SEO and PPC are constantly competing for real estate in the minds of business owners. Should I invest in a long-term content strategy, or do I go for the easy click?

People often compare the debate between SEO vs. PPC to the story of the tortoise and the hare. SEO moves slowly and steadily and eventually outpaces PPC. However, this simplistic perspective won’t help you make an informed choice for your business.

It’s not quite as straightforward as this tweet, either.

Businesses that know when, how, and why to use SEO and PPC tactics come out on top in the SERP Olympics. If you’d like to do the same, then this article is for you.

Why Should You Care About Search Engine Traffic?

Before we ask which is better, SEO or PPC, let’s get clear on the big picture. Search engine traffic is vital to the growth and sustainability of your business.

Starting a business means telling your brand’s story, and every good story needs an audience. Getting in front of the people that matter is the only way to turn clicks (whether paid or organic) into conversions. To do that, you’ll have to gain not just an audience, but the right audience.

This is when search engines enter the scene.

A good search engine marketing campaign can be your stage.

Google serves as the world’s gateway to the internet. A staggering 93% of online experiences start with a search engine. As an internet user, this isn’t hard to believe. What did you do the last time you needed to find a local chiropractor? Chances are, you searched Google for “best chiropractor near me.”

A chiropractor’s marketing strategy might include local SEO content used in combination with  PPC ads to capture that search query. In the same way, when your ideal customer types their wishes into the search bar, you want the Google genies to offer up your website as fulfillment.

Your customers will likely go to Google before purchasing anything on your site. 53% of shoppers say they always research before they make a purchase. Meeting your audience where they are (which is on the SERPs) means addressing their pain points and educating them with quality content.

So, Why Google?

That’s all well and good, but why are we focusing on Google? Google holds the vast majority of the search engine market (83%, to be exact).

Still, SEO and PPC campaigns can (and often do) include a variety of channels. You may use Bing, LinkedIn, or even Facebook.

If you’re a local business, having a position on SERPs is imperative. In 2022, 97% of people used the internet to find local businesses. Search engine results make it easy to find what you’re looking for, whether a car dealership, salon, daycare, or consultant.

Search engines are the spine of the internet. They are a permanent fixture in the daily routine of almost everyone, which means that your business needs to show up prominently on search engines to capture potential customers.

SEM vs. SEO vs. PPC – What’s the difference?

Anywhere acronyms abound, there is likely confusion.

So before we get into the details of SEO and PPC, let’s first understand what we mean when referencing search engine marketing (SEM) in relation to search engine optimization (SEO) or pay per click (PPC) marketing.

SEM is a term that refers to any action marketers take to gain visibility via a search engine. And while some professionals say that SEM includes only paid marketing activities, our definition of

SEM can encompass both SEO and PPC marketing.

  • SEO tries to improve your rank in organic search results
  • PPC tries to gain impressions and clicks to your website from paid placements

SEM leverages the benefits of organic and paid search results to create a complete acquisition and brand awareness strategy.

What is SEO?

It’s… complicated.

SEO aims to optimize your page and get Google’s algorithm to rank your site in the organic search results.

But why should you care about ranking high (ideally, first)? The first Google desktop search result’s average click-through rate is 32%. To sweeten the deal, high-ranking pages will also tend to rank in the top 10 search results for almost 1,000 other relevant keywords.

What Is PPC?

PPC: The New Kid on the Block

PPC is making a name among business owners and marketing executives. So much that search ad spending is projected to reach $191 billion by 2024. This is not a small number, so naturally, business owners are curious about the hype. Why is everyone investing in PPC, and is it yielding the results it promises?

The growth businesses see from great PPC campaigns can be astronomical (learn more about how Linear increased this company’s total conversions by 714%). PPC ads are more than just vessels for a short-term payoff. They’re critical to gathering your audience.

Marketers across many industries agree—PPC ads are a strong pillar in any good marketing strategy. 62% of marketers plan to increase their PPC budgets, and 74% of brands say that PPC is a major driver in their business. Those numbers tell us that something is working, but what is it? What makes a successful PPC ad?

Most importantly, how do you move beyond paying for ads to creating a conversion funnel that delivers an ROI?

PPC requires intentional investment and a cohesive strategy. It needs to be a part of your overall customer acquisition plan. That means that the ad and landing page are cohesive and encourage easy conversions.

Strengths of SEO and PPC

We’re not here to bash on SEO or PPC – after all, we use both in our own marketing!

Let’s take a look at what makes SEO and PPC shine.

Why SEO?

SEO may be a fit if you’re interested in growing your online presence steadily and reliably over a long period.

Specifically, these are SEO’s primary benefits…

1. Creates Residual Benefits

Optimizing your website and content to rank organically is a cost-efficient long-term investment. Though it may take time to create a quality piece of content, once it’s ranking well in the SERPs, you can sit back and let the traffic flow in. PPC and other paid tactics only work as long as you keep them running, whereas SEO has a long-standing position (as long as you’re willing to periodically upkeep your organic content).

2. Establishes Brand Authority

One major benefit of SEO content over PPC ads is industry authority. Long-form content has been shown to benefit SEO and establish brand authority.

“Users often turn to Google to answer a quick question, but research suggests that up to 10% of users’ daily information needs involve learning about a broad topic. That’s why today we’re introducing new search results to help users find in-depth articles.” – Paul Nayak, Technical Staff Member at Google

Certain keywords perform better in PPC ads, especially those with buying intent. Others geared towards deep research and education are better suited for SEO-targeting thought leadership pieces. That kind of content can go a long way in establishing credibility for your brand.

That authority isn’t just a feel-good metric, either. 60% of marketers say that SEO is their highest quality source of leads. They also report that SEO leads have a 14.6% close rate. This goes to show that organic traffic can lead to conversions.

3. Offers a Cost-Effective Solution

Don’t have the skillset or up-front marketing budget to run or manage ads? Concentrate your efforts on SEO. While creating quality content does require a heavy burden of time and upfront resources, you’re not paying for the traffic. That’s why SEO has such a great ROI and is perfect for creating brand awareness.

Why PPC?

When questioning if investing in PPC marketing is worth it, you have to ask: how is ranking different when comparing PPC vs. SEO? Because this is where PPC shines.

When structured correctly, PPC campaigns can generate incredible value.

For one thing, there’s the immediate visibility of paid ad placements at the top of the SERP. Winning that placement doesn’t come easily—you have to get your keyword research, targeting, bid strategy, budget, and account structure straight to do so.

When these components are in place, PPC can help your site win first place and top SERPs.

Crafting a stellar PPC campaign feels like sticking the perfect landing.

PPC offers even more advantages for the ambitious marketing executive or business owner…

1. Provides Fast Feedback

With SEO, you have to invest time, money, and other resources into creating a great piece of content, play nicely with the algorithm, and then pray to the Google gods that your page ranks first… in 3-12 months or so.

Many marketing professionals use PPC ads as a way to get faster results. As long as your strategy is sound, you’re gathering valuable data and quality clicks when the ad goes live.

2. Delivers Traffic for Specific Campaigns

When running a business, there are times when you need a quick return on a marketing campaign. These might include:

  • New product launches
  • Upcoming events
  • Brand awareness campaigns
  • Lead generation for a sales funnel
  • And more

The best way to drive PPC traffic for specific campaigns is to create a quality landing page. The landing page must be designed to convert when you’re paying to drive traffic toward your website. High-quality landing pages make it easy for your audience to sign up, subscribe, or buy.

3. Easy Entry (for the Basics)

Many business owners are also drawn to PPC because it’s easy to grasp the basics. Professionals can get started with PPC quickly—within a week or two. It doesn’t take any time at all to start gathering search engine traffic this way.

If you’re starting from scratch, there are plenty of PPC resources to help you gain initial traction.

Just keep in mind that, like any fast-growing program, it may eventually be worth it to outsource some PPC work when you want to see better returns, scale an account, or when the constant management simply gets overwhelming.

After all, a solid PPC strategy involves extensive structuring, targeting, bidding, management, design, and more.

How Are SEO and PPC Different?

Why not both?

1. Objective

For local searches and organic traffic, search engine optimization (SEO) is the way to grow your online presence in the long run. Consistent SEO builds brand awareness and trust.

On the other hand, pay-per-click (PPC) is an integral part of an overall acquisition strategy, allowing you to expand your reach and discover new, valuable audiences you might miss with organic results alone.

“At the core of SEO is optimizing content to rank better in Google. PPC, on the other hand, is all about driving traffic quickly to the desired page.” – Best SEO Podcast

2. Learning curve

SEO and PPC require different upfront investments in education time.

Learning even the basics of SEO can take up to three months of work. In contrast, you can gain an initial understanding of PPC in a few weeks.

Patience is a virtue.

Do note, however, that while PPC takes less studying to get rolling, maintenance tasks and account complexity build quickly, so you will want to reserve budget for a PPC expert or agency to take the reigns when it becomes a time-suck for you.

3. Timeline

You may be wondering how quickly you can appear on search pages with PPC vs. SEO?

You’ll be waiting upwards of six months to see results from SEO.

We’re all a little impatient when it comes to seeing results.

To contrast, PPC can generate leads within a couple days of a campaign going live. Because PPC ads can generate leads overnight, you may see conversions from those leads in as little as a day.

SEO content takes much longer to rank, but when it does, it remains on the SERP without having to pay to keep it there.

To see results fast, you’ll want to focus on creating content that your audience wants to consume. Building a relationship with your target audience means you’ll understand their pain points and how to address them. This leads to quicker conversions.

4. Marketing traffic

PPC typically generates twice the number of visitors when compared to SEO. This makes a lot of sense when considering the amount of time it takes to generate organic traffic, and the fact that a lot of ‘buying intent’ keywords (keywords searched by users ready to buy or convert quickly) are dominated by ad results.

5. Traffic Quality

In the same vein, PPC ads on Google have an incredible ROI of 200% and traffic brought in through PPC leads yields 50% more conversions than organic advertising.

This isn’t to say that organic traffic is useless–quite the opposite! Organic traffic is often necessary for expensive products or services with long sales cycles, because it builds trust with users before they engage with paid ads. Quality organic traffic might not generate a lead immediately, but it should be a valuable touchpoint in a user’s journey, preparing them to convert later.

Why You Should Use Both SEO & PPC

SEO and PPC are both vehicles to take you where you want to go. Rather than asking yourself whether you need one of these marketing strategies, think what do I need them to accomplish? 

Duane Brown, CEO & Head of Strategy at Take Some Risk Inc. said this on diversifying marketing strategies:

“If PPC marketers want to be more successful, they need to help the brand(s) they work on look beyond paid ads…paid ads don’t operate in a silo…and the more ways you can grow your brand via channel diversifications, the more stable your business and brand will be.”

Every business has one goal in common: they want to increase sales. To do that, companies have to work hard to get their brand in front of the audiences that matter.

Instead of playing the mental tug-of-war game between SEO and PPC, start asking the right questions. How can you use both of these valuable strategies to generate the most ROI?

Short vs. Long-Term Investment Strategies

Want to cross the finish line as fast as possible? Use both SEO and PPC.

In a perfect world, businesses would have unlimited budgets to pour into SEO and PPC. Both types of digital content require a lot of investment.

In order to figure out the best fit for you, you’ll have to ask some hard questions.

A few questions that relate to SEO content costs:

  • Do you have content writers in-house?
  • What’s your budget for content creation?
  • What resources am I using to manage backlinks?

Similarly, PPC can be a costly undertaking. While quality SEO content may not be free, Google doesn’t directly charge you for each organic click.

For PPC, ask yourself questions like:

  • Do I have the budget to pay for ads?
  • Will I need to hire an agency to assure I get the return I need?
  • Does my product have high enough margins to justify a paid campaign?
  • Is my offer, brand, and website optimized to convert paid traffic once it lands on my site?

Understanding that both SEO and PPC are part of your overall business strategy is critical. You can use PPC ads to fuel SEO strategy and vice versa.

It’s all about optimizing campaigns to get content in front of the right audience.

When Should You Invest in SEO vs. PPC?

We’ve answered the question of whether or not you should invest in SEO or PPC, but what about timing?

Small businesses, especially, may struggle with this question. You might think: Sure, I’d like to invest in both, but that’s not realistic.

If your business needs to choose between one of these strategies, there are a few factors to consider:

  • Size: If you have a very small business, you may not have the resources to create high-quality SEO content. It can take a long time and eat up lots of productive hours for your team. PPC might yield the short-term ROI you’re looking for. In contrast, you might not have the budget for PPC ads, but you can create some stellar content for SEO.
  • Skillset: What kind of talent do you have in-house? Do you have content writers or people on your team interested in writing? If so, SEO might be a good option for you. Consider outsourcing tasks that are outside of your current skill set.
  • Bandwidth: Even if you are lucky enough to have in-house talent, do they have the bandwidth to take on a project like this? Running marketing campaigns is time-consuming. Sometimes, the best move you can make is to hire an agency to do the heavy lifting for you. This can speed up your timeline and allow you to get started faster.
  • Budget: As with all things in business, your budget matters. While traffic from SEO content is organic, that doesn’t mean SEO is free. You still have to invest time and resources into creating quality content. With PPC, you’re paying for search engine traffic which can be costly.
  • Speed: You’ll most likely see faster results with PPC ads. SEO is about ROI in the long run. Think of it like planting seeds in a garden. With enough care and attention, you’ll be able to harvest the fruits of your labor. For campaigns that need quick feedback, PPC ads can deliver.
  • Competition: What are your competitors doing, and how are they advertising? Highly competitive industries will often have SERPs and keyword prices to match. In the case of competition, you could consider filling a gap using the channel your competitors haven’t leaned into, hire an agency with experience fighting it out in the advertising arena. Or, using tactics like long-tail keywords, geo-targeting yourself, or niche down your audience.

This is alot to consider, but here are a few good “rules of thumb” for making your final choice.

invest in SEO if:

  • You have a lower marketing budget
  • Your goal is to build brand authority
  • You’re focusing on creating content for different sales funnel stages
  • You want to maximize your ROI

On the other side of the same coin, invest in PPC if:

  • You’re looking for quick feedback and results
  • You’re in a niche market and/or have a one-of-a-kind product
  • You’re trying to direct traffic toward a specific landing page
  • Your ad is time-sensitive, such as for an event or holiday offer

The Bottom Line: The Power of Intention

Melissa Mackey, Paid Search Manager at MerkleB2B, noted that the most successful marketers are laser-focused on delivering the right content to the right audience:

“If you haven’t already, it’s time to get started on identifying audiences, creating a variety of content, developing differentiated ads, and embracing automation, for both paid search and paid social.” – Melissa Mackey, Paid Search Manager

The secret sauce to a successful marketing campaign is not whether or not you use SEO or PPC. It’s how well you understand your audience and whether or not you have the bandwidth to offer them engaging content.

How Linear Design Can Help

SEO and PPC are not at odds. Despite the original tortoise-and-hare narrative, the true story is about teamwork. The more productive conversation is deciding when to implement these tactics into your business strategy.

PPC ads are a fantastic way to launch your brand awareness campaign, strengthen your existing strategy, and fuel your SEO fire. Request a free proposal, and we’ll discuss how we can elevate your search engine traffic and generate feedback for your business.

Luke Heinecke


Luke is in love with all things digital marketing. He’s obsessed with PPC, landing page design, and conversion rate optimization. Luke claims he “doesn’t even lift,” but he looks more like a professional bodybuilder than a PPC nerd. He says all he needs is a pair of glasses to fix that. We’ll let you be the judge.

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