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Organic Search or PPC: Which is Better in the Long Run?

As I’m writing this, it’s Wednesday night and I’ve just ordered from Uber Eats for the third night this week. Being that it’s Wednesday, there have only been 3 nights this week, so I’m 3 for 3.

We live in a world of instant gratification and it’s easier to justify paying more for meals than it is for me to spend 30+ minutes cooking (not to mention the time it takes to plan out a meal, go to the store and do the dishes).  So as you read the rest of this blog, picture me shoveling food into my mouth that I got from a stranger in a Hyundai Sonata.

The realm of online marketing isn’t much different. Digital marketers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on pay-per-click advertising without batting an eye but trying to convince someone to spend money on an organic search strategy feels like pulling teeth. “Why should I spend money hiring an SEO firm?” Instant gratification comes to mind again.. “Shouldn’t I just invest that money into my Google Adwords budget?”

Portland-based SEO software provider,, wrote a great article comparing PPC and SEO and here’s what they came up with:

  • Organic search results generate 8.5 clicks for every single click that comes from paid results.
  • On average, ppc agencies earn 10% of what their clients spend with them
  • Companies spend 8 times more on paid search than they do on SEO.

Let’s break this down starting with the most obvious one. If organic search results bring in almost 9 times the amount of clicks paid results do, they’re worth 9 times more. Well, not really. PPC ads actually convert about 1.5x more than organic results do, but this can probably be attributed to the fact that the advertiser is able to customize the landing page and ad copy. Therefore we can assume organic results are worth 5.66x more than paid results.

The good thing about SEO is, if done right you won’t need to pay 5 times the amount to get the results you’re looking for. In fact, you can achieve these results simply by outworking your competitors. Obviously there’s no guarantees, but depending on how fierce your competition is for the keyword (are you up against Nike or RandomShoePeople[dot]net) creating great content and driving quality links to your landing page can go a lot further than upping your AdWords budget by an extra $200/day. But I haven’t even told you the best part yet..

That’s right.. The real kicker is that even if you don’t claim that coveted number one spot, optimizing your content will result in a higher Adwords quality score and thus a lower cost-per-click(CPC) which means you’ll stretch your paid search dollars even further!

So with that said.. Why are companies spending 8 times more on paid search than they do on search engine optimization?

Well first, ppc delivers results immediately and those results are easy to measure. You can log in to your account and see detailed reports on each keyword and measure its performance over time. This is especially true for the small business owner without a whole lot of knowledge in online marketing. From a financial standpoint, the results driven from hiring an SEO firm, or even someone in-house, aren’t as easy to measure. But if I’ve learned anything from the 5 pounds I’ve gained this week ordering my food through an app on my iPhone, it’s that instant gratification isn’t always the answer.

Let’s let the metrics do the talking. As a little experiment, I ran a ppc ad on a single keyword for one of my clients(although I’m not able to show the specific keyword due to confidentiality)

The keyword currently ranks at number 2 on Google.

Let’s look first at the paid traffic for this keyword:

paid search traffic graph

paid traffic cpc

On Monday June 12, we spent $30.22 to bring in 65 new visitors to the site. This ad had a pretty low CPC and a slightly above-average click through rate of 3.10%. Not bad, right?

However, when we look at the organic traffic data, we see that we gained 120 new sessions from this keyword and since they’re no longer running a focused SEO campaign for this keyword, they’ve already paid for it and there are no new costs for this traffic.

organic traffic data

Now this is only a single keyword and maybe we could tweak our ad to get better results(it has a quality score of 6/10) but the data doesn’t lie. Organic search drove twice the amount of traffic that paid search brought in. So which is better in the long run? I think it’s clear. Optimizing your content and developing a rigorous SEO strategy and putting in the work will set you up for a higher rate of success than simply relying on paid ads.

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments and look out for our next blog on content amplification.

2 thoughts on “Organic Search or PPC: Which is Better in the Long Run?

  1. It’s always worth a test 🙂 That said, I wouldn’t consider cutting out PPC without doing a lot of tests and seeing very strong results. There are several reasons:

    – Public tests have shown that PPC adds more traffic without taking away much of your SEO traffic, so if it’s profitable you’re still getting new customers
    – If you’re in the top 3 positions you still show up before organic results, which can be especially important on small screens
    – You have far more control over how you appear in the search results
    – If something happens to your SEO overnight your PPC ads can keep producing profits
    – It doesn’t rely as much on “outworking” your competition (although there are some great things that PPC advertisers can do to get more clicks at a lower cost than their typical Adwords competitor which just makes it more fun)

    1. Good stuff Richard! I definitely agree with you there, you can’t rely on one tactic. It takes both efforts working hand in hand to make a real impact. The argument I wanted to make was that companies should spend more on seo instead of relying only on pay-per-click and I’ll cover that more in my next post on using ppc and seo simultaneously!

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