For a startup to be successful online, first and foremost, it is crucial to have their website built and optimized to generate sales from the get go. This is essential before you start implementing strategies to drive traffic to your website.
While there are a variety of techniques and services designed to do this, most all of them fall into two basic categories: SEO and PPC. So which of these two approaches should startups be paying the most attention to? What are the differences between SEO and PPC, and which one is more effective? In this article, we'll attempt to address these questions.
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a marketing discipline focused on improving your ranking and visibility within organic search engine results. The search engines rank websites based on relevance and popularity. Search engines like Google and Bing crawl and build an index providing users with a ranked list of websites that they have determined are most relevant to the keywords used. SEO is meant to manipulate and influence that ranking decision to your business’s benefit.
There are various elements of SEO from the copy on your webpages to using the right words and phrases that will drive relevant traffic to your site. It also entails the way other sites link to your website.
It is extremely important to structure your digital presence in a way that not only the search engines can easily understand, but online users too. SEO can make or break an organization’s success. When compared to other forms of marketing, SEO tends to have a higher rate of return on your investment.
Some startups may feel confident to take the reins and handle the SEO strategy and execution themselves, while others may want to focus on other main aspects of the business and will bring on a consultant, agency or select someone internally to manage the SEO process. It is extremely important to do your homework. At the very least talk to a professional like an agency or SEO firm for best practices.
What is PPC?
PPC stands for Pay-Per-Click, a model of internet marketing in which advertisers pay a fee each time one of their ads is clicked. Essentially, it’s a way of buying visits to your site, rather than attempting to “earn” those visits organically. It enables you to display ads in the sponsored results section of each search engine's results page. PPC advertising allows startups to bring in floods of traffic with little effort at all...so long as their budgets are high enough.
The fee is based on the competitiveness of your chosen keyword and what others are willing to bid for those keywords. The fees can be anywhere from pennies to dollars per click. PPC campaigns may show results only in a specific geographic area, to certain audience demographics, or they can be time specific.
As with SEO, relevancy is key here. Always be sure the content on your landing page logically aligns with these keywords and the ad text to ensure a quality user experience and maximize your return on investment.
PPC vs. SEO: Which One is Better?
As with most things, there are pros and cons to both PPC and SEO. It turns out, though, that most of the pros of SEO are the cons of PPC, and vice-versa. Unlike PPC, SEO is a viable option even for low budget startups. So long as you are doing the steps necessary to optimize your website in-house, SEO is quite affordable.
SEO also produces better long-term results. While ad campaigns must be continually run to
provide successful results, getting your website to rank organically in the search results is something that will continue paying off long after the bulk of your efforts are complete. SEO is also more trusted by customers.
In comparison to PPC, SEO also has a much higher click-through-rate, about 8.5 times as much!
Research shows that around 70% of Internet users click on SEO results and only 30% of users click on PPC. Savvy customers know that anyone can pay for an ad while the websites that show up organically do so because they have earned their ranking through reputation and relevancy. In other words, an online visitor that clicks on your website's organic listing is more likely to convert into a customer than one who clicks your paid PPC ad.
With that being said, SEO is a lot of work, and, in the beginning, at least, it's a lot of work with little to no ROI. SEO isn't something that you can work on for a few hours and expect instant results. It's a process of techniques and tactics that must be carried out over weeks, months, and even years. You want to plan on a 3 month timeline before you start noticing an uptick of traffic to your website. Now, if you need to drive traffic immediately with a time-sensitive launch in jeopardy than the focus need to be adjusted and fixated on PPC advertising.
PPC advertising can provide immediate, predictable results. You pay X amount of money and receive X amount of traffic. PPC is great for start-ups that are looking for immediate market share and have the need to build brand awareness right out of the gate. This is an effective way to get exposure that SEO would not have the ability to generate in such a short period of time.
To summarize, with an SEO campaign, a new website or web page may take up to three months to show up on Search Engines as it takes time to index and rank the site. However, SEO results in continuous traffic over a longer period of time. This is a long-term strategy that any business dwelling in a very competitive landscape, especially a startup, needs to adopt. PPC can give an initial boost in traffic and is useful when launching a brand new website or product which is not yet appearing in organic results. However, when a PPC campaign is stopped and the budget is removed, any paid traffic stops immediately. Having a strong SEO strategy and the time to spend optimizing against the competition will help to keep a steady stream of traffic coming your way when PPC isn’t in play.
Companies are limited to a select few keywords and phrases - if they're lucky - through SEO efforts. But, with PPC they can affix their brand to terms outside a domain's natural keywords and get on the first page the first day.
PPC's flexibility also means that keywords can be bought ad hoc and dropped soon after for individual ad campaigns, a PR crisis, or marketing efforts outside those select SEO keywords they have chosen to build their site around.
So which of these two approaches is better for a startup to focus on? The answer is that it completely depends on the startup and what stage they are in as well as what your competition is doing in your market. In many cases, a strategy that incorporates both SEO and PPC will be desirable to satisfy long-term and short-term business goals. Ideally, PPC can be used to get the ball rolling and send initial traffic to your site while you are working towards earning organic traffic through SEO.
Of course, this strategy isn't bulletproof. Marketing is testing. You need to try things and see what works best and abandon the tactics that are not yielding positive results for the business. While running a PPC campaign can be simple, running a successful one is not. To make PPC profitable, you will need to spend time testing and optimizing your ads, landing pages, product pages, and more to get the highest possible conversion ratio. Otherwise, you'll end up paying more for the ads than you can make back in sales/leads - a frustrating situation that a large majority of startups frequently find themselves in.
Whether you choose to invest in an SEO or PPC program will ultimately depend on your marketing strategy. If you are not doing it your competition is. You will notice once you get rolling on either direction that your competition will start to duplicate your efforts. They will start to execute the same strategies or mimic your successes. You will need to be alert and ready to adapt.
Nevertheless, both PPC and SEO are effective strategies worth exploring. With enough time and know-how (and, in the case of PPC money) SEO and PPC and can be used with great results, allowing startups the ability to drive traffic to their site and carve out their market share.
When launching a new website, you may need to see fast results and use a short term call to action PPC campaign but over the long term, an SEO strategy will return more money on your SEM investment.