SEO vs. PPC: Which Yields The Best Results?

Posted by Emery Pearson on Dec 3, 2021 9:00:00 AM

SEO vs. Adwords graphic

The question of whether a business should focus on organic or paid traffic when it comes to their website is a question nearly as old as Google itself. The answer to this question is, of course, it depends. It depends on the company's goals, its budget, the market, and many other factors. 

To help you determine which approach is best for you, let's take a look at what organic and paid traffic actually is, what it does, and why you should choose one or the other, or (spoiler alert) both

What is Organic Traffic?

When you enter a search term on a search engine like Google, you may see a few ads at the top of the page, but clicking on anything that's not an ad will give that site organic traffic. 

Getting organic traffic depends on a number of factors, which is why Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a thing—a thing many businesses outsource because there is so much that goes into it. 

Once you start optimizing your site—or paying someone else to do it for you—you'll learn that there is so much to consider, from the type of queries people are using, to what your ideal customers look like, to how Google treats your site. 

SEO involves creating good, relevant content, optimizing elements on the page and off the page, worrying about site speed, building links, and much, much more. It takes a while to do it right, so it takes a while—sometimes a long while—before you see results. 

What is Pay-Per-Click (PPC) or Paid Traffic?

PPC traffic is pretty cut and dry: you pay Google to serve your ads to searchers. Of course, there's plenty that goes into the ads themselves, from keyword research to optimizing ads to figuring out the best budget, but overall it's a very simple concept—if you pay Google, the customers will come. 

The cost of this depends entirely on your industry. Some, like law firms or business software, require big budgets because keywords are so expensive. For many businesses, outsourcing their ad management is a must, because Google Ads can be confusing (and because doing things wrong can be costly). 

Even though it can take a little time for Google's machine learning to figure out your ads and serve them in a beneficial way, it's still a much faster way to get people to your website compared to SEO. 

Learn more about how to determine a Google Pay-Per-Click budget for your business.

SEO Vs. PPC: How Long to See Results

The good news is, PPC can help you see results almost immediately. Sure, it will take time to dial in the ads and you may need to reevaluate your landing page or the copy of the ads, but once you start running ads, you'll start getting clicks. However, it will take about three to six months for the best results, as Google needs data from your ads to continually refine them. 

SEO is something you do for the long haul. It can take several months (or more) to start seeing organic clicks to your site, as it takes time for Google to crawl, interpret, and assess your site, so it can take a while before searchers even see your site on Google. Most marketers won't make any promises about exactly how long it will take (and anyone who promises anything within a certain amount of time is waving a big red flag), but you'll often see "six months" as a good starting point. 

SEO Vs. PPC: Long-Term Results

PPC is the way to go for short-term results, but it can also offer long-term benefits. Some businesses choose to just run ads while growing their organic traffic, and that's often a smart option. Others, however, have found that continuing to run ads even after organic traffic is steady offers a steady stream of revenue. Many of our clients, for example, have both a monthly SEO/inbound marketing budget and a budget for PPC. Plenty of these businesses keep their PPC budget small, paying just $500 a month in ads, but that's enough of an ROI to keep them going. 

SEO is all about long-term results, and when done correctly, can provide an excellent means of solid leads month after month. Take a look at our case study on an Arizona weight loss clinic for a prime example. 

Bottom line? While both offer long-term results, SEO is a much more cost-effective way to attract leads month after month, year after year. PPC, too, offers long-term results for those companies that choose to continue paying for ads once their organic traffic is up, permitting the ads offer a reasonable ROI.  

One thing to keep in mind is that the landscape of the internet is always changing. New businesses enter the market, old businesses close, user behavior changes, seasonality impacts different markets in different ways. Google updates its algorithms constantly, which often affects website traffic. Each change has the potential to disrupt your SEO efforts, your ad performance, or both. For instance, if a new local competitor starts running ads and has a bigger budget than you, you could be paying more per click, which could ultimately make your ads less cost effective. A Google update could drop you from the first place position on a certain keyword down to the second page without warning. Google can be volatile, so it's important to not to be complacent, either in PPC or SEO. 

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Does PPC Help SEO?

While paid advertising doesn't technically help SEO, there are some compelling reasons why it might be useful to your optimization efforts. First, if you have a good site that is well structured, answers users' questions, and keeps them on the site or converts them into leads, this may help Google see your site's value. 

Second, if someone finds your site by clicking on an ad and then later wants to find you, their search for your business on Google is another indication of value. 

Finally, even though it's not helping Google per se, getting visitors on your site can help you gather useful data about the site itself. When someone arrives on your landing page from an ad, what do they do? Do they fill out a form, click to another page, immediately leave—these events can provide you with actionable insights to make your site better. For example, if people "bounce" (leave) as soon as they land on your site, something isn't working on that landing page. You can then run A/B tests with different pages to see what works better. Ultimately, any of the improvements you make based on your paid traffic behavior will benefit your site as a whole. 

When You Should Focus on SEO

You should always focus on SEO. Optimizing your site is an absolute must if you want folks to find your site organically (which, why wouldn't you want that?). SEO is never a one-and-done event; rather, it's an ongoing process that continually seeks to meet Google's expectations—which also means meeting searchers' expectations.

When You Should Use Paid Advertising

Paid advertising can be beneficial to nearly every business that is starting out, but here are a few guidelines.

Pay-per-click might be a good fit if:

  • You have the budget (meaning both you have the cash and you can afford to compete against whoever is bidding on your keywords right now)
  • You have a new product or a time-sensitive offer that you need to get in front of consumers quickly
  • You want data to see how visitors are using your site
  • It aligns with your business goals
  • You need measurable and trackable data
  • Your site needs a lot of work to optimize for search


Using SEO and PPC together can offer fast results as well as long-term sustainability. If you have the budget for some paid ads and you want to get new customers quickly, it's worthwhile to spend a bit on Google Ads—you may even decide to keep ads running indefinitely. 

But SEO is a must for any company with a website that wants to continually attract new customers. Without focusing on optimizing your website and creating great content, your site will sit in obscurity for as long as you're paying for your domain name.

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Emery Pearson

Written by Emery Pearson

Emery is the content strategist at Tribute Media. She has an MA in rhetoric and composition from Boise State University, and she is currently an MFA candidate in creative writing at Antioch University. She lives in southern California with a bunch of creatures and many plants.