How do you know if you should use Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? Can I get better results from Pay-Per-Click (PPC)? These are the main two strategies in use today, especially for the small to medium enterprise. Both strategies are entirely different and it can be difficult to decide which one is best for you or how to combine both strategies for maximum effectiveness.
You have to determine what you are trying to accomplish via the web and your website. That will drive everything else. If you don't have the right objectives for what you want to accomplish, then you can wind up wasting a lot of money trying to figure it out and feeling like all you did was "spin your wheels". SEO and PPC are the best sources to drive you targeted traffic and only pay for targeted traffic, but you have to be intentional about them and what you expect from each.
SEO and PPC continue to grow as more and more people are using the Internet and become more web savvy. It is the best source for people worldwide to find information they want on a 24 hour basis. That will keep these two industries growing. Let's back up a second and define these a bit closer for some of those people who might know much about these subjects. SEO takes place on your own website site. There are pieces and parts to a website that the Internet search engines, crawlers, and indexes look for to determine if your site is a good match for particular keywords and search terms. Most experts will tell you that parity has been reached in search, so now it comes down to the user experience and how fast a search engine gets you to the results and relevant content you were looking for.
PPC refers to advertising on a search engine that charges on a per click basis whenever a visitor clicks on one of your ads. The order of ads is an algorithm and Google (62% of all searches), Yahoo (20% of all searches), and Bing (formerly MSN and 10% of all searches) all use different ones to determine the best match. This will continue to change now that Yahoo and MSN/Bing have announced their partnership for search - so we are sure a new algorithm for these sites will emerge soon and cause another adjustment. The newest factor in the game for Google is what is known as quality score. It has always used this to rank your site and pages organically, but now it is a factor in how well your PPC campaign will perform. Yes, how well your landing page and it's URL are optimized will effect what you pay per click, who shows up on the top of the list, and if you bid the most, you are not guaranteed the #1 spot. This is directly related to that "user experience" criteria.
SEO tries to change your overall search engine ranking by looking at your URL and analyzing all of the content on your pages and meta data (behind the scenes) to see how good of a match that page and your website is for a particular keyword or search phrase. This also needs to happen page by page - having the same information on every page or in every page's meta data, will actually discount your URL to the search engines. It needs to be specific to what they will find on that page. Also, putting too many different items on a page will not allow you to optimize it to its full extent to produce maximum results. It will also not allow you to effectively optimize for each item because what you can do and the "space" available for optimization, do not allow for the words and phrases you need (for example, a title tag really needs to be less that 70 characters in length). SEO is also considered a long term solution. You cannot do it just once and let it go for 6-12 months. You should pay some attention to it monthly after your initial optimization takes hold (like 120 days after their first pass on your site). Consider this just like changing some of the content on your website, this will help the engines pay attention to you. Ultimately you would want your optimization to allow for you to not have to pay for clicks on your brand name and your top 5-10 keywords and phrases because you already have page one ranking for them. Be prepared for this to take 120-180 days to really start to show some results but that is based on where your starting point is.
Bottom Line of what you can expect
- Instant Traffic and results if it is done right
- Pay for what you get - no residual effects
- This is extremely intentional - to an industry, geographic market, product or service
- Optimize for performance, negative keywords, etc
- Can pause at any time so little risk
- Typically done with lower budgets
- Can control what it says, when and where it runs and to what audiences
- Is now tied to how well your landing page and website are optimized with Quality Score
- Once you reach your daily budget it shuts down
- Easier to target a specific market or industry
- This is a marathon, not a sprint solution
- If you are optimized, you will always rank for the keywords and phrases you want - it will never shut down or reach a budget
- Results are harder to measure - because of all the ways to drive traffic
- Need to set metrics and goals prior to starting it
- Start with an amount to get started and have someone spend some time monthly continuing these principles if possible
- Will need to update and change as strategies and search engines change their algorithms and competitors change their websites, PPC and SEO strategies
- Allows you to rank for higher priority keywords and broaden your exposure through PPC
- Delivers the most qualified traffic – this comes from people who are actively seeking out products and services that you offer and not just browsing the web.
So what should you choose?
Well, it depends on how much money you are willing to spend, what your time line is, your goals and how you want to measure results. It is easy to blow through money with PPC unless you test, optimize and pay some attention every month. Typically it will produce results in the first 30 days but you will always have to pay for them. If you want to position yourself for long term results and establish your presence to your target audience and market, then spending some time in SEO will help be your solution. SEO is more permanent depending on your strategy and will build long term equity for your website, PPC will drive results and help you be specific to a particular industry, geography, or time period. If someone finds you through organic/natural results, you typically have more credibility because that is harder to accomplish and anyone can "pay" for advertising. If you can do it, we would recommend balancing both of them. Set your goals and then allocate X hours a month optimizing your site and equivalent dollars to PPC, but always be evolving and optimizing.