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SEO vs. Pay-Per-Click: What’s the Difference?

Even if they don’t run a website, everyone on the internet has been on it long enough to know and understand how they are a part of the whole process; that their patronage of websites by clicking on links to view them contributes to their lifeblood. Hits are important, as advertisers and ad networks pay webmasters for each pair of eyes they bring to the ad by way of their site.

And because the internet has evolved into a business where almost anything, any piece of content can easily be monetized, so have the ways to bring people to websites developed as well. Search engines like Google have designed and perfected methods that help webmasters and marketers use their platforms to become relevant, while others have offered their platforms completely to anyone for the right price. We’re here today to take a look at both things, how they’re similar in bringing hits to websites, and how they differ in the process.


What is SEO?

Everyone knows by now what search engine optimization is and what it entails. SEO is an umbrella term for many free methods designed to increase a site’s relevance and rankings on search engine results pages like Google, Bing, and Yahoo! In a nutshell, SEO involves a lot of legwork on the business end of a site in order to draw more attention to it, as well as affiliates and associates in its niche.

When a webmaster or an SEO practitioner uses SEO to drive hits to their site, what they’re really doing is making sure the site is not only optimized for search engine crawler bots, but also for the general user experience. Search engines base rankings on how often users visit and return to a particular page, so the site itself has to be the best it can possibly for people to come to it. White hat SEO — that is, upfront and honest SEO that doesn’t try to deceive search engines — takes a lot of work to maintain, such as making sure metadata is in order, that the user experience is smooth and recommendable, and building ties with other sites and blogs, just to name a few.


What is PPC?

Pay-per-click marketing, on the other hand, is more like traditional advertising but only on a digital platform. The most common form of PPC marketing can be found on social media or Google display ad networks: basically, the webmaster pays a platform to display their link or content to users who fall under the target audience. When you boost a post on Facebook or Instagram, a tweet on Twitter, or put up an ad of an image that links back to your page via Google AdWords, you’re running a pay-per-click campaign.


Normally, the determining factors are the kind of links or web content a user’s viewed on their browser recently.

PPC is older than SEO as a form of marketing, and big brands (or basically, entities and organizations with enough of a budget to spare) generally tend to go for PPC simply because it’s a quick way to gain a lot of visibility in a relatively shorter amount of time.


So what’s the difference between the two?

While it’s much easier to say that implementing effective SEO requires more effort than simply handing over money to execute a PPC campaign, that’s not so true when you take a closer look. Putting up an effective pay-per-click campaign needs a thorough understanding of which people will be compelled to click on your link or content, so much like in SEO,  there’s a lot of work needed in the actual creation of content to make sure it’s something people would actually want to read.


The biggest difference between the two methods, then, is the speed and legwork required to produce results and visibility. Where PPC is essentially a manager or a marketer paying money to make sure the right people see the content they’ve worked hard on faster, SEO is more of a slower, long-term big-picture game that counts on a substantial amount of free (that is, without cost) effort to gain good returns. For example, let’s say you’re running a campaign or some content on your site targeted to people in Huntsville, Alabama; a PPC campaign pays to have people geolocated in Huntsville see your content, while an SEO practitioner will have to manually seed the keyword “Huntsville, Alabama” in their content — and wait — for their site to rank high in searches for Huntsville.


Another key difference between the two methods is the issue of credibility. We’ve already seen many jokes involving sketchy-looking pop-up ads that lead to potentially dangerous sites. You likely won’t get that problem when you go with SEO. Because of its slow-burn nature that takes a while for search engines to properly vouch for sites (such as ranking a page based on trustworthy link building, making sure there’s no spam content on the page, etc.), earning a high search ranking is pretty much a mark of credibility when it comes to a certain keyword. When a user sees your page at the top of the search results, they already know it’s a good link to click.


That isn’t to say that running a PPC campaign will make your links or content seem sketchy; we just mean that people are more likely to distrust a paid ad because anyone can put an ad up.


If you’ve got the budget, you can opt for PPC; otherwise, you’re pretty much stuck trying to play the SEO game, but at least you’re not spending on anything other than web hosting. They’re both effective methods of increasing visibility, just tailor-made for people with specific goals in mind. When you’re deciding between which method you need to take in order to bring more hits to your site, always remember these factors. And don’t forget to come up with some great content — neither approach will count if your content isn’t worth it.