“Should I commit to SEO or Google Ads? Or both?”
I get asked this question all the time.
And unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of people sink a lot of money into one or the other without results.
Which is right for your business? Or the better question – how can you use both together to generate maximum ROI?
Let’s get into it.
We’ll be looking at this question from the perspective of a local business. There are manny other considerations if your business is a SaaS, eCommerce, or nationwide brand. That said, the general principles remain true across the board.
What’s the Difference Between SEO and Google Ads?
SEO refers to ranking organically on search engines like Google. When someone makes a search and then clicks on your website, you don’t pay for it. Google Ads refer to paying for clicks on Google.
Organic Results vs Google Ads
SEO is all about optimizing your website to show up and rank highly for certain keywords. It’s an art and a science. It can take some time, and there are no guarantees you ever rank on the first page for your desired keywords.
Google Ads is pay-to-play. Once you turn them on, you’ll be showing up in searches and earning clicks. But again – you’re paying for it.
It’s worth mentioning though that unless you’re an SEO wiz yourself, you may have to pay for SEO services in order to rank well. But once your site is ranking, no money is going to Google, just to your provider. Can you stop paying them once you get ranking? Eh, it depends. If you’re in a competitive industry, you’ll need their ongoing guidance and work. If you’re in a not-so-competitive industry, it’s possible you’d keep ranking for a little while before competitors start to overtake you.
SEO or Google Ads: Which is Better?
Google PPC Ads is your best option for ranking and driving traffic quickly, while SEO is the better option for long term ranking.
Neither are necessarily “better,” it all comes down to your circumstance, industry, business type, and goals. Both are effective ways to generate leads from search engines.
The two biggest factors to consider are price and time.
Google Ads can get pretty pricey, especially if you’re having to pay someone to manage the ads along with your ad spend. This could easily run you $1500 – $5000 per month. That said, Google Ads start showing as soon as you launch them, meaning the leads can start flowing immediately.
SEO can also be pretty pricey (depending on your industry and goals), but without the ad spend to consider, it will likely always be cheaper than Google PPC Ads (unless your CPC is really low and you run them in-house). That said, SEO can take time.
Some will say SEO always takes at least 6 months – this is a really broad and oversimplified statement. There are a ton of factors to consider. That said, if you have a brand new website, it will take at least a few months to see any progress on Google.
Google PPC Ads is your best option if:
- You just launched a new business and need leads quickly. As a new business with a new website, it could take anywhere from 3 months to a year before you’re outranking competitors. Google PPC Ads allows you to start ranking and generating traffic the moment you push them live.
- You’re a local business generating leads in an area you don’t have a location. When it comes to local SEO, it’s tough to gain much traction in areas you don’t have a physical location. Sure, you can occasionally outrank businesses in that area organically, but your best bet is often just to run Google Ads there.
- Your industry is incredibly competitive. I’ve seen businesses pay crappy SEO providers a monthly fixed price for YEARS only to never crack the top 3. Some industries are just super competitive – and unfortunately – this is a possibility. If you don’t want to go down that road, you may decide simply to commit to Google Ads long term and never fool with SEO. As a big time SEO proponent who has been in the game for 10 years, I don’t think this is a terrible option.
SEO is your best option if:
First, let me say that SEO is almost always a great option. There are only a few scenarios in which it might make more sense to just go with Google Ads and ignore SEO. And there are a couple scenarios in which search engine marketing just isn’t your best bet and you should spend your resources on more outbound marketing tactics.
- You’re looking to play the long game. Investing in SEO can lead to a long term lead generating machine. As mentioned, you may have to continue to pay your SEO provider, but unlike Google Ads, no money is going to Google. And if you sell a produce or service in high demand, it’s likely the ROI will always be positive after the first few months.
- You’ve got time. If you’re launching a new business and don’t have to hit the ground running, I’d say forego the ads and start investing in SEO ASAP.
Do Paid Google Ads or Organic SEO Results Get More Clicks?
Organic results get far more clicks than Google Ads. But that doesn’t mean Google Ads can’t generate results.
This data is getting a bit outdated at this point, but we see that for years, about 65% of all clicks go to organic results, while 3-4% go to ads.
This might seem like a bit hit on Google Ads, but remember that A LOT of searches are made everyday. If you sell dog food, 150,000 people are looking for your product each month. So even if run Google Ads and only get a tiny percentage of the clicks, we’re still talking about at least 1,000 people clicking on your ad each month.
But if you’re a local seamstress, there are definitely a lot less clicks to go around. This doesn’t mean you should forego Google Ads entirely – just something to consider.
How SEO and Google Ads Should Work Together
Google Ads should be used for short term, quick results. SEO should be invested in from the start with long-term results in mind. Once your site begins ranking for some keywords, you should reduce your Google Ad spend on them and divert it to keywords you’re not yet ranking for. While doing this, use Google Ads data to help you determine the most valuable keywords to invest in.
We’ve talked a lot about whether SEO or Google Ads is the better option. But the better question you should be asking is this: “How can SEO and Google Ads work together to help me maximize my ROI from search engine marketing?”
I’m glad you asked. And I’m going to approach this considering a new business – or at least a business new to digital marketing.
If you need to hit the ground running with leads, you should immediately launch a Google Ad campaign focused on your primary and most profitable services or products. You should also design your website with SEO and long term growth in mind. You should immediately begin investing in SEO activities such as optimizing your Google Business Profile (if you’re local), keyword page mapping, on-page optimization, technical optimization, link building, PR, and more.
As you begin to rank and drive traffic for some keywords, you should cut or reduce your Google Ad spend on those keywords and divert it to keywords you’re not yet ranking for.
After your first year or so, SEO should be your bread and butter. You should utilize Google PPC Ads only if you expand into other markets where you don’t have a physical location or you’re launching a new product / service that isn’t yet ranking.
All the while, you can utilize the data you collect from Google Ads to determine the best keywords for your business. If one keyword converts at a 20% rate while another only converts at 3%, you know the 20% converter is what you should be optimizing your site for.
For example, let’s say you’re a local general contractor who specializes in gutters, roofing, and painting. You just launched your business. Here’s what your gameplan might look like:
- Start off by running three Google Ad campaigns, one for each of your primary services. You commit to spending $1,000 per month on each campaign.
- Design a fast, SEO-friendly website, create a Google Business Profile, create citations on all relevant directories, issue a press release of your business launch, write optimized blog posts, and submit a few guest posts to industry publications that link back to your site.
- Continue to invest in SEO with a focus on your primary keywords like “gutter installation,” “roofers,” and “painters.”
- After 3-4 months, you break into the local pack and top 5 of organic results for “gutter installation near me.” You’re getting a 10 leads per month from SEO, so you cut your Google Ad Spend on gutters to $250. If your budget is tight, you save that money. If you’re ready to reinvest, you redistribute it to your Painting and Roofing campaigns.
- After 6-8 months, you’re now ranking pretty well for all three of your main services organically. You want to cut some costs, but at the same time, you recognize roofing jobs are your most profitable service, and you could always use more. So you cut all ad spend on gutters and painters, but continue to spend around $1,000 on roofing to make sure you’re getting as many leads as possible from Google.
- After 1 year, you decide to expand into two nearby cities. You won’t be putting up physical locations, so you launch two new ad campaigns for roofing in each of those cities. You could try to create a local landing page or pay for a virtual mailbox, but Google Ads is your most straightforward option.
There you have it. Keep in mind, competition is probably the biggest factor determining how quickly you can move from spending on Google Ads to solely investing in SEO. If you’re in an incredibly competitive local market, you may need to invest in both for quite some time.
Do Google PPC Ads Help or Impact Organic SEO?
Running Google Ads doesn’t directly impact SEO rankings. But Google Ads can indirectly help your SEO campaign.
This has been an ongoing debate in the search industry for years. Many believe that running Google Ads will directly improve your SEO ranking for the same terms. Google has said time and time again that this isn’t the case.
Many people believe this based on personal anecdotes: “I started running Google Ads and immediately my SEO rankings went up a bit!”
It is very possible that there are indirect ways running Google Ads can help SEO rankings. Let’s look at two ways:
Having a Google Ad + organic result on the same page can increase the chances of someone clicking. If you make a search for “dog food” and you see Chewy ad at the top of the results as well as an organic Chewy result in the third spot – research shows you’re more likely to click on the Chewy organic result over another brand you didn’t just see in the ads. Over time, as you earn more clicks than competitors, Google may reward that user behavior with higher rankings.
Running Google Ads will boost your traffic, which could result in a number of beneficial SEO signals. If you’re getting 500 website visitors each month through Google Ads, there’s a chance those people could be sharing your content on social media, linking to your site, telling their friends about you, revisiting your site later through a Google search, etc… – all things that can benefit your SEO.