Pay-Per-Click Versus Organic Seo: Are You Flushing Money Down The Drain?

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The cost of Pay-Per-Click advertising is high and rising. Click fraud (estimated by some to be as high as 35%) just makes things worse and increases click costs. And now, more and more people are saying they do not click on sponsored ads. Why you ask? Simple, they do not trust they will get relevant information when they click on a sponsored ad versus an organic link. Web surfers now understand through personal experience that PPC ads simply go to the highest bidder pretty much without regard for relevancy. In the early days (i.e. – 3 to 5 years ago); this was not the case. Back then, relevancy mattered (Overture, now Yahoo, was a leader in this area).

So, is pay-per-click where you should be investing your hard earned marketing dollars? And if so, how can you measure success? The short answers are – maybe and not easily.

First let me say, Pay-Per-Click (PPC) and organic SEO (Search Engine Optimization) are two completely different animals. They each have their place in the world but neither is a direct or complete replacement for the other.

There is one fact that does stand out however. In almost every case, organic search engine optimization will eventually achieve lower per-click costs than pay-per-click. The reason is actually quite simple. PPC, aside from the rising costs and fraud, requires continuous (infinite) payment to keep visitors flowing to your website while organic SEO requires (typically a more significant) upfront cost to achieve maximum visibility (top 10 placement) but then costs very little to maintain search engine placement over time.

But how can you measure success? Using cost per click to measure the effectiveness of these two disparate marketing options is like measuring time travel in miles-per-hour. Pay per click is an advertising expense while search engine optimization is more like a capital investment. Both can significantly increase a company’s online visibility but it is important to recognize that one is an ongoing expense while the other is a short term investment with long term benefits.

Pay Per Click Marketing

Advertising expenses like TV spots, print ads, billboards and yes pay-per-click marketing, all have one thing in common. They only exist as long as the sponsor is willing to pay for them. When the payments stop; the ads go away (and so does the business derived from the ads). In some cases, ads may continue to exist for a period of time (think magazines in your Dentist’s office or ads that end up on YouTube). And there is obviously some small residual benefit that occurs because visitors bookmarked your site or remember your domain name. For the most part however, pay-per-click marketing campaigns simply go away when you stop paying for them.

Does cost per click make sense for PPC? Absolutely! There is a definitive point in time when your PPC campaign starts and when it stops. And therefore, there is a direct correlation (for the most part) with making a sale or getting a lead from a PPC visitor.

Search Engine Optimization

Unlike pay-per-click, organic search engine optimization has no clear point in time where the benefits (i.e. – visitors) from the campaign ends. When you stop paying for organic search engine optimization the results continue for an extended period of time – usually many months or even years. Assuming your investment in organic SEO was well planned and successful (i.e. – top 10 placement for one or more quality keyword phrases), visitors to your website will continue long after payments have stopped.

So, can cost per click effectively measure the real value of organic SEO. The simple answer is no. It can’t. You can absolutely tell how much money was spent on the organic SEO campaign but, the total number of visitors coming to your site can not be accurately determined until the organic search link no longer appears on the search engine results pages.

Quality Organic SEO Takes Time

It is also important to note “the other side of the coin”. Putting an effective organic SEO campaign in place takes time. Initial results may not appear for weeks or even months. Organic search engine optimization takes patience. Unlike PPC, SEO does not provide immediate results. Remember, if your website isn’t in the top 30 (first three results pages), you are not likely to get much benefit from your organic SEO investment. I have seen reports that show 98% of all searches stop within the first three pages of search results. That means only 2% of searchers go to page four and beyond. Think about your own use of search engines. Even if you make it to page three, how much attention are you really paying to the websites you are visiting? If you do not see what you are looking for in 2 seconds or less, you’re hitting the back-arrow, returning to the search engine and moving on to the next link.


The bottom line: If your business needs its marketing campaign up and running immediately or you need to test ROI and conversion potential of candidate organic SEO phrases; pay per click is the way to go. PPC can also be very successful when implemented and maintained by a professional who is skilled at maximizing your ROI. But, if you want the absolute best long term value for your marketing dollar, organic SEO just can’t be beat.

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