Written by Christina Lyon on Dec 16 , 2022

SEO is the tortoise, PPC is the hare — what happens when the two run the race together?

Here, you’ll find:

  • Pay-per-click (PPC) and search engine optimization (SEO) pros and cons
  • Similarities and differences between SEO and PPC management
  • Strengths and weaknesses of each tactic
  • How to leverage both SEO and PPC ad campaigns 

Audiences are potential customers but, above all, they’re complex and diverse humans.

As such, your digital marketing strategy can’t rely on one method to attract the masses. So when it comes to SEO and PPC management, which one is right for your company?

Cue Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston, because when it comes to effective marketing efforts: 

“It takes two, baby.”

What is SEO and PPC management?

SEO and PPC Management

Both strategies yield more success with management from a team of experts. And, for some, one channel will suffice. (Image: Adobe)

PPC is a quick, efficient marketing strategy to gain visibility and top-spot results on the search engine results pages (SERPs) — but you’ll pay for every click. 

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a more affordable option for getting organic traffic, but it’s a slow burn requiring time and patience. The reward is heightened brand awareness, visibility, and traffic.

Both strategies yield more success with management from a team of experts. And, for some, one channel will suffice. 

But when you join forces? Magic happens.

SEO for Google (& search engines everywhere)

With high-quality and useful content, strategic keyword placements, authority perspectives, meta tags, proper formatting, and speedy websites, companies can compete for the top spots on the Google SERP. 

And while Google is the most popular search engine to optimize for, Bing and Yahoo Search are also common search engines where brands can reach niche audiences.

A detailed digital marketing strategy should prioritize SEO and Google rankings. 

SEO is a long-game. Plus, more than 94% of pages don’t garner any traffic from Google. Yet American companies invested an estimated $79.2 billion in SEO services in 2020. These stats show the two sides of SEO — equally uplifting or devastating to your marketing campaigns, depending on how you execute.

Pros of SEO 

1. Increased authority

A well-oiled SEO strategy propels brands into the trustworthy light of their target audience’s eyes. Consistently publishing SEO-friendly content paints a picture of authority, which Google loves. 

Credible brands have many useful informational pages for consumers around their niche, building valuable E-A-T — Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. This is an essential part of Google’s algorithm that dictates which brands show up on SERPs.  (Recently, this has become E-E-A-T, with added focus on first-hand Experience.)

Pros of SEO

A well-oiled SEO strategy propels brands into the trustworthy light of their target audience’s eyes. (Image: Adobe)

When you employ SEO best practices, Google’s crawlers trust your company as an authority. This means you don’t have to spend money every time you see results. Regularly editing and pivoting your strategy will keep things updated and useful, and Google will reward you.

2. Boosts organic web traffic for ecommerce and lead generation alike

Did you know organic search results are the #1 source of web traffic — 53%, to be exact? Organic results are powered by relevant keywords and undivided audience attention and research — the perfect recipe for conversions.

Whether you have an ecommerce site or focus on pulling in leads, SEO can push your traffic to new heights.

3. Affordable investment

SEO is much more cost-effective than pay-per-click advertising. You’ll spend time carefully curating your pages for Google’s algorithm, but the traffic that ensues has no limit. You don’t have to pay for every click, as you would with PPC ads. And if you don’t have the time to maintain SEO’s constant updates, plenty of SEO agencies can help. 

Of course, that’ll cost you. But it may be more affordable than what you’ll invest into PPC ads. That said, SEO isn’t without its drawbacks, too. 

Cons of SEO 

1. Results take time

SEO isn’t an overnight success story. One Ahrefs study found that top Google results were web pages that were at least two years old, with the number one spot being three years old.

Marketing director at HawkSEM, Jenny Palmer, weighs in:

“SEO takes time to get picked up by the search engine. If you have already established your site from an SEO perspective, new content can be picked up quicker, but usually we say 3-6 months (for each piece of content) from when new content is published or optimizations are made before you really start to see them perform. After that, it’s important to continue to optimize to maintain high rankings/improve rankings.”

Optimizing your pages for high-volume keywords may require at least one year to reach the top-ten SERP list. As for low-volume keywords? You can rank faster, but expect less traffic since your target audience will look for higher-volume words first. 

Hourglass on computer representing how long SEO can take to work

Results take time with SEO. (Image: Adobe)

And then there’s the vital EAT factor. Building web authority and expertise online isn’t a fast process. Plus, your playing field is filled with competitors. 

To avoid hindering your success with SEO, Jenny recommends being flexible with the content you publish and being patient as you wait for results.

2. Competitive landscape

Think about your top offering. Let’s say it’s project management software, for example.

Chances are, you’re not the first one in the market. A quick Google search for project management software fetches results from high-ticket players in the game like Asana or Monday.com. And they’ve had bigger budgets and timelines to build their EAT and credibility. 

Regardless of tenure, Google rewards brands for SEO efforts. But you won’t come close to taking the leading competition from their top spots without investing years into your content marketing strategy. 

3. Demanding process

Maybe you have a marketing associate or an entire team, but SEO will keep them busy. They’ll need to regularly research and maintain awareness of Google’s algorithm updates to optimize your pages. Additionally, user behavior and intent changes, meaning you’ll constantly need to keep tabs on your keywords.

Let’s say you own a startup and invest in a strong SEO strategy. You’re off to a great start. But what happens in one year from now? Two years?

Is your published content still accurate and relevant? Outdated figures and statistics used in your content will hinder your rankings, even if you spent hours initially researching that piece, the data might not hold up. Plus, Google’s helpful content update requires brands to ensure the utmost usefulness in their content. 

Bottom line? SEO requires time and effort. But as the leading source of web traffic and an affordable marketing tactic, it’s worthy of your marketing dollars.

PPC marketing and Google Ads management

Let’s shift focus now to PPC advertising. Known as the more pricey of the two methods, PPC is also considered the most effective — when executed well, that is. 

Pros of PPC

1. Lightning-fast results

You’ll see improved traffic much faster with PPC than SEO. Of course, you’ll still need a robust strategy, carefully tailored keyword lists, and ad copy. But compared to SEO’s tortoise speed, PPC is the fast-footed hare.

Jenny elaborates:

“PPC campaigns give you instant impressions and clicks, which means you can start driving traffic instantly. While campaigns will need to go through a learning phase of about two weeks when launched, you can expect to see results very quickly — in the first couple weeks [or the] first month. Over time, as you optimize the campaigns and the machine learning gathers more data, you can expect to see better performance, though I would say 3-6 months is when you really can see things take off.”

2. Time-specific traffic and hyper-targeting

Like SEO, PPC won’t improve your rankings overnight. However, PPC gets you in front of your target audience for time-specific offerings.

Let’s say you offer a snow-shoveling service in your neighborhood. A series of PPC ads with location targets during winter months helps you appeal to your audience at the exact time they need your service. 

This hyper-targeting reminds us of our client 686, a snowboarding gear and winter apparel retailer. They needed help improving their revenue in a saturated market. We used PPC ads to target U.S. regions with users most interested in their products. Then, we used remarketing tactics to appeal to users who had already visited 686’s website. 

Along with a re-optimized product feed and targeted landing pages, our efforts resulted in a 562% increase in revenue.

3. Lower time commitment

SEO demands top-notch writing, editing, and tweaks over time to maintain relevance. PPC is quicker, and the ad copy is shorter than writing informative long-form articles, freeing valuable time to focus on other marketing initiatives.

4. Quick audience research

Paid social media ads help you understand your target demographics quickly. PPC ads help you use campaign performance to generate valuable insights about specific audience segments so you can better target them.

PPC advertising cons

1. Can be pricey

While the range varies by industry, Google Ads typically average about $2-$4 per click, which could add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. You may spend more than this depending on your target keywords and industry.

Sure, you’re getting visitors to your website — but how many of them are quality leads and conversions? This is where SEO can jump in and work alongside PPC.

“If you have a limited budget you will want to focus on very low-funnel terms for PPC,” Jenny says. “This makes SEO important as well though, because you need to build up your base and website authority since you will only be able to drive a small amount of traffic with a limited budget.”

2. Visibility disappears with your budget

We know PPC advertising is expensive — but it’s also quite unforgiving. One budget slip-up and you’ll lose all the visibility you once had. A solid clickthrough rate can deflate to zip if you don’t keep the money flowing.

3. High competition

Jenny tells us competition is a top challenge for PPC campaigns, specifically “not being able to compete with larger competitors in the auctions, [along with] too small of budgets for the account to perform.”

Brands fight for Google’s best ad space with bidding and ad quality. Let’s say you’d like to start your own SaaS psychological thriller streaming service. You’ll offer competitive rates to attract users and divert them from Shudder, AMC’s staple horror streaming service. 

Chances are, AMC has a larger budget for bidding, making it difficult to compete for top ad positions.

In this case, it’s smart to monitor your competitor’s ad copy and look for gaps. And while it may be hard to compete with big bids, you might have room in the budget to bring on a PPC agency for an extra edge. 

We’ve covered the pros and cons of SEO and PPC management, now let’s look at situations where one might shine over the other.

SEO and PPC management: a side-by-side comparison

PPC Advertising SEO
COST  $1-$2 per click; $9,000-$10,000 per month Minimum $500 per month
TIME COMMITMENT 2-4 weeks; 3-6 months for optimal results 3-6 months; 1-3 years for optimal results
LEADS Faster but lower quality Slower but higher quality
CONVERSIONS Lots of web visits and traffic; fewer conversions  More conversions over time
CLICK-THROUGH RATES Average 3.17% for Google Ads 7.6%-39.6% for top four results 

When it comes to PPC and SEO management, each has strengths and weaknesses. Using a combination of both will give you a bulletproof content marketing strategy. But when does one make more sense than the other?

PPC is generally more efficient for: 

  • Time-limited or time-sensitive offerings
  • Short-term strategy
  • New product launch
  • Quicker audience reach
  • Higher budgets
  • Retargeting

SEO is generally more efficient for: 

  • Thought leadership and authority
  • Long-term strategy
  • Educational content
  • Lower budgets
  • Higher-quality leads

Do any of the above goals sound familiar? What if your marketing goals overlap? If that rings true, it’s time to consider weaving both together to optimize your strategy. 

How to harmonize SEO & PPC for optimal results

If you’re a SaaS business, you know how important cohesion is in your overall operation. You have your engineering, product, marketing, customer success, and RevOps teams working together to crush your strategic goals every quarter. 

Do your engineering team and marketing team have anything in common? Despite vastly different skill sets, the two teams complement each other. The last thing you need is a siloed team — so why would you have a siloed marketing strategy?

Instead, use the following tactics to weave a strategy that harmonizes PPC and SEO management.

1. Use PPC to retarget visitors

A few months of regular SEO strategizing, and you’ll start to see more web visitors. But how many will convert after that first visit? The worst case scenario is those same visitors use the valuable content on your page to buy elsewhere. 

Retargeting can help you to keep this from happening.

Second- or third-time visitors require extra attention. You’ll need to finesse your strategy with them, encouraging them to return and convert. Say a serial window shopper leaves your site again. Retargeting allows you to attach a piece of code to their web actions and track them. The result? You can nudge them back to your landing page, priming them for conversion. 

Retargeting is a graceful dance between SEO and PPC management. Visitors might remember your website once more if they notice an ad on Google’s SERP. 

But what about the people who intentionally skip ads? Wouldn’t they avoid your site again? Not necessarily. Jenny elaborates: 

“You only pay when somebody clicks your ad, so it is OK if some people skip the ads. If you are not able to rank in the top 10 organically, Google Ads are the only way you are going to show up on the first page regardless of who is skipping the ads. If you are not ranking on the first page, that means you are likely not getting much traffic from that term without Google Ads.”

2. Use tech to cross-analyze data

SEO and PPC give you ample data. Both your SEO insights and Google Analytics provide a goldmine of knowledge for your strategy. Explore and compare these metrics:  

  • Time spent on the site
  • Conversion rate
  • Local conversions
  • Bounce rate
  • Click-through rate (CTR)

You have the data — but deciphering and comparing it will take some time. That’s why Hawk SEM uses ConversionIQ, our proprietary tech that analyzes data and transforms it into revenue-generating insights. 

3. Use PPC to test keywords

You’ll need keyword research and content strategies for PPC and SEO tactics, but why not let PPC work for your SEO strategy? PPC keyword A/B testing is quicker than SEO. Ad keywords take less than a week to assess, while SEO demands months of time for real insights. 

Negative keyword lists and match type changes will inform your keyword strategy, especially on the PPC front. But these are difficult to track without support. A PPC/SEO agency can help with that.

woman using an ipad at a hair salon

Use PPC to test keywords. (Image: Adobe)

“Work with experts who understand all the recent changes Google has been making and how it changes what the strategy should be,” says Jenny. “Build out robust negative lists and constantly monitor search terms because of match type changes. Feed the algorithm additional information like customer lists and offline conversion imports for lifecycle stage change information.”

Notice any high-converting PPC ads? Chances are, those metatags, organic copy, descriptions, and keywords will perform just as well for your SEO content. 

4. Establish presence in the SERPs

It’s tempting to encourage your content creation team to produce daily blog posts in the hopes of reaching page one. But sheer output won’t matter until you focus on quality.

A better approach? Jenny advises brands to focus on quality over quantity:

“Focus less on mass-producing content and more on creating quality content. Stay up to date on algorithm changes and what they are related to. Image search is expected to grow, so be sure to add visuals like infographics and photos to content.”

But even if your website ranks on page one, paid ads will always be higher up on the page, increasing your visibility. Use both to your advantage. 

If a searcher sees the same website at the top of the SERP and in an ad, they have two chances to click on your website. In this case, SEO and PPC management complement each other perfectly, with SEO picking up where paid search left off.  

Achieving this requires industry expertise. HawkSEM seamlessly weaves SEO and paid search marketing efforts for businesses of all sizes — let’s talk about how we can make it happen for yours.

5. Generate faster results with an SEO/PPC agency

We’ve established that PPC is faster than SEO. But you can leverage that speed to keep your SEO strategy on ice. 

Jenny describes SEO as a rewarding, long-term game: 

“I like to say that SEO is a marathon and PPC is a sprint. You may get ahead faster with PPC, but SEO is crucial to long-term strategy.”

Your SEO campaign will garner more long-lasting traffic than PPC — but you might not have the time or resources to wait. An SEO agency can help you manage all the legwork. Of course, that comes with a cost, too. 

“If you can’t afford an SEO agency and do not have time to do it, PPC can drive leads while you get started,” says Jenny. 

The takeaway

SEO and PPC management offer unique benefits. If you’re early in your business, SEO might offer higher-quality leads at a lower price. However, PPC ads present faster visibility, which is ideal for time-specific offerings and reaching target audiences quickly. 

But the two work together to create a dynamic marketing strategy and commendable return on investment for every business.

To boost revenue, reduce ad spend, and gain more visibility, consider working with a marketing agency. The outcome? More traffic, conversions, and revenue. 

Our team of marketing experts is ready to combine the best of both worlds and get you results. Because in the world of digital marketing, it pays for the tortoise and the hare to run the race together.

Contact us today for a free consultation.

Christina Lyon

Christina Lyon

Christina Lyon is an entrepreneur and writer from sunny SoCal. She leads Lyon Content, a tight-knit team of bold creatives, and crafts engaging written content that helps brands sparkle and scale.

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