What are the Differences Between PPC & SEO?

4 years ago

Or to give this blog an alternative title of Ironman vs Batman.

Superheroes all have different skills, abilities and personalities - yet they all have a common end goal to fight and protect all against evil.

You have your loud, brash mavericks like Ironman, or your quiet, efficient protectors like Batman.

Now digital marketing channels and tactics are similar in the fact that each channel has different features, targets and methods - but they all work towards the same end goal. In this case, getting your online presence to be as strong and visible as possible. 

When we talk of the main digital marketing channels we often think of PPC and SEO, and we’re often faced with questions such as which is better? Which will get me results? Which should I use?

Well, let me try and explain with a little help from my friends Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne.

PPC is Ironman

Tony is the intelligent, stinking rich, leader of the Avengers, who is the centre of attention in pretty much all he does. His iron suit comes complete with clever technology and a virtual assistant Jarvis, who monitors him and his actions to ensure he stays on course with his mission.

He has speed on his side and has laser targeting available to home in on his objectives. But all this technology comes at a price.

Now in my humble opinion, PPC advertising is very much like Ironman. You have to pay for this handsome technology, but if set up correctly, it can give you back far more in return.

Google Ads is packed with technology and algorithms that mean you can pinpoint your targets through a multitude of tactics such as remarketing. The algorithms are getting ever more effective, feeding on the data in your account to give you the best possible outcome for your money. The platform is becoming ever more automated, using a vast bank of algorithmic data to be able to target the exact time and searches that it knows will convert.

This power backed by an experienced paid media specialist is a potent weapon in elevating your business to the very top of the Google SERP in an instant - or in a click of metallic fingers. It offers you a speedy way to get out on top. 

ironman serp

This sort of visibility is great for promoting new websites, advertising new ecommerce product lines or to ensure you remain on the front foot against your competitors. What’s even better is the fact that you can report on absolutely every piece of data - using those insights to make the campaigns even more powerful and even more effective.

Great work Tony!

However, that’s just one side of the argument (or comic book universe.) 

Wham, here’s Bruce stealthily joining the action...

SEO is Batman

A near opposite to Mr Stark in most ways (bar their gigantic bank balances), Bruce Wayne as Batman, is quiet, works in the shadows, is complex, technical, analytical. He steps out in public every so often to network at galas and he gets to use some pretty cool gadgets such as the Batmobile. 

He has authority, but he has to work hard to get anywhere, using research and experience to understand his foes and implement plans and tactics over a longer term. Bruce isn’t monitored strictly and disappears from view until the next bat signal goes up. 

Like Batman, SEO is can also be technical, quiet work, where you can spend hours researching, experimenting and implementing changes across a wide range of on-page tactics and off-site link building.

This is because Google doesn't tell you all the elements that make up their search algorithms (ranking factors) so SEOs have to research, plan and execute to get you as high up the rankings as possible, meaning it can take time to come together and may not offer the instant impact of PPC. 

Yet, if done right, with a strong strategy underpinning your efforts, all this hard work results in consistent long-term benefits for any website with more traffic potential overall. 

Why? Because if you optimise your website content for targeted, valuable keywords, and make your site easier for search engines to crawl and index, you’ll find you gain this traffic as your site will steadily become more visible in organic listings. Hopefully your online presence will be near the top of page one, where your SERP snippet will be engaging, enticing users to click on and investigate. 

You will also have taken the time to research exactly what users are looking for in each stage of the buyer’s journey, so you can craft content that answers their queries effectively, building trust naturally. Couple that with a superb user experience that drives action from your clearly interested audience. 

A good SEO strategy will snowball in effect, getting more effective, as you develop more content, more targeted keyword usage and ensuring your site is technically clean of issues and potential barriers to search engine crawlers.

That sounds a lot like like Batman to me. He spent his time clearing the streets of Gotham of crime, and as he did, the citizens of the city came to appreciate his efforts every time they saw the bat signal, ensuring the caped crusader’s visibility rose and rose.

SEO vs. PPC, Ironman vs Batman

So why the comparison of marketing channels to superheroes? 

Simply to make the point that although they may be seen as the same thing, with the same end goal, there are key differences, and knowing this will help you develop a marketing strategy that delivers for your business in the most effective way.

It comes down to goals and objectives - these should be at the forefront of your mind when discussing channels and tactics.

Imagine you are a new business and want to build your brand from the ground up. Here you’ll look to start with PPC tactics to ensure you can be seen online - maybe a wide-reaching display campaign with broad targeting. As you start to drive paid traffic through to your site, you may then work on SEO elements so you can capitalise on this traffic by converting it into returning customers who spread the message of your brand. This initial advertising push can help quickly build your business an audience at the top of the marketing funnel.

Whatever your aim, both channels offer different opportunities for every website - it’s choosing how and when you use the channels that matters.

Take PPC, which may be faster, more visible, more targeted and more measurable in bringing traffic to your site than SEO. Wow, seems like Ironman is slaying Batman here. 

But there is one weakness to PPC and Ironman. If Mr Stark was to have his electromagnetic Arc Reactor removed from his chest, he would have to stop everything, meaning no more heroics. That’s exactly the same with PPC - you stop putting money in, the ads stop, and you can wave goodbye to all that traffic.

SEO on the other hand may be slower and not as laser targeted as advertising tactics, but can be more consistent, giving you longer term benefits and more traffic potential for less direct cost. 

If you work on your website in any form - write a blog, amend product descriptions, or redesign the homepage navigation based on analytics and research - you are effectively doing SEO and these optimisations help to earn the traffic that comes through to the site. If you stop, the site will still earn that traffic for you. (But you want to keep rolling that snowball, and making it bigger and better all the time!)

Bam - Batman hits back with a right hook…Just as Ironman’s batteries can run out, Batman can keep working on his SEO efforts.

But they should be BFFs

But why have the power of just one channel? The most effective strategies and campaigns deliver multi-channel tactics. Just look at an example customer journey - see how many touchpoints a consumer today goes through. 

Google themselves suggest online consumer touchpoints range from anywhere between 20-500 depending on intent. That’s a lot of searches, visits and refinements for a user to go through, to ensure they get the right solution to their problem. 

Now what if you are relying on just one channel for your traffic acquisition? You could be missing out on visibility across the full buyer’s journey. A multi-channel approach can help keep your business front and centre in a user’s mind by using different tactics to cover every step of the journey. You can even use the experiences gained on one channel to inform the other - for example, using your best converting ad copy to craft enticing and engaging on-site copy.

It’s just like our superhero friends, who are super on their own but they also need a helping hand from their fellow heroes. Ironman has his band of Avengers and Batman has his sidekick, Robin.

The endgame

As the dust settles on the epic battles of good vs evil, or back in the real world, vying for customers’ attention online, both PPC and SEO are different types of traffic-driving superheroes.

PPC and SEO both deliver traffic at different stages of the buyer’s journey, at different speeds, for different costs. One channel could be more effective for one business and less so for another. But just remember, the real power comes when you combine them together.

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