engine Marketing refer to the paid strategies that companies use to promote their offerings and that show up on the search results page. These tactics aim to bring a specific target audience with advertising campaigns that include PPC (Pay-per-Click), CPM (Cost-per-Mile) and CPA (Cost-per-Acquisition) as their main approaches.


3. What is PPC in Marketing?

Pay-per-click, also known as PPC, is a form of online marketing where advertisers are charged a fee each time one of their adverts is clicked.

Essentially, you only have to pay for advertising if someone clicks on your ad. In summary, it's a way to 'purchase' website visitors in addition to those that arrive there organically.

4. What is SEM (Search Engine Marketing)?

search engine marketing example

SEM is often inappropriately described as being an umbrella term that includes unpaid strategies (SEO) and paid strategies.

However, SEM is a subcategory of the umbrella term ‘Search Marketing’ that is used to describe paid strategies to advertise your website on search engines.

Search engine marketing is defined as a strategy using paid tactics to advertise your website on search engines. It is often associated with pay-per-click (PPC) marketing because you are usually paying for every click your ads are generating.

Additionally, marketers use other common paid tactics like CPA (cost-per-acquisition), CPM (cost-per-mile) and CPS (cost-per-sale) to run their ads.

SEM involves creating and maintaining ads on search engines. It starts with setting up a monthly budget to control how much money you want to spend running your ads.

  • Text ads

  • Display ads

  • Video ads

  • Mobile ads

  • Shopping ads

  • Local ads

  • Hotel ads

  • Responsive ads

  • Comparison Listing ads

Then you need to research keywords to create ads around them.

Each ad will receive a quality score that indicates the relevance between the keyword, the ad itself and the web page you are advertising for.

A higher quality score means:

a. Higher position relative to your competitors

b. Better discount on ads

Google rewards people who put more effort in creating high-quality ads by reducing their price of each click they receive.

Google is getting more and more selective about their ads space and who they put over others.

Therefore, they introduced the ad-quality score to make sure that the most relevant ads appear in the first places.


5. What is SEO (Search Engine Optimization)?

keywords example

Search engine optimization is the other subunit of search marketing, which refers to non-paid strategies to advertise your website on search engines.

SEO: On-Page & Off-Page

a. On-page SEO

This type of SEO involves making changes on your website in order to improve your page rank. The goal is to make the content more appealing for your users.

You have direct control over these factors.

b. Off-page SEO

This refers to all the external strategies developed outside of your website that help to improve your visibility on search engines and bring more traffic to it.

The goal is to get external sources to refer back to your website with the aim of increasing your perceived authority.

Among the main approaches are including backlinks from other websites, increasing the number of positive reviews, and having more advocates and shares on social media, etc.

You have a more indirect influence on these factors as compared to on-page SEO because other parties out of control are involved.

Did you know about the dark side of SEO? Read on to know Why you Should Avoid Black-Hat SEO practices.

6. Similarities between SEO and SEM.

a. Topic Research

For both strategies you start out by researching specific keywords you want to rank your website and that are related to your brand.

Therefore, you first need to recognize your audience and understand what their biggest needs and wants are. By knowing this, then you can search for keywords that are related to a determined theme.

Out of those topics you will select the ones with the highest search volumes and you will research and benchmark your industry to comprehend the current market state.

b. Continuous Optimization

For paid search, some people might think that once you have developed your ads, you will never return to them.

The truth is that you have to constantly optimize them to see if there is any update regarding the ads’ performance.

For SEO you need to create your content based on the best practices recommended by the search engines.

Due to their regular updates, it can happen that you drop in page rank when new ranking factors are introduced.

Therefore, you always need to be alert on the latest implementations.

Furthermore, it is crucial to stay up-to-date with your industry and the latest changes that top players implement.

c. Measurement of Success

The goal of SEO and SEM is to drive more traffic to your website.

Basically, both are two sides of the same coin that is called search marketing. It is important for both strategies to measure how many clicks they bring to your website.

Improving the CTR (Click-through-rate) is one key metric to determine whether both SEO and SEM are being successful or not.


7. Differences between SEO and SEM

a. Quality Measurement

The quality of your SEO campaigns is determined by how optimized your website is as well as how relevant your page is for the users’ search query. Additionally, the perceived level of authority within your niche is compared to the authority level of other sources.

b. Level of Control

You can’t control who sees your page on organic search results.

Everyone who puts in your keyword or a variation of it will be able to see your website listed at some point after scrolling through the results.

Paid search lets you target more precisely who can see your ads and who cannot. For instance, you can adapt the settings for geographic, demographic, and behavior targeting.

This lets you target the audience you think is more likely to commit to a desired action on your website and become your customer.

c. Testing

You can immediately see the results of your paid search campaigns after publishing them. This gives you the necessary knowledge and control to optimize your campaigns.

This insight makes it much easier to evaluate your ads and landing pages on a regular basis quicker than SEO.

For organic search campaigns, you will need to wait several weeks until the search engine properly ranks your website.

After this time, you will then be able to conduct a performance analysis and as a result of it implement the necessary changes in your strategy.

d. Value: Long-term vs Short-term

While SEM provides immediate results and gives you a head start, it will become costly over time to keep these results up.

However, for SEO, you will need to wait to see the results, but they will grow exponentially over time. Then your hard work will start to pay off.

e. Workload

Regarding the workload, you will need to put in more effort in the beginning of your organic search strategy to build up a solid content foundation.

Once you have achieved a high page rank, you only need to keep the content optimized and review it from time to time to maintain your ranking position.

On the contrary, SEM demands less effort to be set up but you'll have to invest more time in optimizing your ads to keep the performance of the campaign at the highest possible level.


After knowing the different characteristics of SEO and SEM, you will decide which one is better for you.

Before you pick any of them, it is important to compare your website and strategy to those of your competitors.

The goal is to identify if there is an opportunity in the market. You should look out for trending keywords and topics that are either not responded accordingly or that are starting to be part of the conversation in your industry.

Especially when you are just starting out with search marketing, you should pay attention to your budget and calculate the cost of the maximum cost per click you are willing to pay for a relevant keyword.

If the costs are too high, then you might consider putting your effort in your SEO strategy.

If your website still has room for improvement (in terms of design and value to your audience), then it would be better to prioritize SEO before spending money on ads to attract your target audience to your underperforming website.

If you think you have a clean and user-friendly website, then you can start creating ads to further increase your visibility to current and prospect target audiences.

Your industry's experience also plays an important role when deciding what strategy you want to start with.

When you already know who your target audience is and you are confident that you can clearly communicate valuable content to them you can plan your long-term SEO strategy.

Otherwise, if you are new in your niche you can start by gathering data about your target audience with SEM.

Testing a few campaigns with paid search can provide you with the necessary information to see what works and what doesn’t before you start developing an in-depth SEO strategy.

As a conclusion to the question PPC vs SEO, the answer is that they should work together to provide an optimal performance for your website.

It could be the case that you have a great SEO campaign without SEM, however only having a well-optimized PPC campaign won’t survive without a sound SEO strategy.



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