I am often asked what the difference in cost is between pay-per-click (PPC) and organic SEO. As obvious as it is to me what the differences are, when I try to explain it to others who are not as "nerdy" as I am, often the response I get is the deer in the headlights look. Mostly people think that you have to pay for ads on Google, Bing, etc., and not for organic first page rankings. Not the case.
Over time, I have attempted dozens of analogies to explain the differences between the costs of first-page placement for organic and PPC. I think that I may have finally found a way that helps people understand and that they can easily relate to- the cost of an athlete versus a non-athlete going to college.
THE ATHLETE (AKA ORGANIC SEO):
From the age of seven or eight, this youth has participated in a sport or two that they not only like, but are exceptional at. This athlete spends the next decade practicing, training, and is traveling often to compete in different arenas. During this decade, costs are accrued- whether they are travel, equipment, individual training, entry fees, or team fees. While these fees are not exorbitant, they are an expense all the same. This athlete not only strives to excel in sports, but that level of commitment in sports carries over to academics. This athlete always aims to make above-average grades.
THE NON-ATHLETE (AKA PAY-PER-CLICK):
Starting at the same age of seven or eight, this non-athlete goes through all of the normal stages of life any typical student goes through. This person is much like the athlete in the sense that they understand the importance of school and strive to make above-average grades. However, with this student, there isn't the same dedication and effort put forth.
COLLEGE (AKA FIRST-PAGE PLACEMENT):
While both of our examples get into college, their paths to get there are very different, and so is the price they pay to get in.
The athlete (AKA organic) receives a full ride scholarship to the college and does not have to pay tuition. This person is expected to perform at the college level (first page); there is no cost other than what the sport/training requires. Academics are still very important and must be maintained throughout their collegiate career.
The non-athlete (AKA pay-per-click) does not receive any scholarships and has to pay full tuition to attend the college. Again, academics must be maintained to continue to attend and graduate from the college.
THE FINAL VERDICT
Can you see the difference? While the athlete does not have to pay the large tuition fee, the cost to get tuition paid is still very much present. It's time, training, equipment, etc. The non-athlete has little costs until the time they attend college; then there are very large upfront costs- much like pay-per-click ads.
The lesson here is that both PPC and organic have expenses and that one is not necessarily better than the other. It depends on your goals and what kind of timeline you're willing and able to work with. Once you understand the direction you want to go, it's easier to make the choice between the two.