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Should I choose Organic Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) or Paid Search (PPC)?

As Internet Marketing Consultants and owners of a Search Engine Marketing (SEM) company  we  are often asked by clients and prospects whether there’s a basic philosophy when choosing between  organic search engine optimisation (SEO) and paid search advertising / pay per click (PPC):

“Is one more favourable than another? How do I know which channel will work better? Should I do both?”

Only after you have spent time considering your company’s goals and unique situation at the time can you arrive at a definitive answer to those questions. The ‘acid test’ of whether to pursue either an SEO campaign or pay-per-click (PPC) advertising (or both) is understanding that it all boils down to your company philosophy, return on investment (ROI) objectives, budget, and numerous other monetary and marketing factors.

To determine which, or what combination of both, might offer the most ‘bang for your buck’, let’s examine five “models” that we typically deal with.

1. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) Only

Some clients are strictly interested in kicking off an SEO campaign, usually for a few basic reasons. They have tried PPC and decided it didn’t work, so they aren’t interested in trying it again in the foreseeable future. (Whether the initial campaign was set up effectively and the traffic generated was brought to a dedicated ‘conversion friendly’ landing page as it should be is a subject for future discussion!)

Some clients are also convinced that because they themselves often ignore PPC ads on the right-hand side of the search results page, everyone else must do the same!

Although there’s nothing inherently wrong with pursuing SEO exclusively, it normally takes quite a while to achieve rankings for competitive, profitable key phrases placed within your page content, and there is no way that your Internet Marketing company can accurately predict (as it usually can with some degree of accuracy with PPC advertising) what the initial results will be and when they will occur.

However, for companies that do not have an immediate sense of urgency in their online-marketing initiatives and do not want to pursue PPC, organic SEO still offers a great, albeit slightly delayed, Return on Investment (ROI).

2. Pay Per Click (PPC) Only

Sometimes we encounter clients who are interested in PPC—and nothing else. Even with a limited spend, clients can turn their campaigns on and off as needed, making market segments easier to control than with an SEO campaign.

PPC also allows clients to achieve a quite predictable ROI – if the campaign is managed effectively:

“If I spend X, I’ll get back Y.” The clients that fall within the “PPC advertising only” category may have worked with another Internet Marketing company before, pursued SEO exclusively, and achieved less-than-satisfactory results.

Despite all the positive press hype about what SEO can do for a website’s visibility in recent years, it is still largely viewed as more voodoo or ‘smoke and mirrors’ than science by most companies pursuing online marketing for the first time. With such companies, organic SEO is usually a topic we broach only after building credibility and achieving success with PPC.

3. SEO With a PPC ‘Stopgap’

The first and most common question that an Internet Marketing company is asked about SEO is:  “how long it will take to achieve results”. Understandably, clients want to be able to see the return on their investment almost immediately. That is where the PPC ‘stopgap’ approach might be considered.

Whilst a client’s search engine budget is usually for a fixed amount, the client is often willing to spend a little more initially if they can see immediate results. Once positive results are evident the PPC advertising spend is scaled back as SEO takes hold. An advantage of that approach for clients with limited budgets is that it can be managed very closely.

When top organic results are being achieved for any given key phrase, PPC bidding for that term can cease. Over time, PPC expenditures can theoretically be eliminated entirely. PPC ‘stopgap’ appeals to those who want a wide range of coverage and immediate results but have a fixed budget and do not want to be paying PPC advertising costs for an extended term.

4. Hybrid Model

A hybrid model is similar to a stopgap model with one major difference – the client has no intention of eventually leaving the PPC arena entirely.

Typically, the client has its Internet Marketing company carry out a full optimisation and paid-search campaign at the outset, with the expectation that PPC costs will be reduced but not eliminated as the organic campaign takes hold.

In the hybrid model, clients recognise that in an organic SEO campaign they will be limited in the number of keyword phrases that they can target due to the actual page content on their website. With a PPC campaign, however, there is no downside to targeting thousands of relevant long-tail keyword phrases, or search terms that consist of longer strings of words.

Using the hybrid model, keyword phrases are removed from the PPC campaign one by one as those phrases achieve top organic search positions, but the PPC campaign continues to bid on keyword phrases that the site itself is not yet targeting.

5. Comprehensive Search Engine Marketing

This approach calls for both SEO and PPC initiatives running in parallel at full speed. Clients wanting this approach are generally those that consider the two efforts as separate “beasts” and believe that showing up highly in both channels is a good thing… as long as the return justifies the spend.

These clients are happy to spend as much as possible with their Internet Marketing company and do not usually have a set marketing budget—just strict ROI objectives. As long as each channel is performing within acceptable ranges, the clients are happy to reap the benefits. Generally, they treat the two disciplines as unique channels and monitor the results independently.

So which model is the right one for me?

It depends. (You weren’t expecting a definitive answer, were you?).  The decision between SEO  v PPC advertising depends on means, goals, budget, comfort level, corporate restrictions, and many other elements. Keep in mind that the models in this article are only five most popular of the many that we often see.

Many clients will not fit exactly into any of the models described above. Quite often clients start out with one option and then evolve into another. Some switch back and forth depending on their own ever-changing situation and the needs of their business at the time.

The most important thing is to be aware of your options and pursue a path that fits your current goals and, of course partnering with a good Internet Marketing company to help you will generally enable you to achieve results quicker and more cost effectively than doing it on your own.

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Chris Griffin
Chris Griffin
Chris has been a Digital Marketing Consultant since 2005. Since 2007 he has specialised in Search Engine Marketing, both Paid Search and Organic SEO. He has an excellent record of helping businesses of all sizes, both in the UK and overseas, to achieve their online marketing goals.

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