7 Ways PPC Kicks SEO’s Butt

PPC kicks SEO's buttFor any of you who manage to spend any time on the trade show circuit, I’m sure you’ve noticed the circus atmosphere or “noise level” that still surrounds SEO at these events, often to the detriment of some attendees’ appreciation of the high priority of paid, targeted, online advertising (such as PPC).

With PPC, you can take a more direct route to achieving serious business objectives. When you have a diverse keyword universe – for example, you sell 500 chew toys and 500 other products for dogs, to say nothing of parakeets – it can be almost impossible to achieve first page rankings for all SEO terms. Paid search allows for wider coverage.

So without any further ado, here are seven ways I believe PPC is actually better than SEO.


1 – With PPC, you have more control. You buy – or at least rent – the keys. No shovel, no cryptic maps, no digging in the park for imaginary gold. Control over your ad copy (so that you can test it to maximize performance); control over the choice of landing page; control over which keywords you show up on and how visibly, etc. The competitive auction may be a costly and tough struggle, but you can directly manipulate many elements of the process.

2 – With PPC, you can bid on – and get traffic on – high-funnel research terms, and establish category leadership. Very general terms are difficult to rank for organically – even on the first page, let alone something that might attract more than a handful of clicks (typically you’ll need to be in the top two or three organic spots to move the needle). To add insult to SEO injury, in the unlikely event you rank #1, you’ll often contend with three juicy paid results tempting users above your “#1” ranking! PPC folks know that such terms may not be easy to keep running from an ROI and Quality Score standpoint, but if you can optimize and find a way forward, the direct approach (just buy your way up there) can work remarkably well. The fact is that some companies do have budgets. They spend immense amounts on television, for example.

Could McDonald’s pretty much permanently bid on the word “salad” if they wanted to, as I recommended in 2004? They sure could. It’s small potatoes to them. But many smaller companies can play with such strategies as well, if they’re smart with ad creative and landing pages.

Indeed, many of those smaller companies have far less chance of ranking organically than a big fish like McD’s. And the point is, the strategies don’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can do both. And you aren’t ruled out of getting your fair share of organic listings just because you don’t “do SEO” or “don’t do enough SEO” or “don’t buy backlinks” (yikes)!

(Related: It’s The End of SEO As We Know It, and I Feel Fine)

3 – PPC results increasingly come with added visibility perks like seller ratings extensions, the Sitelinks extension, and the list goes on. That draws even more attention to your message, and makes it ever less likely that any user with commercial intent is going to chase down below the fold to find your “pretty good” #6 organic listing.

4 – Two words: Fast feedback. With SEO, you are best off pursuing sensible, comprehensive strategies like building reputation externally and creating remarkable content (and somehow, at scale). It takes months (or years) to find out whether these projects are creating a positive impact on rank and revenues. That’s fine, but businesses often surge ahead of competitors if they can iterate faster, generate new customers and all sorts of marketplace feedback sooner. With PPC, some of this is close to instant. One smart man calls this “poking the box.”

Don’t want to know within two days if your great idea for ad creative stinks? Then do SEO exclusively… you’ll never have to write a line of ad creative! As a corollary to all of this, tighter feedback cycles give you a better handle on causality. If too much time elapses between action and impact, you’re no longer running marketing experiments; you’re guessing.

5 – Two more words: Better service. Do you want to listen to Matt Cutts Q&A’s and get access to a few Webmaster Tools, or would you rather have a dedicated Google account team that helps you understand new products, invites you to informative events, and can troubleshoot account problems when they arise? Your call. Of course, if your budget is the proverbial seven-figure amount per year, you have a better chance of being noticed.

6 – You actually get data. In case you hadn’t noticed, Google no longer passes organic search keyword referral data to site owners when users are logged in – those users now use Google search using https. This was ostensibly to thwart wi-fi hackers and the like. This is playing havoc with organic search analytics. Initially thought to be a minor nuisance amounting to 5-10% of query data, the proportion of hidden data is already reaching 40% and higher for some websites. I’m not in favor of this, necessarily – I question whether Google is genuinely doing this for security reasons. But again, the business owners who made the hard-nosed decision years ago to “pay to play” are not much impacted by this change. With PPC, you have access to lovely, juicy, incredibly helpful keyword query reports with all the relevant statistics you may need (especially, attributed conversion data).

I’m not really sure how much of a “security threat” that poses, but the double standard certainly seems to tilt the strategy balance in favor of PPC once again.

7 – And lastly, in the PPC world, there are fewer algorithm changes. Think of PPC as hurricane insurance. Or maybe insurance against massive herds of eucalyptus-gobbling pandas. Or whatever. In the SEO world, one day you can be riding high, convinced that your “gray hat” tactics are not only ingenious, but aligned with Google’s view of “great content.” The next day, your traffic drops by 50%, or 80%, because Google is sweeping through the content universe trying to weed out spam and discounting commonly used SEO tactics, and you’re caught in the net.

This type of business risk is not as acute with PPC, because Google has much less spam to worry about in the paid search universe. They do tweak the Quality Score algorithm on the paid search side to ensure that advertisers are rewarded for relevance, but the changes are typically incremental. Google deals more respectfully with a finite universe of known advertisers with credit cards who pay for each click.

Now there’s nothing wrong with organic traffic! And lots of it, if you can get it – either through genuine leadership in some core areas that map to a limited universe of highly popular keywords, or through breadth of quality publishing that attracts a wide audience that genuinely uses and shares that content. But from a business standpoint, there is less and less volume upside to SEO all the time.

Businesses that want to project a certain amount of growth from predictable, targeted online clicks aren’t likely to hit their targets by parsing every syllable and voice inflection in the next Matt Cutts video. For an industry that has gained a reputation for being “aggressive,” that’s actually a pretty passive way to go about growing a business.

Keep poking the box. Or if you haven’t yet started in earnest, what are you waiting for? Good luck, and good quality score.



Andrew is the Founder and President of Page Zero Media, a full-service digital marketing agency. He got caught up in a little dot com fever in 1998, co-started Traffick.com in 1999, began soliciting consulting clients in 2001 and released a Google AdWords Handbook in March, 2002 that spurred Page Zero’s growing expertise in paid search campaign management and related services.

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