The Key Differences Between SEO and PPC

If you operate a website and/or do business online, you’ve probably heard the terms SEO and PPC. Both are strategies that leverage search engines and can powerful methods for attracting new visitors and making sales. If you’re looking to grow your business online, it’s important to know exactly what these terms mean and how you can utilize them to drive more traffic to your website.

What is Search Engine Optimization?

SEO Rank Increases for Actual ClientSEO, short for “search engine optimization,” is the method of optimizing a website so that it will be properly indexed by search engines and rank better in search results. With the high level of trust that search engines like Google have earned over the years (and rightfully so,) being ranked at the top of a Google search is a coveted position that can lead to clicks, visits, and sales. According to a study done by in May of 2013, 33% of all searchers on Google clicked on the top ranked website in the search results, and the first page of results received 92% of the total traffic for a specific keyword.

Not only that, but research often suggests that users who find your website from an organic search will trust your business more than those who found you via a paid advertisement. Ranking well on search results proves to many users that you are an authority on the topics they’re searching for. Search engines are built to be unbiased and are typically believed to show the most relevant search results possible (in contrast to social media sites, for example, which rely completely on the prejudices of those you follow.) In short, mastering SEO can be an essential part of driving traffic to your website.

What is PPC?

Strictly speaking, the term “PPC” is an abbreviation for the phrase “pay-per-click,” which is a common pricing model for paid ads. But the term is commonly used by marketers alongside the term SEM as a generic name for the skill of managing paid ads online – whether on Adwords, Facebook, Google’s display network, or others. This is despite the fact that many different pricing models exist for paid ads including CPM (cost per mille,) CPC (cost per click,) CPE (cost per engagement,) CPV (cost per view,) and Fixed-Cost advertising. Ads can be bought on a single site ( or Facebook, for example) or can be served across a broad network of dynamic ads that show on many different websites (like Google or Bing’s respective display networks.)

Here is a breakdown at how each model works:

  • Pay Per ClickCPC – The cost-per-click or pay-per-click (PPC) model charges a business each time their ad is clicked on (a click which usually directs a user to the company’s website or product page.)
  • CPM – The cost-per-mille model (i.e. cost per thousand views) charges a business a certain amount per thousand times a certain ad is shown to a user. This is referred to as an ad “impression.”
  • CPE – Cost per engagement ads generate cost for every time a user interacts with the ad directly. On social sites like Twitter or Pinterest, this engagement may include expanding a photo, marking an ad with a “like,” “favorite,” or “repin.”
  • CPV – The cost per view model applies to video ads on sites like, where a company is charged each time a user views their video ad for a predetermined amount of time.
  • Fixed-Cost – Fixed cost ads are those for which a company pays a website a fixed cost to display their ad for a set amount of time (regardless of how many or how few clicks or impressions the ad receives during that period of time.)

The most important benefit offered by paid ads is their instant nature; While organic SEO can take many months to bear fruit, a PPC ad can show up prominently on the exact same day as it is put in place.

What Are the Differences Between SEO and PPC?

While both PPC and SEO are key aspects of online marketing, there are quite a few differences between these two. The key differences between the two boil down to what you might call the four S’s: Speed, spread, specificity, and spend.


In regards to speed, the harsh reality is that even a well-optimized website in a fairly soft vertical can often take many months to rank well and receive significant organic (SEO) traffic. And factors like high competition, Google penalties, or poor initial website structure can make the process even longer. The good news is that search engines are dedicated to delivering the most relevant possible results, so they are constantly testing placement for new sites. If you’ve done well optimizing your website and users find what they’re looking for, you’ll start to see your rankings and traffic slowly increase.

With that said, if you’re in a hurry to start building traffic, PPC ads are absolutely the way to go. With PPC, you’re not waiting for search engines to catalog every detail about your website. Usually, within a few hours of setting up ads with publishers, you’ll start to see clicks, visitors, and – hopefully – sales.


Another core difference between SEO and PPC is how web users can find your website. As is evident by the word SEO itself, optimizing your site for search engines is naturally meant to get your site shown in search results, whereas PPC ads can show up in search results and in a variety of ways on other websites. Thus, a web user doesn’t have to necessarily be using a search engine to stumble upon your website. They could just as easily be watching a video on YouTube, browsing Facebook, or reading an article on their favorite news site. Simply put, PPC is able to give you a much wider reach across the web.


Another highly beneficial aspect of pay per click ads is the many different ways to target which users see your ad. Beyond simple keyword matches for search-based ads, ads can be tightly targeted to users of a certain age, race, or income level, or targeted by user interest (as disclosed to social networks or as gathered by Google.) Lookalike audiences can be generated by uploading a list of current customers and allowing companies like Facebook and Google to reference names, emails, and phone numbers against their own database to identify commonalities between your current customers and an entire mass of their users. It’s even possible to target visitors who have come to your site and left with or without making a purchase. The targeting options are pretty incredible.

SEO, on the other hand, is generally only meant to ensure your website appears as a result for various searches on Google, Yahoo, and Bing. However, factors like referral traffic and social sharing are becoming more and more strongly correlated with high rankings, so proper optimization will often include receiving traffic through sources like social and other referral sites.

The Benefits of Using SEO and PPC Together

While there are quite a few differences between these two methods, they are often best used in conjunction with one another to maximize traffic. The most significant aspect that SEO and PPC have in common is that they are both methods that can be used to drive traffic to your website, and the more avenues you can use to accomplish this goal effectively, the better. Not only that, but SEO and PPC hold a unique synergy since users who turn to search engines for answers may see both your organic SEO listing and your PPC ad side-by-side, making your site appear to have double the authority. This can lead to significant increases in click-through-rate for both your organic listing and your paid ad.

Another benefit of using these two methods together is that you’ll have more search data available, giving you a much better potential understanding of which keywords people are using to find your website and how those pages are converting. Since PPC ads can gain instant exposure, data from PPC keywords can help you focus your SEO efforts on optimizing pages that have converted well with paid ads.

One last key benefit for using SEO and PPC together is that since many keywords can be prohibitively expensive for PPC ads, choosing to invest more resources SEO for these keywords can help you save money by capturing organic traffic instead of paid. These keywords are often more expensive because of competition, and high competition is normally a sign of value, meaning it may be worth it to try and get traffic for these words via SEO instead.

Adding Content Marketing to the SEO & PPC Equation

Just as retargeting can be a key part of a PPC campaign, content marketing is a valuable part of the SEO equation. To put it simply, content marketing is the art of creating valuable content to attract users and gain rankings for an ever-growing range of keywords. Not only should the information be valuable (i.e. more valuable than what is currently available on the topic,) but it should shareable and formatted with a consideration for SEO. This is not the typical “throw your product or service in your target audience’s face” kind of marketing where you and try to convince them why they should buy your product. It’s all about creating and publishing the type of valuable information that your target audience needs, becoming a valuable resource for them, and then capitalizing on the opportunity when they’re ready to purchase/consult/sign up.

Content marketing is such a powerful tool because it not only gives your prospective clients/customers value beyond your core product or service, it opens you up to the possibility of ranking for a world of keywords. And that list will always keep expanding, as long as you are focused on creating great content for your audience.

It also provides a unique way to use paid ads to introduce potential clients/customers to you and your content. Instead of running ads that target “money terms” (the more expensive, more competitive direct response keywords and phrases,) ads can send users to content pieces that will inform and build recognition and trust for your brand, often at a much lower cost.

SEO and PPC are each powerful strategies in their own right. Using them together creates an even more potent recipe for success. If you have questions about how to leveraget content marketing, SEO, and paid ads for your business, don’t hesitate to contact us today!

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