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SEO vs Paid Ads – A Basic Analysis

By Snap Agency October 23, 2017

When you first start looking at digital marketing, it can be extremely overwhelming. There are hundreds of different methods that you can use to drive traffic, and each one has complex intricacies that make the practitioners of it either experts or amateurs.

Paid ads are often one of the first methods that new website owners pursue because it’s very similar to offline marketing and billboards. On the other hand, SEO is a more confusing process that isn’t comparable to any form of offline marketing.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and is all about trying to rank highly in search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing. The goal of an SEO campaign is to rank #1 for the search terms that people are typing into the engine.

For example; as a gardening company in Las Vegas you might want to rank highly for terms like “lawn service Las Vegas” or “best gardener in Vegas”. Both of these terms likely having buying intent behind them, i.e. the searcher is looking for a company to hire for gardening services.

To rank highly in search engines, there are two basic factors that you need to consider; the content that you publish on your website and the links from external websites that point to your piece of content.

Google essentially acts like a weighing machine, judging the popularity of pieces of content by some links pointing to them. Of course, it’s a much more complex algorithm that this, but they essentially judge popularity and rank the articles highest that people prefer.

What are Paid Ads?

Paid ads, on the other hand, are a much more simple method of traffic generation that is relatively easy to understand. In this case, you pay a website a certain amount of money per month or click for them to send you traffic.

Then, they will include a banner, a video or a link on their website. This is similar to how you would pay for ad space in a newspaper or a billboard on the highway.

The basic principle is that you pay for publicity and hope that is converts to paying customers. If not, you tweak the advert and the website that it’s visible on until you can generate a profit.

The main difference between paid ads online and newspaper space is that users online can click on these paid ads and go directly to your website. This means that you can more easily track the conversion rates and the ROI of your paid ads.

How Much Does SEO Cost?

SEO is a relatively time-intensive process, and this can make it expensive. Plenty of human hours is required to create the content, market the piece and to build links to your website.

How Much Do Paid Ads Cost?

Paid ads, on the other hand, are relatively cheap, to begin with. You can buy ad space for a few bucks to begin with, so the startup cost is relatively low, but the ongoing cost is high.

SEO in the Short and Long Term

In the short term, SEO is ineffective. It takes a while for your brand to build up ‘authority’ in the eyes of the search engines and building content and links are relatively expensive.

However, once you’re ranking for keywords, you’ll often stay there for long periods of time without any extra effort. This means that in the long term the cost per customer from SEO can be extremely cheap, but the initial investment is high.

Paid Ads in the Short and Long Term

Paid ads are almost the complete opposite. In the short term, you can invest just a little bit of money, and you’ll instantly receive traffic. While SEO takes a long time to see the result of your actions, paid ads will give you instant feedback.

However, you’ll always need to continue to pay for those ads, and that means that in the long term the cost per customer will be higher than with SEO, presuming you’re successful with both.

What’s the Catch?

So far in this article, we’ve simplified the process drastically so that you can get an understanding of the two methods and how they work. However, as with anything, you could invest money and see no return on your investment.

It’s possible that you could purchase paid ads and make a loss. You might struggle to tweak them and fail ever to break even. Similarly, you might pick keywords that are too competitive, and you’ll struggle to rank regardless of your SEO.

Which is Better For You?

However, we believe that in most cases both paid ads and SEO can be extremely profitable. Unfortunately, most local business owners aren’t experts in either. This leads to them making mistakes and wasting money on fruitless pursuits.

That’s why so many businesses choose to hire us instead. We’ve been working in both SEO and paid ads for years and have helped countless businesses to generate huge profits.

Deciding which method is best will be a discussion that we will have together, but for most businesses, a combination of both methods will be optimal for driving revenue.