SEO vs PPC: it’s the battle of the ages (at least, if you work in the digital marketing industry and have a tendency to be overly dramatic). It isn’t hard to find someone firmly entrenched on one side or the other, always ready to explain why theirs is the path of the holy and righteous.
One person will strongly contend that SEO is the way forward: it offers lasting results, natural traffic, and a rewarding degree of complexity. Not so fast, another will say, as PPC is the true king of modern promotion. Rapidly scalable, perfect for A/B testing, and consistently cost-effective, it’s the precision tool that every business should be using.
Many impartial observers consider this debate and try to decide which side has the upper hand. Some, though, wonder why there must be such discord. The two methods aren’t mutually exclusive, after all — so why not use both? In this piece, we’re going to consider the value of combining SEO and PPC, and determine whether it’s a sensible idea. Let’s get to it.
How much time do you have?
The first thing you need to think about when considering this combined strategy is how much time you have to spend on your marketing efforts. With SEO, you can cover the basics such as metadata and indexing fairly quickly, although more complex matters such as ensuring your content loads quickly — a key component of Google’s Core Web Vitals — require a little more planning and forethought. Something like choosing a web host (whether you opt for VPS hosting, for example, or cloud hosting through a provider such as Cloudways) plays a big part in page speed and therefore SEO, and it’s not a decision that should be made lightly.
Beyond that, it largely comes down to creating exceptional content, optimizing for keywords, and building links — all of which are time-consuming when done properly.
PPC, on the other hand, takes less time the more you do it. At the beginning you’re unsure what keywords to target, how much to spend, and what to include in your copy. You’re also trying to figure out which platforms to target — do you stick with Google Ads, or start using Facebook Ads as well? But once you’ve got things running smoothly, you can really get into optimization through making minor tweaks and seeing how they work (all without taking up too much time).
Weighing risk against reward
Let’s be very clear about SEO: for a strategy that’s all about the long term, it’s riskier than we’d all like it to be. This is due to the simple variability of the Google algorithm: it can be updated at any time, completely overturning the previous rules and leaving you scrambling to figure out how you need to adapt your approach to reverse the rapid decline of your rankings.
That said, it’s also incredibly powerful. Brands that manage to do great SEO work and secure top rankings for relevant positions get to benefit passively for months or even years if they never fall foul of algorithm updates. Past the point of achieving ROI parity, every fresh organic visitor essentially constitutes a free bonus.
PPC, on the other hand, is very low-risk in the sense that it performs very reliably and protects the user through its underlying mechanism: you pay per click, so if you stop getting any clicks, you’ll stop paying anything no matter how many times your ads are served. At the same time, an effective PPC campaign will never stop costing you money — and the moment you cut the budget, all the impact will disappear. Low risk, low reward.
You can mix and match your tactics
If you don’t have the time to do both, then you should choose based on personal preference. SEO is for the patient strategist: you plant seeds, cultivate them, and wait for them to come to fruition. PPC is for the pragmatist: you start getting results now instead of trusting an approach that has so many questionable elements at play.
But you almost certainly do have the time to do both, and here’s why: you don’t need to do everything simultaneously. You can do one thing, then another, then another. Here’s one idea: you put a week into polishing your technical SEO, spend the next week getting your PPC campaign off the ground, then start working on content while you gather PPC data.
Instead of mashing them together into some kind of impossible-to-handle monstrosity, you go back and forth depending on the situation. Maybe PPC performance goes down but you can leave it disabled for a while because your organic traffic is great. Maybe an algorithm update ruins your traffic and you need to ramp up your PPC work until you recover. Because neither method is perfect, the best thing you can do is keep each one in your toolbelt.
Overall, then, it’s entirely sensible to combine organic SEO and paid ads: they work extremely well together if you have time, and even if you don’t, then you can go back and forth between them. If you’ve been concentrating on just one of them so far, then now is the time to change that.