PPC or SEO? The Ultimate Search Marketing Battle

March 25, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Internet Marketing Conferences

Howdy, folks!  Still hanging in there? I sure hope so because we have Andy Atkins-Krüger moderating a star-studded line up of Todd Friesen, Brad Geddes, Rand Fishkin, Rhian Ryan and our own Rae Hoffman.  This is sure to get sexy.

Here are the teams:

  • Rhian: PPC. She thinks PPC rocks.
  • Todd: SEO.  He’s been doing SEO since PPC existed. He can’t even set up an AdWords account.
  • Brad: PPC. He has a book coming out in 7 days. He’s really excited he can finally say that.
  • Rand: SEO. PPC killed his parents and made him an orphan.
  • Rae: SEO.

Rand Fishkin is going to give a quick PowerPoint to debunk some PPC lies.

  • PPC Converts Higher: It is slightly higher (about 1.2x on average) than organic.  However, SEO gets 7.3x more traffic.  The data she shows is for 52 million referrers where paid results were displayed. Latent traffic would mean that there’s another 601,000 conversions and 42MM referrals available from the long tail.   Good math says that 7.3
  • PPC is Easier To Customize: He’s not sure about that either. He recalls a number of terms where his AdWords set up won’t let him include certain words, certain phrases, certain capitlization, etc. He can’t remember a time when he wrote a Title tag and it WASN’T approved.
  • PPC is Faster: Not with QDF results. You can get news results in within 12 minutes of publishing or tweets within seconds.  That argument doesn’t hold up,
  • PPC is Easier: Which is why it’s not a competitive advantage.
  • PPC is Great For Testing: He agrees. They have that point.

What is the best way to convince the C-level execs who have been brainwashed about SEO to get them to use AdWords for testing?

Rand: If you can show a chart that has some of your analytics data and it shows that one keyword performs better than another, you can fight for a budget to test.  Testing PPC doesn’t always mean SEO will perform the same way, but the relative correlations tend to be similar. If one term is converting twice as well, chances are it will still perform twice as well in SEO.

[The SEOs are fighting over the validity of some of the data Rand pulled from Enquisite and whether its really showing the full picture. Have some popcorn at home.]

Todd: We’ll all agree that raw conversion on PPC will be higher than organic, but you have to put in the traffic volume into that equation.

Rhian: Doesn’t seem like there’s a large share of PPC people in the room, but Google just put up the Search Funnel Tool in their analytics. There’s still a ways to go, but it’s a step forward in tracking last click attribution.  She’s responsible for ROI. She can’t just say she drove a lot of traffic to your site.  They have 70 characters to get creative and create something compelling.  Rand (jokingly) calls PPC people dumb (he was playing. he didn’t mean it) and Rhian looks like she’s going to beat him with her microphone. Heh.  It’s getting all sorts of dramatic up in here.

Rae sees a lot of advantages for PPC. She’s had a lot of access to it.  With PPC they can change point whenever they want to. Its harder for SEOs to switch keywords.  Rand calls Rae a traitor for defending PPC. She’s supposed to  be on the SEO side. This may be just the Outspoken Media/SEOmoz fight people have been waiting for. ;)

With the advent of personalized search, is it easier now to buy your way into certain keyword than to rank for them?

Rand: Yes. If you’re creative about where you spend your advertising dollars, you can bias people toward your brand in the search results.

Brad: Personalization and PPC has not had its true effects yet. PPCs hate personalization because of session query matching. If you do a search for a plumber today, you’ll still see plumber ads three days from now. It doesn’t match intent.

Rae: You don’t want to avoid SEO because it’s going to get harder. It’s much harder now than it was eight years ago.  If we did that then, we would have lost a lot of traffic. Personalization and Real-Time are things everyone needs to learn about and attack from certain angles in your marketing plan.

What impact does social media have on PPC?

Rhian: Huge. It’s an interesting driver for integrated social media plans and promotional efforts.  using it for contests, Facebook pages, etc. PPC offers a great tool to be present for brand searches to drive traffic to a contest or promotion.

Brad: He’s a numbers and profits person. Social media for a goal is what social media is for. You can buy new terms. You can integrate your marketing if you can capture it in search.

If you $100,000 dollars, where do you spend it? [IN VEGAS!]

Brad: If you spend it all on SEO, you have no traffic or revenue for six months. You should split it.

Rae: Most of it will go to SEO because she doesn’t want to pay that $100k again. Rae says she’s cheap. Then she says it about 20 more times during the session.

Todd: If you’re jumping into $5-7 dollar CPCs, you may want to put most of your money in PPC so you can get money quick to put into SEO and build some brand awareness.

Rhian:  She would test.  She would do a lot of keyword research to see where her competitors were ranking.   Put some money in SEO, put some in PPC and put some in testing.

Is there a place for SMBs owner in PPC or should they focus on social media and SEO?

Brad: Be careful with social because if you start social and don’t keep it up, it can be a time suck. He recommends using local search. Try to get into the One Box results. There’s a lot of traffic there.

Rae: It depends on your vertical. Hair salons are going to have to deal with a lot of arbitragers.

Rhian: Local is fantastic. She sees a small budget as a huge challenge. [Ha, yes, don’t we all. ;)] You can do address extensions and product extensions in AdWords. You’re not going to get through-the-roof traffic but you’ll get good results.

How do you eliminate overclicking on PPC? She was involved in that once and is pretty sure her competitors are clicking on her listing.

Rand says SEO. :)

Brad: Click fraud is not what it was a few years ago. If you know your competitors IP address, you can exclude them from even seeing the ad.   Monitor your analytics. There’s no panel any more on click fraud. It doesn’t exist because the technology has gotten so much better.

Rhian: There’s software to help you.

In PPC you can use many more keywords than in SEO.

Rand: He agrees. That’s an advantage. If you’re saying SEO is more work and its harder, he agrees. That’s why it’s a competitive advantage.

Todd: You need an SEO to help you cover your keyword set rather than just throwing a site up there and trying to get your home page ranking for a bunch of keywords. If you sit down today and say you’re getting into SEM and you already have a site, the best way to go after a bunch of keywords is to go PPC. But, if you are building a new Web site to launch, you have a much better shot with SEO if you set up that Web site correctly.

You can’t use SEO for promotions.

Everyone says that’s not true. As long as you’re crawled on a regular basis (which you should be if you’re investing in SEO), you can change your Title around to take advantage of promotions.

What about seasonality for businesses. You’re a bit limited with SEO.

Todd: You have to plan further ahead.

Rand: Yes, you have to do more planning. Yes, you have to recognize it. But you can use things like Google Trends to see when topics historically spike.

Rae:  If you’re a furnace company in Oct and you want to rank in Dec, go with PPC.   When it comes to seasonality, you have to plan it out. If you haven’t, you have to go see a PPC guy. But as soon as your season is over, that’s when you go see your SEO guy. Or, you know, your SEO woman.

PPC gives you more brand control

Rhian: Brands love their own language. Say you’re in the travel industry, you don’t want to refer to a promotion as offering a “free” third night because that sounds cheap. You want to say “extend your stay”. But you may find that’s not converting. PPC can show you the better ad copy and influence your calls to action.

Is there ever a case where SEO is not the first logical solution when you’re starting a brand new site?

Rand: There are two situations where it makes sense to go PPC.

  1. You’re restricted in creativity or ability to do SEO by your company – you can’t create content, etc.
  2. You’re limited by your brain’s ability to do the work

Everything is achievable in SEO. It’s just whether you can be creative enough to come up with the ways to do it. SEO is not limited by budget, it’s limited by brain power.

Andy says that was a “reasonably good answer” to that question. Hee!

How would you make the case for how SEO and PPC can be done well in an integrated way?

Brad: Often there are authoritative lifts for being twice on a page. Having an ad on a page increases SEO conersion rates. There’s a halo lift.

Rand: He’s found that management responds well to fear.  The idea that a competitor is getting traffic that you could be getting is very scary to management. Present it as, here are these listings, we know what clicks they’re getting, and here’s why we need to be in both of these spaces.

Todd: The two pieces really do support each other, even outside the halo effect. Being on both sides of the page is great, but you can’t always afford to be on the right hand side of the page. You need to track that and figure out when you are on the left side of the page so you can put yourself on the right side, to get that brand lift.

Obviously you want to have SEO and PPC under one roof, how would you go about pitching that?

Rae: She thinks you should take specific companies so you know they’re “great” at what they do, not “good”. It may be “easier”, but it’s not always the best solution.  She likes the specialty.

Brad: You have to coordinate the data. If you have people on the same side, the data is going to get shared.

If Google can get you to pay for their ads, is their interest to encourage you to buy ads, right?

Rand: There’s a culture of respecting the organic side. That being said, Google has been investing in other things and is getting creative with where ads display, with image results, etc. There are more ad opportunities but they’re not going to sacrifice quality for it. It would allow people like Bing to sneak up on them.

Brad: 80 percent of queries are informational based. That means that Google has to give you relevant results so they can train you to use their engine, so you use it when you do the other 20 percent of the queries. That’s pretty smart.

SEO is going to become so difficult that one day its going to go away.

Rae: No. SEO has been dying for 10 years now. Yes, PPC will always be on top of the page cause thats how Google makes money. But SEO will always have a spot because it’s morphing. SEO is now marketing. Should you stop marketing your site? No.

Rand tried to answer but Andy told him we’re over time.  Aw. Poor little Fishkin.

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