SEO v PPC: How Do They Match Up?

SEO and PPC are two of the most popular digital channels for online marketers and website owners. Both pose a challenge in budget and resource allocation and how their implementation and management are undertaken.

Here are some truths you will often hear regarding SEO and PPC and that you need to take into consideration as you plan and manage your digital marketing strategy:

• SEO is for Organic listings (free) and PPC Advertising is for Paid Ads
• Pagerank for SEO and Quality Score for Adwords. You’ll often hear PPC experts talk about quality scores – and that’s because it is one of the most important metrics in your account
• You are already doing Search Engine Optimisation even without having included it in your promotional mix. By creating content, publishing blogs and articles, linking to other websites and the mere fact of having a website means you have done or are doing Search Engine Optimisation tasks whether you like it or not
• A page one organic listing enhances your brand and gives your organisation more credibility
• Run PPC campaigns as you work on your SEO
• One major disadvantage of SEO nowadays is that Google has stopped showing search queries for Organic searches because of privacy regulations
• Timescales for SEO vary whereas with Pay Per Click Advertising you can know within a day what works and what doesn’t.

So, getting a first page listing for both is desirable, but many Paid Ads will often receive substantial traffic volumes even if they are not on the first page =- especially when they seek quotes from multiple suppliers.

Below first page bid

Organic listings on Page 2 and beyond also get clicks but this is often very low compared to page 1 listings which receive 95% of traffic. However SEO listings receive significantly more traffic than Paid Ads at 80% and 20% respectively – and this is mainly due to the fact that most searches are informational rather than transactional.

For SEO, you are targeting specific sites – Google, Yahoo and Bing. Whereas PPC includes a wide range of Search Partners like AOL, Ask, YouTube and other Google sites and millions of Display Partners that are part of the Adsense programme and provide an endless stream of impressions and clicks.

Many searchers ignore Paid listings because of:
1. Their positioning on the page
2. Searchers know that they are commercial listings
So here are some factors to consider when creating your digital strategy and are not too sure what budget and resources to allocate to each channel:


Before you discount any traffic source or medium, whether it’s PPC, Organic, Referrals, Direct Visitors or Social Network, you need to understand the path to purchase and how each source contributes to this.

Looking at the following ‘Top Conversion Paths’ report in ‘Multi-Channel Funnels’ in Analytics for a shopping site, you can see that ‘Organic’ traffic contributed to 18 transactions.

Analytics Top Conversion Paths

However, if you were using a ‘Last Interaction’ attribution model, you would assume that Organic traffic is not leading to any conversions and the natural thing to do would be to abandon all Search Engine Optimisation work that is being done. Many marketers would divert funds to other activities like PPC which according to the above report shows that it has contributed to just only 2 more goal conversions than Organic.

In fact, if you use the last interaction model, referral traffic is performing better than Organic here and that is not a true picture of what is happening. So it’s important to look at the models such as ‘First Interaction’ which shows a completely different picture – and reveals that Organic traffic is very important to this website.

First Interaction Attribution Model

As the above reports reveal, a multi-channel strategy is critical to increasing conversions, and improving ROI.
And this hasn’t taken into consideration all those visitors who delete cookies between their visits and visitors who use multiple devices in their search for products or services and which is quite difficult to track across devices at the moment.

Key Metrics

PPC and SEO metrics are similar and you have standard metrics such as bounce rate, average time on site and average page views to assess performance of your Paid campaigns and Organic traffic. However, there are many other metrics to measure and manage and these will fall under your Acquisition, Conversion or Retention strategies.

A conversion metric that will be important to your Pay Per Click campaigns is Cost per conversion and you will find this in your Adwords account if you have setup conversion tracking or goal tracking. Because you pay for all PPC traffic you receive, calculating cost/conversion is easy and the system does it for you – and you can then set a target cost/conversion to improve performance of your account.

Bounce rate is an engagement metric that’s important to your SEO efforts because it determines what your rankings will be in the future. A high bounce rate is usually a sign that the destination pages are not well optimised and you could see a drop in rankings for the particular pages.

However, bounce rate is important for PPC campaigns because it’s a factor taken into consideration in calculating your keyword quality scores.


One of the major differences between SEO and PPC is control. For PPC on platforms such as Google Adwords you have an interface that basically provides you with a single location to manage all aspects of your strategy. Third party tools can play a part and will help with reporting and management, however they are not as critical to your success as the Adwords interface.

SEO on the other hand requires multiple tools to measure, track and manage your strategy and you have many on and off page factors to take into consideration. You also have social media which now plays a bigger part in the success of your organic rankings (since Google created Google+ in 2011 and Facebook posts help Bing rankings). So you won’t have a single interface to do all of this and will at times require a team of social media, link building and SEO experts to assist.


Implementation of a PPC platform like Google Adwords or Bing Ads is fairly easy and can be done in minutes. All you need are your Google login details if you use other Google properties like Gmail and Google+ and you can create your Adwords account, and if you don’t, the process is easy too and only takes a few minutes to complete
However, because you are paying for every click to your site, you have less room for error. In fact, it calls for greater planning and the effective setup and implementation of your PPC campaigns for maximum returns.

SEO on the other hand has quite a complex implementation process and often requires that you carry out an analysis of your website, your competitors and setup of all the tools you’ll need including Analytics, Webmaster Tools and others. No two SEO strategies are the same due to the many factors that could be the cause of low rankings for your site – such as domain age, brand awareness, website content and hundreds of other signals that Google takes into consideration in ranking your site.

Budget Allocation

Budget allocation for SEO and PPC is a huge topic on its own and is beyond the scope of this article. However, a good start is to understand what your target cost per acquisition (CPA) and ROI are and calculate this for your PPC campaign budget. Dare I say this is more important for PPC because it’s often that most of your marketing budget will be allocated to this channel.

However, it’s a myth that SEO is free. There is always a cost attached to it whether it’s your own time or someone else’s that you hire to do the job. However, budget allocation is always a challenge especially if you are just launching your PPC and SEO campaigns. What ratio goes to PPC and what goes to SEO?

If you have enough traffic data and have your multi-channel funnels reports in Analytics for example, you will make a more informed decision.


The reality is you can’t choose between SEO and PPC as part of an online strategy because the two go hand in hand. You will see greater PPC results if you implement an effective SEO strategy and the reverse is true. As searchers use multiple devices and channels and devices to access the web, a forward thinking marketer will include both as part of their strategy.

There are many other factors to consider including Reports, ROI, Branding, Goals, Competitor Analysis which are too numerous to describe here. Look out for our whitepaper which describes strategies for SEO and PPC and how you can leverage both for maximum ROI.

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Mike Ncube About Mike Ncube

Mike Ncube is Head of Search at Search Optimise and has a passion for all things PPC and Web Analytics

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