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SEO vs. PPC: Pros, Cons, Differences + How to Use Them Together


Staff member
Mar 19, 2024
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SEO drives organic traffic and sustains visibility over time, while PPC gets you rewards instantly at a higher cost. But a combination of both is the secret to ultimate scalability and ROI.

Understanding SEO vs. PPC:

Search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising are both heavy hitters in the digital marketing arena.

Both help brands stand out with more visibility on search engines.

But in the SEO vs. PPC showdown, which packs the mightier punch? And which is right for your business? To answer that question, we’ll need to walk through each strategy’s nuances (and trust us, there are quite a few).

HawkSEM’s SEO/SEM Manager, Sonya Gonzales, brings over a decade of marketing experience and insider knowledge to the conversation. She sheds light on key distinctions between SEO and PPC, and breaks down the perks of leveraging both in your digital marketing strategy.

Understanding SEO vs. PPC​

We use SEO tactics like keyword research, backlinking, on-page optimization, and quality content to rank higher on the search engine results page (SERP) and drive organic traffic.

PPC is a digital marketing method where you pay for each click you receive on your website. With strategic ad campaigns, you’ll put your site at the top of the SERP and enhance the number of clicks you receive.

Unlike SEO, which works to draw organic visitors, you can use PPC to purchase them.

Gonzales says it’s easy to fall into some common pitfalls without a solid understanding of how each works – and this happens when your SEO and PPC teams work in silos:

“While PPC and SEO can definitely work independently, to maximize ROI for both campaigns, it’s important to understand the full picture strategy,” she says. “SEO can help define keywords that get in front of the right audience members before and during a purchase decision. This can lead to brand recognition and bottom-of-funnel traffic.

PPC can then work to pull these key audience members in to drive leads and purchases. To avoid costly mistakes, team members from both sides should share insights and data to align efforts effectively.”

So, how does each marketing strategy differ?

dice with images stacked in a 3 x 3 square

(Image: Adobe Stock)

Goals and benefits

SEO and PPC can both be used to drive traffic to your website, and each tactic has its own benefits and drawbacks. Let’s take a deeper look at what these are.


SEO’s primary purpose is to drive organic rankings and amplify your brand’s online presence. But there’s more to it than snagging the top spot of Google search results.

You can also use SEO to:

  • Establish long-term brand credibility
  • Build authority in your industry
  • Reach specific audiences
  • Improve the user experience
  • Boost local SEO visibility for brick-and-mortars
  • Drive higher conversion rates
  • Adapt more swiftly to shifts in the market and search behavior

Does that mean SEO traffic from organic search results is better than paid search traffic? Not necessarily.

Organic traffic is ideal for building brand awareness, long-term growth, and cost-effective results. However, PPC ads draw optimal traffic for other reasons.


We know what you’re thinking: If I can score organic traffic for free, why the heck would I consider paid search? Well, sometimes you’ve gotta pay to play.

One of the biggest benefits of PPC is that you’ll spend a little more but see results much faster.

PPC marketing offers:

  • A fast, short-term way to boost online visibility
  • Better targeted audience reach
  • Full control over ad appearance and placement
  • More space and formats to convey your messaging
  • A/B testing opportunities to determine what works best
  • Quick results like lead generation and traffic

As you can see, SEO and PPC each have their strengths and serve different purposes to bolster your overall marketing strategy.

As for the how

Methods and types of campaigns​

SEO helps you optimize your content and web page structure for higher organic search rankings over time. With PPC, you’ll create and place paid ads in search results for specific keywords right away.


Here’s how SEO works:

1. On-page SEO

Each page on your website should be optimized. So, fine-tune your web copy with on-page SEO like competitive keywords, optimized headings, formats, metadata, images, and accompanying alt text.

2. Off-page SEO

There are plenty of activities carried out away from your website that help boost search rankings. Some key tactics include building backlinks from authoritative and relevant sites (which beef up your site’s authority). Off-page SEO also includes guest blogging, influencer marketing, and brand mentions.

3. Technical SEO

Search engines should be able to easily crawl and index your pages. To streamline your technical SEO, focus on site speed, mobile-friendliness, and resolving URL errors.

It’s a combination of these on-page, off-page, and technical SEO tactics that gave us the fuel to bump year-over-year (YoY) organic traffic by 125% for our client, MileIQ. Pretty sweet, right?


PPC campaigns are a whole different ball game. Rather than fine-tuning your content and site architecture, you’ll want to craft compelling ad copy, integrate keyword research, and target audiences for quick results and visibility.

These PPC ads take various forms, such as:​

1. Search ads

Paid search ads are typically text-based and appear right at the top of the SERP, just above organic SEO results. Your audience types search terms into Google or Bing, and voila—your ad appears first.

2. Display ads

Display ads appear on various websites within the content, sidebar, or as a banner. Instead of targeting specific keywords, they go after a range of criteria like demographics, interests, behaviors, or even retargeting audiences who’ve previously visited specific sites.

3. Social media ads

These are ads on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and more. Like display ads, these attempt to reach and engage with potential customers on a platform they already use.

4. Shopping ads

Shopping ads appear as cataloged products with price tags and star ratings for easy purchasing. They’re more visually oriented, and target based on product data (instead of specific keywords).

5. Video ads

About 35% of audiences watch YouTube video ads, targeted based on demographics, behaviors, devices, and more.

6. In-app ads

These ads appear within mobile apps as banners, videos, or interactive ads. Brands tailor them based on user behavior and preferences.

7. Local service ads

These ads target audiences in certain locations to give local businesses more visibility. Unlike traditional PPC ads, local service ads follow a pay-per-lead model (PPL), so you pay when a potential customer contacts you through the ad (instead of per click).

8. Landing page optimization

Finally, your PPC ad effectiveness all hinges on one thing: optimizing your landing page. This is the web page that each ad links (or clicks over) to. Your landing page is an integral part of your PPC campaign because it receives and converts traffic from your PPC ads.

In fact, we doubled Zephyr’s lead volume by revamping their landing page and smoothing the kinks in their lead form.

But how do you know if your PPC and SEO efforts are working?

Measuring key performance indicators (KPIs)​

The right metrics for each strategy will tell you whether you’re on track to reach your marketing goals:


  • Organic traffic growth: the number of clicks you garner from organic search results
  • Keyword rankings: where you rank in organic search for relevant keywords (ideally, as high as possible on the SERP)
  • Search visibility: the performance of your entire set of tracked keywords, allowing you to gauge the overall success of your keyword strategy
  • SERP features: when your site is highlighted at the top of SERPs, increasing visibility and potential clicks
  • Click-through rates (CTRs): how often your audience clicks rather than scrolls past your site in search results
  • Domain authority (DA): your site’s potential to rank in organic search results; ranges from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to more likelihood of ranking
  • Backlinks: links to your website on other reputable websites
  • Bounce rate: the percentage of visitors who leave your website after viewing only one page
  • Session duration: the amount of time a visitor spends on your website at one time
  • Conversion rate: the number of visitors who converted (i.e., purchased a product, subscribed to a newsletter, etc.)
  • Return on investment (ROI): how much revenue you generate from your SEO marketing investment


  • CTR: the number of people that clicked on your PPC ad after seeing it
  • Cost per click (CPC): how much you pay for each click your ads receive
  • Cost per conversion: how much you pay for each conversion garnered from one of your ads
  • Conversion rate: the proportion of people who convert after clicking your ads
  • Return on ad spend (ROAS): the gross revenue you earn from every dollar spent on PPC ads
  • Quality score: a score (measured from one to ten) that Google provides based on the quality and relevance of both your keywords and PPC ads
  • Ad quality: according to Google, this is an estimate of the experience audiences have when encountering your search ads
  • Average order value (AOV): how much money a customer spends per order from your ads
  • ROI: how much revenue you generate from your PPC marketing investment

Our favorite tool for keeping a finger on the pulse of all our marketing metrics?

ConversionIQ makes these metrics easy to set up and track to seamlessly access the data quickly,” Gonzales says. “A higher CPA isn’t always an indication that the product or service line is not worthwhile. SEO campaign KPIs are similar to PPC in that we’re looking for the bottom of funnel signals.”

Gonzales also emphasizes the importance of looking at types of content pieces leading to conversion-friendly pages.

“Look at types of content pieces leading to conversion-friendly pages and what types of keywords are answering pertinent questions that your product or service ultimately answers.”

Timelines and expectations​

Wondering how long it takes to see results from your SEO and PPC efforts? Let’s break down the timelines for each.


One of the cons of SEO is that it takes at least 3 months to a year to see results. It’s a long-term strategy that requires planning, patience, and constant pivots. Why?

SEO ROI is measured through increased organic traffic, higher search rankings, and conversions. These, however, take considerably longer to achieve,” Gonzales explains.

First, high-quality content takes time to build authority and pick up speed. Search engines need to see more website traffic, long-term engagement, backlinks, and valuable content over time to give your site better organic rankings.

Second, search engine algorithms are always changing. This means you need to keep your SEO strategy agile, tweaking it and refreshing it as needed.

Sure, your SEO efforts won’t pay off overnight. But you know what they say: good things come to those who wait (and optimize consistently).


In contrast to SEO content marketing, PPC does offer the benefit of near-immediate results. Once your ad is live, PPC works as fast as 2-3 months.

Gonzales elaborates:

“PPC gives almost instantaneous ROI through clicks and conversions, if the campaigns are set up and executed correctly,” she says. “To further maximize ROI for PPC, it’s important to constantly monitor and adjust campaigns.”

Want to snag the top of the first page of the SERPs tomorrow? It’s yours, if you fork up the big bucks.

That’s the downside of PPC, by the way. Short-term results often require a higher investment on your part.

Speaking of cost…

Pricing and budget considerations​

SEO and PPC both cost money, but how much of your marketing budget do they require?


With SEO, you don’t have to pay each time someone clicks on your site. And high organic rankings on the SERP are a gift that keeps on giving.

But SEO isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it strategy. It requires ongoing attention and investment to stay effective in the fluid digital landscape. If you want to keep reaping its rewards, you’ll have to keep the cash flowing.

Of course, your investment can fluctuate depending on different SEO pricing models, the cost of SEO tools, and the expertise of your SEO team.

Here’s what you can expect to pay for SEO marketing:

  • Between $75-$100 for hourly rates
  • Between $500-$10,000 for fixed monthly rates
  • Around $5,000-$30,000 for project-based rates


If pay-per-click is all about, well… paying per click, how much will each click cost you?

From our experience, the average CPC is about $2 to $5, with an average ad spend of about $9,000-$10,000 monthly. But competition, niche, and your service area can all affect PPC costs.

For paid search, you can expect to pay:

  • Around $1,500-$10,000 for monthly rates
  • Between 10%-30% of your ad spend (with ad spends varying anywhere between $2,000-$100,000)

There’s also performance-based (or milestone-based) pricing, which only charges you for the leads they bring in. As promising as this sounds, it can result in low-quality leads that don’t convert.

HawkSEM focuses on delivering results, like nailing that prime SERP position and unleashing a floodgate of conversions.

We overhaul your PPC and SEO campaigns from the ground up. Starting with an intense audit, we leverage data to identify and bridge gaps, then revamp and test your campaigns—rinsing and repeating till we find your brand’s sweet spot.

This way, small businesses, large enterprises, and everyone in between have access to the full potential of search engine marketing.

So, which is better for your brand: SEO or PPC? The answer might be a dynamic combo of both.

International team of coworkers sitting around table, putting colorful puzzles together, teamwork concept, top view

(Image: Adobe Stock)

SEO vs. PPC: the perks of using both​

When it comes to SEO vs. PPC, one isn’t inherently better than the other. Both have strengths that make them fit for different situations and goals.

Gonzales says that they work best together, especially because PPC acts as a test case to confirm marketing viability:

“PPC can help determine what types of SEO campaigns are worth your investment. For example, if you’re unsure whether key audience members are interested in a particular product or services, test with PPC first and determine viability,” she advises. “If results are great, investing in a full scale SEO campaign may help alleviate competitive costs from ads.”

SEO is ideal for brands:​

  • With constrained budgets
  • Focused on building authority
  • Seeking long-term ROI
  • Interested in reaching audiences at every stage of the customer journey

PPC is ideal for brands:​

  • That want lightning-fast visibility and conversion
  • Running time-sensitive campaigns
  • Targeting a specific audience
  • Experimenting with different marketing strategies

Our philosophy? Harness both. SEO and PPC work best when combined, letting you reap the strengths of each search engine marketing strategy.

One way to start is to scope out the competition (you know we love a good competitor analysis). How do they use organic and paid search? Use those insights to bolster your approach.

But keep in mind that effectively integrating PPC and SEO requires a certain finesse to make sure they complement rather than compete with each other.

Gonzales approaches this balance by keeping a sharp eye on keyword cannibalization:

“Cannibalization happens when there’s a conflict or overlap in your content strategy or ads and how the search engine ultimately interprets the keyword,” she says. “If there’s a decline in organic or PPC CTR, it could mean that there’s confusion for the user.”

This creates an issue if there are multiple options on your website that are conflicting, and not complementing one another. But there’s a solution:

“It may mean segmenting keywords for SEO that drive mid- to bottom of funnel traffic, while PPC relies heavily on bottom-of-funnel exclusive landing pages,” she says.

She also recommends working with both PPC and SEO experts to harmoniously create complementary strategies.

But if you prefer to get started with one, Gonzales says to look at your objectives:

“SEO is a long-term strategy that can deliver cost-effective results, but it takes time,” she explains. “If the business requires immediate leads or sales, PPC might be a better option.”

The takeaway

SEO vs. PPC? We’re done pitting these two against each other.

Effective search engine marketing draws on both SEO and PPC to foster short- and long-term results, maximize online visibility, and make the most of your marketing budget.

Gonzales’s advice?

“Using PPC and SEO together can create a more comprehensive strategy to increase website traffic and revenue.”

Her favorite methods for doing so are to use SEO to optimize PPC landing pages, target long-tail keywords too pricey for PPC, and to use PPC for seasonal and timed offers. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Getting to know these strategies, plus executing them effectively while running a business, is a tall task to take on solo. That’s why we’ve invested decades into perfecting the art of organic and paid search—so you don’t have to.

Ready to talk strategy and see an average 4.5x ROI? Let’s make it happen.

The post SEO vs. PPC: Pros, Cons, Differences + How to Use Them Together appeared first on HawkSEM.
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