Andy Crestodina is the Strategic Director of Orbit Media, a web design company in Chicago. He’s also the author of Content Chemistry, An Illustrated Guide to Content Marketing. You can find Andy on Google+ and Twitter.

SEO or PPC?

Traffic flows from search engines to websites through two paths: organic rankings (SEO) and paid advertising (PPC). These aren’t just different techniques, they’re opposite. Let’s take a look at the differences.
SEM Image | SEO vs SEM

But first, a few quick definitions:

  • SEM (search engine marketing) drives traffic to websites from search engines using two techniques: SEO and PPC.
  • SEO (search engine optimization) drives traffic by getting websites to rank in organic search results.
  • PPC (pay-per-click advertising) drives traffic to websites by buying advertising in search engines using tools like Google AdWords.

Here’s a high level overview of the ways in which these techniques are opposites:

Fast vs. Slow

SEO is often slow. Depending on the competition for the keyphrase, it may take years of search optimization before a web page ranks on page one in Google. During that time, a search marketer may have to settle for traffic from much less popular (and competitive) keyphrases.

But with PPC, you can setup an AdWords account and setup ads for any phrases relevant to your business. You’ll “rank” at the top of page one in Google day after tomorrow, depending on how much you’re willing to spend…

Paid vs. “Free”

PPC advertising for certain phrases can be extremely expensive. Certain auto insurance phrases cost advertisers more than $50 per click. Add it up and insurance companies spend more than $40 billion per year on PPC ads!

On the other hand, no amount of money can buy a high rank in Google. But sites don’t rank high for great phrases by accident. It takes work. That work can be outsourced and those vendors can be expensive.

Temporary vs. Durable

Although slow to get going, organic search engine rankings can be durable. Some of the factors that lead to high rankings, like the number and quality of incoming links, don’t really go away. Yes, Google makes hundreds of changes per year, but compared to PPC, SEO lasts longer.

You’re PPC ads will also last…as long as you keep paying. But as soon as you pause the ad or hit your daily budget, they’re gone. That’s why they say “PPC is temporary, SEO is forever.”

You’re PPC ads will also last…as long as you keep paying. But as soon as you pause the ad or hit your daily budget, they’re gone. That’s why they say “PPC is temporary, SEO is forever.”

So different, yet just the same

SEO and PPC are based on opposite philosophies, with huge differences in cost, speed and durability. But in the end, both SEM techniques have a few things in common. They’re both:

  • focused on driving traffic
  • totally measurable
  • focused on relevant keyphrases

Balance the pros and cons when deciding between SEO and PPC. In a rush? Try PPC. Broke? Start working on in-house SEO. Choose your SEM wisely!

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