An Answer To “PPC or SEO?”

On the /r/PPC subreddit (where I’ve picked up more than a few clients — hi there!), someone asked about whether to invest in PPC or SEO. This was the answer:

These kinds of questions are just confusing for new advertisers.

The answer is that it depends on your goals, budget, and market. If you have infinite budget and funding, then the answer is “do both and invest lots into both.” Almost everyone doesn’t, so you have to come up with a plan that matches the circumstances of the company.

Additionally, depending on the market and the skill level of the practitioners, the time frame for payoff can be very different. Although the typical statement is that SEO is a long term investment, it can often deliver payoff quickly. It depends entirely on the market.

I would say, like Perry Marshall and others do, to start with a pared down PPC campaign, get data on customer behavior, use that data to inform which keywords you go after in SEO/general marketing, and proceed from there. It’s easier to get data faster with PPC, so it helps to start with that before going full throttle into SEO.

Other people on the subreddit (which is almost entirely made up of professional PPCers) tended to agree. Thinking that you can advertise a business only using PPC is usually going to not work, outside a few oddball markets.

Developing a durable competitive edge requires using  more than one marketing channel. Anyone who tells you otherwise is just trying to make a fast sale.

Speaking of Perry Marshall, I’m going to steal the 10 step order he gives for building out marketing for most websites from his excellent 80/20 Sales and Marketing.

Here it is (from page 82):

  1. Google AdWords
  2. SEO
  3. Other PPCs like Bing and display advertising
  4. Email promotions
  5. Social media*
  6. Affiliates
  7. Direct Mail
  8. Banner ads and ad networks
  9. Press releases
  10. Print advertising, TV, and radio

The * is just to indicate that social media doesn’t really work very well, or is hard to manage profitably, for a lot of product categories.

The reason why the channels are in this order really has to do with the level of control that you can exercise over them. AdWords provides you with more granular control over what search terms that your ads appear on. It also gives you live data that you can use to find out which words you can craft an offer for that results in them pulling out their credit cards.

Print, TV, and radio are all both expensive and powerful. Although the aggregate spending on print has plummeted (less so in magazines, because they’re targeted to niche markets), it’s still a heavy hitter. But it can be a risky one to jump into without all the foundations in place.

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