by Claudia Heanley on September 17, 2020

Where should you focus your time and money? SEO or PPC?

It’s a question that comes up frequently, especially when people are relatively new to marketing.

“Which should we choose? Which is more effective? PPC or SEO?” Fundamentally, the answer is not to choose. Well, more accurately, choose both.

The two go hand in hand, and when worked together, provide much greater potential for value. The misconception is that ‘pick one and work really hard on it’ is better than sharing your efforts across both.


You may think that SEO is the cheaper option, and PPC is expensive. But this isn’t necessarily true when you look deeper.

Sure, SEO can be considered technically free, just so long as you don’t class time as an expense. Which you absolutely should, along with your investment in people, content and tools to help step-up your SEO game. If you’re spending hours and hours on SEO efforts that aren’t focussed, planned and executed well, your ROI will be extremely low for those activities.

With PPC you do, as the name suggests, have to pay-per-click, but the whole point in PPC is being able to control, or set a limit to what you’re willing to pay or bid. This means that it doesn’t have to be expensive, but simultaneously, if you poorly manage a PPC campaign you could end up paying huge amounts of money, which could exceed the value the results you’re getting are providing for your business.

Barriers to entry

With PPC the keywords you bid on could have high competition. It can be difficult to perfect and tune your bidding strategy and you may require someone to monitor it very closely, especially in the early stages.

Whereas with SEO, due to the low risk nature and character of it you can start anywhere without having to risk a cash outlay. Your efforts needn’t be so consistent strictly speaking (while your results will be better if you are, they won’t plummet if you leave your SEO alone for a week) and once you start achieving some solid results, your search engine positioning is relatively stable. Once your site is well optimised with good link authority and strong content it can hold its search engine position.. That being said, you cannot just leave your SEO alone completely, as a new algorithm update or very proactive competitor could have a negative impact on your own SEO.


If you have an abundance of time, but very little cash flow or small marketing budget, then pursuing SEO is a good long-term goal. Through improving your SEO, you will drive organic traffic to your website. The results won’t be overnight, but they will be enduring – creating high quality “evergreen” content can continue to deliver visitors to your site long term.

That being said – SEO is very slow compared to PPC, and you should bear in mind that it can take months after optimising your site to start seeing any results – whereas with PPC you will start getting leads immediately. Additionally, with SEO you will have never ‘finished’. Your site will never be 100% optimised, but rather get more and more optimised. You can always purchase SEO tools such as AHrefs or SEMrushto help you. There are also some free tools available such as Moz and Ubersuggest. You may want to hire someone to help you, to save time. It all depends on your cash flow and budget.

The immediacy of PPC is an enormous selling point. Once your campaign starts, you’ll immediately see more traffic, clicks and conversions, while those results with SEO could take months. However, researching and selecting effective keywords to bid on is a very time-consuming process. You’ll be managing what you’re spending on your keywords, measuring the returns, adjusting your spend all constantly while trying to master the PPC game, which can take up significant amounts of your time. You can outsource this, and spend a portion of your budget on PPC Management services – usually this is a better use of your resource, especially as you’ll get access to experts. 

The reason we say you shouldn’t choose one over the other is that, you can either choose to spend or wait… or do both and start seeing fast results while you build up the longer-term SEO. You can always start to reduce your PPC budget as your organic traffic builds.


PPC is scalable and controllable, which means that you set your budget and have a fairly decent idea of how many leads you’ll get for that. This makes it much more measurable in terms of ROI compared to SEO where it can take longer or require more time if the industry you want to rank for is very competitive.

The flip side of PPC’s instantaneous nature is that while it’s quick to see results also see quick to end results! Your PPC campaign turns on the tap to traffic, leads and conversions – however, once your turn off your campaign that tap is shut off at the same time. There is no lasting ROI with PPC like you see with SEO and if you suddenly require your PPC budget elsewhere you could be in trouble. This is why it’s so important to make sure you’re working on your SEO simultaneously. SEO is more long lasting and sees a snowball effect – taking a while to get started, perhaps slowing down at times – but once it’s rolling full speed ahead you won’t be able to stop it!

Instances SEO might not be the right choice

There are occasions where SEO may not work for you, for example if you’re pursuing a Blue Ocean Strategy (a strategy whereby you have a highly innovative product or service for which there is no competition or no existing market) it’s going to be pretty hard to work on your SEO as people may not be searching any terms that will help you increase your organic traffic. In short – if you’re creating something that doesn’t already exist, people aren’t going to be searching for it. So, if you fit somewhere in this description you could be better off trying to leverage social media advertising in order to build awareness for your product or service.

Another example of where SEO might not be the right strategy is if you’re looking for leads for a one-time event, or one-time offer. This is because you may not start to see results until the event or offer has passed.

Again, another area where it can be hard to really work on your SEO is when you’re trying to promote commercial content. If it’s a landing page you’re trying to rank in organic search can be difficult – you may need to consider using blog posts to get your links in as generally people don’t want to link to commercial content. So, this is another instance where you could be better focusing on PPC.

While both strategies are really beneficial for you to get clicks and leads and see results – neither are easy, and there are some things you need to closely monitor, and make sure you’re not doing or they could have some pretty harmful effects for you and your company.

Black Hat SEO and Spamdexing

Just like most things in life – people have found ways in which to try to shortcut SEO. However, this does not work in your favour, and if it’s picked up on will deliver you a spam score, penalty, or in some cases can result in you being banned from that search engine. Not a desirable outcome.

Some examples of Black Hat SEO are:

  1. Paid links – this is where you pay someone to link back to your website on other websites to try get a higher ranking.
  2. Spam comments – another method intended to create backlinks. People leave comments that are links to a website from fake usernames, this is often not a manual process.
  3. Duplicate content – effectively copy and pasting content between sources. Search engines look for unique content.
  4. Cloaking – this is the practice of making your content appear completely differently depending on whether or not it is being viewed by a human or search engine.
  5. Keyword stuffing – pretty self-explanatory; filling your landing pages/ blogs/ websites with keywords that you want to rank on. Search engines are actually too smart for this now and it will harm your SEO efforts.
  6. Invisible text – just like in university essays to bump up your word count! White text on white background. Invisible text has been used to list keywords to try get Google to rank the page higher. The goal is to not detract from UX but to still be plugged with keywords – this can be recognised as keyword stuffing now. 

PPC Bidding strategies

There are a few different bidding strategies you can go for in your PPC campaign, you should choose carefully based on your level of PPC expertise and your goals because it can be easy to burn through money if you’re not being careful. For our full article on types of PPC read here.

  1. Manual Cost Per Click – one of the most popular strategies, if not the most popular. It’s very basic and has the least room for error. Essentially you pick a fixed bid for a particular keyword and the rest is done for you. This is helpful as you won’t wake up to see you’ve spent £3,000 when your budget is £50/day. There is a fine line though, and if your bid is too low you won’t get any results, and if it’s too high you could end up massively overspending. However, you do tend to need a lot of data to help inform your decisions, which can make it not the best choice for a total novice.

  2. Automatic Cost Per Click – with this strategy you can set a daily campaign budget and then Google will increase or decrease your bids to get as many clicks as possible. This is a great strategy for beginners as you get choices made based off of Google’s own data sets. However, advanced users may prefer manual bidding strategies as you have more control for optimising the campaigns.

  3. Enhanced Cost Per Click – this is similar to automatic cost per click, however, only allows Google to adjust your bids by a maximum of 30% each way. So, if automatic cost per click will keep you lying in bed awake at night, you may have a little more peace of mind with enhanced!

  4. CPA Bidding – this is the strategy for you if the purpose of your campaign is solely for conversions. If you want to play by this method, you will need to have had at least 15 conversions over a span of 30 days to give Google adequate data to work with. This is a high-risk strategy, as if you have daily budget caps in place it can stand in the way of it working. You should only use this strategy if you have some serious PPC know-how.

  5. CPM Bidding – this is cost per thousand impressions. When utilising CPM as your bidding strategy you are not paying per person that clicks on your ad, but rather per thousand people that are exposed it. If you have a really strong ad, and a really great conversion rate this can be an effective method to use to reduce your cost per conversion – but if your ad is lacking, and conversion rate low you could be paying and seeing no real results.

Negative key words

With PPC you bid on keywords. Then, if your bid is good and the ad you want to display is relevant, you will have a good chance of showing up in search results. However, if you’re trying to sell tennis rackets, you want to show up if someone searches ‘tennis rackets’. But if you don’t sell children’s tennis rackets, you don’t want to be showing up if someone searches ‘kids tennis rackets’ as if someone clicks on your ad when looking for a kids racket you’ll be paying for their click – but they definitely won’t be interested in your product.

Using Google Ads Keyword Planner, you’ll be able to find negative keyword ideas that you can add to your negative keyword list. It’s really important to make sure you add your negative keywords, or you’ll be paying for a whole lot of results that will be of absolutely no use to you. You should also check the search terms list that show the keywords people have seen your ads for – and if any of them are completely irrelevant, add them to your negative keywords list.

Incorrect targeting

Before you start a PPC campaign you should have developed your buyer personas. These are clear characteristics of those who you are targeting your product or service at, the demographic, their pain points, interests, likes, dislikes. This is crucial to be able to target your ads properly – and if your ads are shown to the wrong people, your campaign won’t be successful full stop.

In fact, this is true for SEO, too. If you don’t know your buyer personas, you won’t be able to write the content that will engage them.

In Conclusion

As you can see, both SEO and PPC are complex entities with lots of factors to consider. But it’s important (industry and budget dependant) to have both SEO and PPC strategies well thought through and planned out to get the best results. PPC will provide you with initial results, clicks and leads whilst getting on top of your SEO game, and once your SEO efforts start paying off, you’ll really start to see lift off.


Need help with your SEO or PPC? Get in touch.

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Topics: SEO, PPC