SEO vs PPC concept

What’s the Difference Between SEO and PPC?

SEO is a “free” method of driving visitors to your site, while PPC is paid promotion of your site content. Both are effective methods of search engine marketing (SEM), which refers to types of digital marketing practices that target businesses and consumers who are searching for what your site offers.

SEO vs. PPC, TL;DR Edition

PPC is a search engine marketing technique that is comparable to traditional advertising practices, in that you pay in accordance to your goals. The amount you pay will determine where, when, and how your ad shows up, similar to buying advertising space in a magazine or on a billboard. While this comparison is somewhat of an oversimplification, the basic concept is the same: if you have the money and want to reach potential customers, you’ll be able to use PPC to gain a lot of visibility. Wondering how to get on the top of the first page of Google with PPC? Pay the highest cost per click (CPC) for your target keywords and search phrases.

SEO, however, focuses on driving traffic to sites by catering to the needs of searchers. SEO cannot be accomplished by sending a check to Google, as in PPC; rather, SEO is about building sites that:

  1. deliver great content that is in line with searchers’ intent and answers their questions
  2. follow accepted standards expected by search engines, and
  3. do not intend to deceive search engines.

Wondering how to get on the top of the first page of Google with SEO? Optimize your site to be the most relevant to searchers for your target keywords and search phrases.

Common Misconceptions about SEO and PPC

SEO and PPC side by side

There is a lot of confusion when it comes to digital marketing, and for good reason – search engines, bidding, and algorithms are much more alien than familiar forms of marketing that businesses have been dealing with for decades. However, knowing the differences between SEO and PPC is key to being able to make the right choices, whether you’re pursuing your business’s digital strategy yourself, or you’re seeking a consultant or agency to give expertise.

Luckily, a little knowledge goes a long way in the digital marketing world! Here are a few common misconceptions about the different types of digital marketing that we encounter fairly regularly at Leverage, and some information that will help you make clear decisions for your business. Trust us – you don’t want to play around with decisions based on less-than-factual information gleaned from your uncle or web developer’s friend of a friend.

Misconception #1: SEO is Basically FREE MONEY.

Remember the first sentence of this article, when I said that SEO was “free”? There are quotations around that “free” for one reason: GOOD SEO is basically never free. Unless your cousin is a freelance SEO consultant willing to take on 10+ hours a week worth of pro bono work for your site, good SEO is going to take some resources. At the very least, performing good SEO will take some time and manpower, and at the most, it could require reallocating your marketing budget a bit.

Notice I keep saying GOOD SEO, not just SEO. Sure, you can find a guy living in the shadows of the internet who vows to bump your site to the first page of Google by next week for a low flat rate of $50. However, like most things that sound too good to be true, that is most likely not going to turn out well for your site. You might end up with bad SEO work that will cause your website to be penalized and require thousands of dollars of damage control work to be performed by actual experts, or you might just end up with nothing to show for the funds you invested. Do your homework and find an experienced SEO agency instead.

Misconception #2: SEO is More Effective than PPC/PPC is More Effective than SEO

So your friend tried working with an SEO consultant once, and it didn’t really bring him the huge returns he was looking for. He now runs paid ads for his site, and he gets a LOT of traffic from them. That sounds great, right? Why shouldn’t you just perform the same search engine marketing techniques and put all of your resources into PPC efforts as well?

Digital marketing, like almost every other type of promotional or marketing effort, is not a one-size-fits-all deal. Some businesses will find that their advertising money goes to waste if they pay tons of cash for PPC that drives traffic but that doesn’t result in conversions, and some businesses will find that SEO efforts just aren’t enough on their own to drive brand awareness.

The balance of PPC and SEO varies from business to business. Some businesses will find that SEO efforts bring a lot of value to their business, as they help create trust and drive qualified traffic. Other businesses find that PPC gives them a huge boost in visibility that takes their brand to the next level. Neither SEO nor PPC is wrong or bad, and neither is superior – they are simply different practices that are best leveraged off of each other.

Not sure what your business needs? We want to take a look! Learn more about how the Leverage Marketing team can dig into the details behind your business and your industry, make sense of the numbers, and draw a roadmap for success.

Misconception #3: Both SEO and PPC are a “Waste of Time, Just Get a Newspaper Ad”

You might have had someone tell you that they pursued either/both SEO and/or PPC in the past with horrific results. Maybe their site received a penalty, their ads were all disapproved within Adwords, or their consultant was less than attentive to their account. Search engine marketing must be pretty risky, right?

In the SEO and PPC world, there are always risks and bad stuff does happen sometimes – but that’s true of any marketing effort that is made without the right attention to detail. Remember when one classic American department store attempted to rebrand their entire business model, and realized that their changes actually made their store less desirable to their target market? Sure, they might have skimped on their market research and dropped the ball when it came to listening to their customers’ needs, but their epic rebranding fail doesn’t indicate that any rebranding effort made by any company is always a waste of time – it simply indicates that they didn’t take the right steps to achieve success. Look at what a legendary designer clothier’s rebranding campaign achieved – their excellent rebranding effort doubled revenues over a five year period and saved the brand’s exclusive image.

Search engine marketing techniques, like rebranding or really any other business effort, are only as successful as the team driving strategy. That’s why it is vital that you choose the right partner for SEO or PPC campaigns. Paid and non-paid digital marketing strategies are intertwined efforts, which is why finding an experienced full-service digital marketing agency to handle all the intricacies of your business is one of the best ways to ensure success. If you’re splitting your efforts or going it alone, do your research and ask yourself if you’re willing to take the risk of playing it too small in an increasingly competitive and rapidly changing digital landscape.


Want more digital marketing myth-busting and guides to getting the most out of SEO and PPC for your business? Sign up for the Leverage newsletter for informative and non-annoying weekly digests today.

Zoe James

Zoe James

SEO Analyst at Leverage Marketing
Zoe is an SEO Analyst at Leverage Marketing. An Austin native and University of North Texas alum, Zoe was a member of the UNT Swimming and Diving Team while earning her degree in Marketing. Her skills as a student-athlete leader led her to career experience as a Business Development Manager, after which she sought the creative and analytical challenges of search engine optimization at Leverage. She is an avid cat person, cheese enthusiast, and adventure-seeker, as well as an expert on the unique culture of Austin, TX.
Zoe James
4 replies
  1. Sam Algate
    Sam Algate says:

    Very good point about SEO being a lot of work. It costs money and resources, maybe not as much as PPC but it has a cost. Also, who prefers newspaper ads over SEO/PPC while completely ignoring the latter? I’m glad I haven’t met people like that.

    Reply
    • Zoe James
      Zoe James says:

      Hi Sam,

      Thanks for stopping by! SEO is definitely an investment if you want it done well, but it’s generally a good investment to make! As for the old school marketing devotees, they’re still out there, especially in specific industries and in academia. Traditional media definitely still has an important place in the wide world of marketing, but there’s a lot of huge opportunity to be seized in the digital realm. That’s why it’s on us to keep spreading the word about how great great digital marketing can be. 🙂

      Reply
    • Zoe James
      Zoe James says:

      Hi Matt – I agree! To get the most out of a digital marketing strategy, you’ll probably want to leverage SEO and PPC off of each other to amplify your efforts. However, it’s still important to understand your competition and current performance in order to make good choices about budgeting and ensure that you’re putting your money in the place(s) that allow you to get the most bang for your buck; no two businesses are exactly the same, so no two strategies are likely to be the same either.

      Reply

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