Key to growing any online business is exposure in search engine results. Many people nowadays use a search engine as their first port of call in looking for a restaurant recommendation, a new product, or an answer to a question – 80% of any traffic generated for a website comes from search engines. In order to match your business with those queries, and land visitors to your page, you need visibility on search engine results pages (SERP).
There are two prominent strategies that can be employed to improve the ranking of your website in a SERP: search engine optimisation (SEO) and search engine pay-per-click advertising (PPC).
Both of these methods have their own strengths and limitations, and knowing how, and when, to use each of them can significantly increase the traffic generated for your website; increased traffic is likely to lead to more content engagement, event bookings and product sales. This post will outline the basics of SEO and PPC and compare the two.
Search engine optimization is the practice of landing organic visitors to your page. Organic visitors are those which have not been paid for. In other words, the visitor has not clicked on an advert to reach your website (more on that later), they have followed a link from a SERP. On Google, for example, organic results are those listed under the first few results labelled as ‘Ads’.
SEO needs to ensure that a website has some features to help it secure a high ranking in a SERP. Some examples of these features include crawl accessibility (a bot’s ability to follow links through your pages), engaging content that can answer the user’s query, keywords that attract searchers, and a great user experience with fast load speeds and an easy to use user interface, among other things.
It is important to note, however, that Google advises websites should not be built with search engines in mind, but with a great online experience as the main focus of design. Trying to trick a search engine by including pages with little content, hiding text and links, and making doorway pages – pages that rank well for a specific search, could lead to being de-indexed or penalised by the search engine provider.
You may conclude that developing an effective SEO programme is a complex matter, and there are consultants and agencies out there that can help you. It takes time to improve your ranking in a search engine, and it can be difficult to compete against well-established online outfits.
Pay-per-click advertising does not lend itself to website design in the same way – though having a high quality website is still important – it is more about deciding when you would like your website to appear on a SERP through advertising. The most common form of PPC is Google Ads. You can pay to have a link to your website appear in the top few spaces on a SERP – reserved for ads – when a certain search is made. It operates on a pay-per-click model: you only pay a fee if someone clicks on your link.
Advertisers identify key words they want to bid on, state how much they are willing to spend, and create grouping of keywords to be paired with ads. When a search is conducted, Google runs mini ‘auctions’ between a pool of ads. This pool is determined by Google to be relevant to the search query and is informed by the most relevant keywords from the advertiser’s account.
Google ranks the ads based on the maximum bid the advertiser is willing to pay and a ‘quality score’. The quality score is an indicator of how relevant and useful the ad is to the user. A formula, that uses a combination of the two metrics, ranks the ads which are then displayed accordingly.
PPC campaigns can play a crucial role in matching websites to visitors at a specific time – perhaps the launch of a new product – or for a specific audience in a certain location. As well as search engines, social media sites can offer PPC. Facebook does this really well as it allows you to create very bespoke ads based on a specific demographic such as age, gender, location and even marital status.
SEO vs PPC
Both strategies have the same endgame: drive up traffic to your website. Both are important parts to increasing online exposure, and it is not necessarily a case of choosing one or the other; the two approaches can be complementary and used in tandem.
Results from SEO can take a long time to come to fruition, but when your website is ranked at the top of a SERP it can lead to sustained traffic – without having to pay for ads. In addition to this, your website can become an established ‘go-to’ for a particular search query if it consistently ranks well, and therefore make your page an ‘authority site’ within that niche. Finally, if you ever plan to sell your website, having a high volume of traffic from a strong SERP position can help increase its value.
In contrast to SEO, PPC campaigns can be implemented with almost immediate results. They can be tailored to very specific audiences based on key demographics, and used only when certain keywords are searched for. This bespoke approach works well with short-term marketing goals like drawing attention to a product launch or a new campaign, and allows you to dominate a search category for a while.
The drawback of PPC, however, is that click through rates for ads are comparatively very low against SEO links: of all US searches only 2.8% of people clicked on paid advertisements; SEO gets around 20% more traffic than PPC. Although PPC campaigns can be a quick and easy way to increase your online visibility, in the long run you will want your website to be able to compete for organic results as it saves on advertising costs and also makes sure you do not miss out on that large pool of visitors who avoid ads.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Each strategy can suit different businesses more appropriately at different times. If you are setting up an ecommerce business, and are looking to sell macbooks, for example, then you are going to struggle to compete with the likes of Apple, Amazon and other established online retailers for a space on the SERPs. It would take a long, sustained SEO strategy to become a high-ranking search result. A well-targeted PPC campaign that coincides with the launch of your business may be more appropriate in this situation.
On the other hand, if your business is quite niche, it may not be too hard to use a SEO strategy to establish your site as a ‘go-to’ for a specific search category. If your website can be built with user intent in mind – that is to say it is able to provide answers to a particular search query – and it does not have much competition within the same category as it, SEO can help you generate sustained, high quality traffic in a shorter time frame than if your website was broader in its purpose.
Overall, both strategies should be used to achieve different targets. Ultimately an ecommerce business relies on hitting KPIs like sales, bookings and page and video views, and this cannot be achieved without traffic from search engine visitors. But combining well-timed PPC campaigns with a long-term SEO strategy will enable your website to establish itself as a key player in certain search results.