As a blogger, you’ll spend a lot of time and effort on attracting readers to your site. After all, your blog’s success relies entirely on those readers! But you might have heard about different marketing strategies and be confused about which ones you should be using.
If so, never fear – you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll look at two of the most popular and effective forms of digital marketing: pay-per-click advertising (PPC) and search engine optimization (SEO). I’ll talk you through the differences between the two, their uses, and help you decide which one is right for your site.
Let’s dive in!
What is PPC?
PPC is a form of paid advertising. Advertisers bid on keywords, and each time a user searches for the relevant term, they’ll be served an ad (or several) from relevant advertisers.
For example, when I search the term “digital marketing”, I see ads from Sendinblue, Campaign Monitor, and Hubspot.
If I were to click one of those ads, the relevant advertiser would pay a fee. PPC is exactly what it sounds like: advertisers only pay when their ad is clicked, no matter how many times it’s seen.
Google Ads is the largest PPC platform in the world by far. However, it’s not the only one out there. You can also do PPC advertising through social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, as well as through other search engines like Bing.
What is SEO?
Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to the steps you take to improve your site’s ranking on the results pages of Google and other search engines. SEO is an organic channel, which means that you do not pay a fee to acquire the leads who come to your site via your SEO efforts.
Just some common SEO strategies for bloggers include optimizing content to target specific keywords, adding alt tags to your images, and adding meta descriptions containing your keywords to your posts.
Pros and Cons of PPC
Now that you understand the difference, let’s explore some of the pros and cons of each strategy to help you decide which is right for you.
Pros of PPC
If you’re targeting popular keywords, you’ll soon notice that paid ads dominate the first few search results. In other words, paid advertising means that people who search for your keywords will see your ad even if they don’t click on it. Remember: you only pay when they click. So if they don’t, you’ve still boosted awareness of your brand (and it hasn’t cost you anything!)
PPC also gives you more space to serve your message to your target customers. You can use various ad extensions to include additional information. Many businesses use these to list their contact information, opening hours, and so on. As a blogger, you might choose to direct visitors to your most popular posts, your “Contact Me” page, or even your merchandise store.
The other major advantage of PPC is the conversion rate it offers. PPC results on Google see a lower click-through rate than organic results (1.91% for a paid result, against 31.7% for the first organic result). However, those that do click convert at a much higher conversion rate (4.40% on average against 2.35% for organic results.
The reason for this is simple: because PPC is highly targeted, those who see your results are likely to be the people who are looking for exactly what you’re offering. In other words, they’re highly qualified leads.
For this reason, PPC may be great for you as a blogger if you want readers to take a particular action, such as signing up for your email marketing list or buying through one of your affiliate links.
PPC is much quicker than SEO. As you’ll see shortly, SEO is a long game. You cannot expect to see results in days or even weeks. PPC, on the other hand, gets results quickly as long as you target the right keywords and create a great ad.
Finally, PPC is a more scalable strategy than SEO. It’s potential is theoretically more or less limitless. If you’ve seen the results you wanted from one campaign, why not increase your budget or target more keywords?
Cons of PPC
PPC can get costly. The cost per click varies hugely, so I cannot give you any hard and fast figures. However, as a ballpark figure, you can expect to pay between $1 and $5 per click. In some niches, you’ll pay much more:
It’s worth remembering that you have control over your total spending, as you can set a maximum amount you’ll pay per day. This is called your “Bid”. Obviously, the more you’re willing to pay, the more often your ad will be served to a user.
Of course, when it works well, PPC pays for itself many times over. But that won’t always be the case. You might get it wrong the first time, or not see the results you were hoping for. Choosing the wrong keywords or the wrong ad content can be an expensive mistake.
I mentioned above that PPC gets a lower click-through rate than organic results. One study suggested that around 80% of searchers skip the paid results in a Google search entirely. So don’t be surprised if a lot of searchers simply ignore your ads.
Though it gets results quickly if you do it well, PPC only works for as long as you keep investing in it. Unlike SEO, which represents a long-term effort for a long-term payoff, PPC will only get you results until you stop paying for ads.
Pros and Cons of SEO
SEO is big business. Experts make a good living doing nothing but SEO, and there’s a good reason for that: it does work. But will it get results for you? Read on to learn about the pros and cons.
Pros of SEO
SEO doesn’t necessarily have to incur a cost at all. In fact, if you’re on a shoestring budget, there are a lot of strategies you can use that are completely free. SEO expert Matt Diggity recommends focusing on “white hat” SEO techniques, which simply means those that fall within regulations. Just some of the strategies you can use that cost nothing are writing guest posts for other sites, optimizing your content using a simple plugin (I use Yoast SEO for my blog), and focusing on long-form, high-quality content. Since you’re a blogger, you’re presumably amazing at the latter already!
Doing SEO takes time (more on that in a minute), so it will cost you hours if not dollars. But if you have time to spare, focusing on learning SEO for your blog will pay dividends in the long run.
SEO has myriad benefits that cannot be replicated with paid ads. It increases your credibility and builds trust among your target audience. Anyone can set up an ad, but only quality sites can rank on the first page of Google results organically! Since, as we discussed above, around 80% of users ignore paid search results, you’ll be well placed to take some of those clicks if you can get into the top few organic results.
Finally, a major benefit of SEO is that it pays off over the long term. Unlike paid ads, which only work as long as you keep paying, SEO offers long-lasting results in exchange for the effort you put in now.
Cons of SEO
As I’ve alluded to a couple of times already, SEO is a long game. You can’t expect to see results overnight, or even within the first few weeks or months.
Ahrefs estimated that only 5.7% of websites rank (appear in the top 10 organic results on Google) for at least one keyword in their first year:
The average age of a site taking that all important number one spot? 950 days. That’s 2.6 years.
In the last section, we talked about how SEO can be free if you’re willing to put the time in. While that’s true, many site owners who really want to succeed go down the route of hiring an SEO specialist or agency. These experts have spent years getting to grips with complex and ever-changing search algorithms. For that reason, they’re expensive. They know their stuff and a good SEO specialist is worth their weight in gold, but don’t expect professional SEO support to come cheap.
And if you do decide to do it yourself? Expect a steep learning curve. SEO is far from easy. You’ll need to research, study, learn, adapt, and make mistakes as you go along. If you have the time and inclination to do that, I applaud you, but robust SEO isn’t something that can be learned overnight.
SEO is also not especially scalable. While you can hire an expert to help you, there comes a point where you can’t get better results by throwing more money at it. Once you start ranking, all you can do is strive to keep ranking.
Though it pays off in long term rewards, SEO also requires continual investment in the form of original, high-quality content. Of course, if you’re blogging regularly this won’t be a problem for you! But if you post less often, it will naturally take your site longer to rank.
So Which One is Better?
The short answer is that I can’t tell you which one is best for you!
Marketing is unique, which is why every company, entrepreneur, and site owner should have their own strategy. I can’t give you a one-size answer because your business is different to my business.
Personally, I rely entirely on SEO for my blog at the moment. My current website is quite new, so it’s taking some time to start ranking. However, it’s not a major part of this year’s business plan, so I have the luxury of time to work on it and get it to the point of becoming an income stream. I might invest in PPC at some point, but I’m not there right now.
Let’s briefly consider some circumstances under which you might do each one.
Do SEO if…
…you run any kind of online business, including a blog!
I’ve come to believe that an SEO strategy is pretty much essential. You might take the time to learn how to do it yourself, or you might invest in an expert or agency to help you out.
If you’re not focusing on SEO yet, I highly recommend that you start. You can always do PPC alongside it if you want to start seeing a fast uptick in traffic. But SEO will pay off long-term.
Do PPC if…
…you have money to spend, want results quickly, or want to scale your business.
While I don’t believe PPC is an essential strategy for most bloggers and website owners, it’s a nice-to-have that can take your traffic and conversions to the next level.
Another good reason to do PPC is if you want to target keywords with extremely high competition scores. If you wouldn’t be able to rank for it through SEO alone, PPC is the way to get your content in the top spots. But be aware: if the keywords are that sought after, you’ll pay handsomely for it.
Taking a Joined-Up Approach
You know your blog, your business, and your audience best! That means you’re best placed to decide what works for you. Whatever marketing strategies you decide to use, make sure your approach is aligned across channels and that your techniques complement one another.
Both PPC and SEO have a place, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. I consider SEO essential and PPC as more of a nice extra, but the two can work very well in tandem. If you focus on a streamlined and integrated marketing strategy, you’ll be best placed to start seeing the results you want.
Jess Amy Dixon is a Project Manager at Launch Space, where she helps SaaS clients land guest posts so they can generate links that push their content up the search rankings. She lives in the UK and when she’s not writing you can probably find her knitting, reading, or sipping coffee. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @JessAmyWrites.