Do Side-by-Side, then Decide: SEO vs Paid Search
Let’s face it: there’s no such thing as a bottomless marketing budget. If there were, lucky businesses that did have blank-cheque marketing wouldn’t have to worry about planning and choosing which platforms give the most bang for their buck.
But in the real world, even the biggest multinationals put a cap on their marketing expenditure, which often means digital platforms end up “duking it out” in marketing mangers’ minds for a share of their budget. And in this post, two digital heavyweights face off for a share of yours.
Will long-time World Wide Web champion, Search Engine Optimisation AKA SEO win? Or will pound-for-pound prizefighter Paid Search prevail and get the biggest piece of your digital marketing pie? You decide—after checking out our side-by-side.
In the red corner: SEO!
Since entering the ring circa 1991, SEO has been a digital marketing favourite for its sustainability and ability to generate traffic. Sure, SEO isn’t quick on its feet—significant results from SEO can take as long as six months—but once it gets up to speed, there’s just no stopping it. (That is, as long as you take proper care of your SEO and keep it in shape).
Let’s take a closer look at what SEO has going for it in this fight:
- Stamina. Designed to go the distance, SEO doesn’t just generate traffic but conversions, as well—making it a great investment for long-term benefits and better ROI. Several of our long-time clients cite organic traffic (or traffic that naturally comes to a website off of a search engine search) as their primary source of conversions.
Data Source: Google Analytics - January 2014 - November 2019
- High Calibre Leads. You’ll find that the quality of both the leads and conversions from SEO are relatively better, owing to the fact that these leads took the initiative to search for the solution you’re offering, which makes them more likely to buy.
- Powerful Branding. When done right, ranking for certain search terms builds your brand. If, for example, your clinic ranks first for the search term “hair transplant clinic in Singapore”, people who see this ranking are likely to regard your clinic as Singapore’s no. 1 hair transplant provider—thereby adding to your clinic’s credibility.
- Weigh-In. Results from SEO are oh-so-measurable.
- Leads the Way. Organic traffic generation plays a pivotal role in the buyer’s journey.
Data Source: Google Analytics - January 2014 - November 2019
- Crowd Favourite. Not only does SEO boost awareness for your brand through search engine results, but it also increases awareness through link building and outreach.
- Power Tools. All the tools you need for link building and outreach are readily available.
SEO packs quite the digital marketing punch, but it’s not without its weaknesses:
- Slow Starter. Don’t expect a knockout in the first round, as it takes SEO months to make a dent in the rankings. Realistically, three months into a fresh campaign could give you one to five conversions. And it takes time for SEO to take effect—the punches you throw this month will only be felt next month or in three months’ time. The key lies in interpreting the data right.
- Unpredictability. Google algorithm changes can hit SEO like a tonne of bricks, which could take a while to recover from in terms of strategy and in the number of conversions coming in. And until the day you can control the minds of everyone on the planet, you also don’t have full control over how your customers search or what they do if, and when they find your site.
- No Holds Barred. The truth is there are no clear rules or guidelines for how to do SEO. It’s Google’s prerogative to penalise your website, and nobody wants to be banned from fighting for their brand. But you need to keep on fighting and keep testing, because throwing in the towel makes it even more impossible for you to rank faster. It’s a risk you just have to take.
- Can’t See Me. A basic understanding of attribution modelling is essential to your ring strategy if you want your SEO to win. If you don’t know exactly where your website visitors are coming from in terms of SEO, your organic traffic might not be correctly attributed.
- Uphill Climb. Nobody ever said link building was a pushover. Establishing relationships with other websites takes a lot of time and effort before you get to the point of being able to ask them to link to your website or share your blog posts. Plus, relationships with high authority websites can be extra challenging—and costly.
- Defending Champion. Just because you’re no. 1 today, doesn’t mean you’ll still be on top tomorrow. Algorithm updates make it impossible to guarantee fixed rankings. It takes effort and patience to keep trying out different SEO strategies.
And in the blue corner: Paid Search!
Don’t underestimate the power of Paid Search—this digital marketing dynamo has been rocking the search engine ring since the mid-1990s, and it’s been reigning the rankings ever since. There’s no denying the speed in which Paid Search gets traffic even for brands that are just starting out. (That is, if you know your way around the bid-and-budget landscape.)
Now let’s take a closer look at how Paid Search can take the fight to SEO:
- Fast & Furious. Being the only tool that allows you to get to market quickly with instant results, Paid Search is undoubtedly one of the best ways to send traffic to your website. It’s great for new websites or those without a whole lot of organic traffic that need to get traffic immediately.
- Deadly Accuracy. Proper targeting helps you make sure you reach the right audience. You can customise your audience according to geography, language, time of day and interests—and, you can customise your messaging to your audience through your ad copy and visuals.
- Make Them Pay. You only pay for clicks—whenever someone clicks on your ad, that’s the only time you pay.
- Strike Repeatedly. Keep your connections with former visitors to your website through remarketing.
- Guaranteed Wins. Your position in search engine results is a safe bet every time.
- Control the Fight. Nobody tells you when your ads run or show up—except you. Campaigns are directed by the goals you want to achieve.
- Numbers Don’t Lie. Easy-to-measure results clearly show who the winner is.
- Tops Trimedia Costs. You won’t pay as much as you would for ads on TV, radio or print, or even on other websites.
- Cold and Calculating. Machine learning and automated bidding strategies can give you an edge.
Paid Search may be a real pro, but this hero isn’t without its kryptonite:
- Pyrrhic Victory. You may win the fight, all right, but that victory comes with a cost—and if you’re not careful, that cost could kill your marketing budget. Bear in mind that popular keywords don’t come cheap, so take aim carefully before you fire.
- Learning Curve. Rookies may be in for a long, hard fight, because it takes years for a campaign manager to earn his stripes. Different industries require different strategies, so experience is everything when it comes to winning in Paid Search.
- Know Your Limits. Strict advertising policies may limit your ads, and not every punch is a knockout—just because people click, doesn’t mean they’ll convert.
- Change of Pace. Algorithms aren’t the only thing Google likes to change every so often; the interface for Paid Search changes a lot, too, which can take some getting used to.
- Show Me the Money. It’s not called “Paid Search” for nothing—once your PPC budget drops, so do your traffic and your sales. You’ll need to have an ongoing budget to be able to keep showing your ads in the search results.
- No Cheat Days. Daily monitoring is a must for your campaigns—skip this, and you could go over budget without knowing it.
- The Cost of Creativity. Well-designed (not to mention well-written) ads can cost more when you engage specialists to handle the creative aspects of Paid Search. Whether you do or not, proper copywriting and graphic design takes time and effort.
- Fierce Competition. Other businesses in your vertical will stop at nothing to get your customers, so you’ll have to constantly keep on your toes with new ideas and strategies.
- The Powers That Be. You may not be able to come out punching, as the ad approval process can take a few hours before your ads can run; in fact, policy violations might even keep your ads from running at all.
Who Won? You Decide.
Can’t decide? Don’t. Because if you’ve looked at the score cards and you’re still having a tough time deciding who’s won this bout, the truth is, they’re both winners. You can read all about it in our coverage of the SEO vs PPC fight, but in summation, each complements the other—what one can’t do, the other can, and vice versa.
A 360 approach to digital marketing allows you to make the most of both SEO and Paid Search by allocating your marketing budget according your goals and which platform addresses your needs best at any given time.
With over 10 years of digital marketing experience in both Paid Search and SEO, we can tell you with absolute certainty that nothing gives your digital marketing a 1-2 punch like an SEO and Paid Search combo.