SEO vs PPC: What's the Difference?

SEO vs PPC: What’s the Difference?

If you’ve dipped your toes at all into the world of digital marketing circa 2018, then you’ve heard of SEO. You may have also heard of SEO’s close cousin, SEM, aka PPC.

The truth is, not as many small businesses are taking advantage of SEO as you think. Less than 50%, actually.

And that’s a huge benefit to your business because all of those other businesses are lagging behind.

The first step is to know the actual difference in SEO vs PPC. Lucky for you, we’re breaking it all down for you.

What is SEO?

Let’s start with the one you’ve probably already heard of: SEO, also known as search engine marketing.

In the simplest of terms, SEO is a form of marketing meant to grow visibility in organic search results. In other words, it’s the process used to ensure that your website can show up on the first page of search results.

The key here is the word organic. You’re not paying for these results to happen, though you may pay an SEO agency to help you with the process.

The Basics

This has to do with how Google (and other search engines) work. It all comes down to web crawlers.

Crawlers begin with a list of web addresses and sitemaps provided by site owners.

Basically, you can think of the web like a giant library without a central filing system. When a crawler goes link to link, the search engine renders what the crawler sees and indexes it based on key signals which are noted in the search index.

The search index is like the index at the back of a book, with an entry for every word. When a webpage is flagged for a certain word, it gets added to the index for that particular word. This is what the search engine uses to bring up web pages when a searcher puts a term into the search bar.

Ranking Factors

Now, the specifics of how a search engine does that remains with the developers themselves. SEO professionals do know certain specifics based on algorithm updates and performance metrics.

For example, one of the big ranking factors in 2018 is mobile page speed. Since more people search on their phone than on their computer, Google announced that they would prioritize sites that optimize mobile first.

But SEO can include all kinds of different ranking factors, even backlinks. The trick is knowing how to use these ranking factors together in order to create a solid SEO strategy.

Why Does Your Site Need SEO?

That said, SEO takes time. A lot of time.

So why take the time to do it?

Well, for one thing, organic search traffic is usually the primary source of web traffic for websites. And most users scroll right past paid search engine results because they trust organic results more than paid results.

Organic ranking involves a level of domain authority for both the search engine and the user. If your site is seen to be trustworthy, your site will rank higher, which gives you a boost in the eyes of your potential customers.

What is PPC?

Then, there’s PPC.

PPC, or pay-per-click advertising, is a form of digital marketing in which advertisers pay each time a user clicks the link for their ad.

It’s considered a part of search engine marketing, or SEM, which is the process of acquiring traffic by purchasing ads on a search engine. It’s easy to confuse SEM with SEO–in fact, SEO used to be under the umbrella term SEM–but they’re not the same thing anymore.

The Basics

PPC and its close cousins are part of the other side of search engine traffic, which is traffic acquired via paid advertising. It can also apply to the marketing done on social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Let’s say you want to use Google Adwords, which is one of the biggest PPC tools available. Google Adwords allows you to target your search marketing towards a specific audience based on the terms they search for that relate to your business services and products.

What Does PPC Include?

While PPC falls under the purview of SEM, it shouldn’t be confused with SEM, the same way that PPC shouldn’t be confused with SEO and SEO shouldn’t be confused with SEM.

Search engine marketing can cover a variety of paid advertising options, including:

  • Pay-per-click advertising
  • Cost-per-click advertising
  • Pay-per-call advertising
  • Cost-per-thousand-impressions advertising
  • Paid search ads

PPC is a popular option in the realm of paid search advertising because you can see exactly where you advertising money is going, and you only pay when someone clicks.

Why Does Your Site Need PPC?

Here’s the thing. Organic traffic garnered from SEO is free (kind of).

You see, you have to invest a lot of time in developing a good SEO strategy. Unless you are an SEO expert yourself, that often means hiring an SEO firm to help you cover the creative and technical aspects that you don’t have time to manage yourself.

And that can mean a long stretch of paying lump sum fees for results you may not see for months.

PPC is attractive because it helps you know exactly how you’re spending your advertising money. It’s also a good way for your site to start breaking in if you don’t have a regular following yet and you need to build it up in order for your SEO strategy to actually work.

Why SEO and PPC Aren’t the Same

Before we talk about whether SEO vs PPC is right for you, we should talk about how they’re different.

We said earlier that SEO is exclusively organic traffic. That means that you don’t pay a cent in order to get that traffic–you don’t run ads, you don’t pay to have your site featured in search results.

You follow SEO best practices so that that traffic will come to your site naturally. You might pay an SEO agency to help you do it, but ultimately, the traffic is all garnered naturally.

With PPC, on the other hand, you’re directly paying for the search traffic that you get. If you’re directly spending marketing dollars to get the traffic rather than putting in the time to get domain authority and build a solid SEO standing, it doesn’t qualify as SEO.

This is important because search engines don’t factor paid traffic into their considerations for your search ranking the same way they factor organic traffic. Paid traffic may give you a boost in the beginning, but unless you start getting organic traffic to back it up, your site won’t rank any higher.

SEO vs PPC: Which is Right for You?

With this in mind, let’s talk about whether SEO or PPC is right for you.

Technically speaking, both of them are. But you have to consider the specific circumstances of your business.

Let’s say you’re an e-commerce site. In your case, PPC would be good for you because usually, when people are looking for something to buy, they’re searching for very specific terms. PPC allows you the kind of laser-targeted focus to make sure they find you instead of your competitors when they want to spend money.

If, on the other hand, you’re building your market strategy with the long game in mind, then you have to use SEO. You cannot build domain authority on paid advertising alone–for that, you need to capitalize on organic traffic and quality user experiences.


Instead of looking at the two as mutually exclusive, it’s most productive to look at SEO and PPC as part of an integrated process that’s tailored to your specific business needs and goals.

In fact, they work best when they work off each other’s momentum.

After all, if you work the two together, you can use your targeted PPC data to inform your SEO campaigns, and you can test your campaigns as PPC before you move them over to the long game in SEO.

But like we said, it’s all about the specifics of what your business is and what you want to accomplish.

The SEO Services You Need to Thrive

If you’re still weighing the benefits of SEO vs PPC, it helps to have a professional on your side.

That’s what we’re here for.

If you need full website administration to bring your SEO strategy to the top of its game, take a look at the search engine optimization services we have to offer.

If you think you’d like to work with us, or you just want to inquire about our processes, use our contact page to get in touch.