When you have a limited marketing budget, every dollar counts. You want to make sure you maximize your investment.

But there are lots of options to choose from – how do you know what’s right for your business?

The SEO vs PPC debate is one of the most common questions we get here at The HOTH.

In today’s article, we’re going to break down what you need to know to make your decision. We’ll walk through the pros & cons of both and give some advice on how you should think about it.

The Difference Between SEO & PPC

The first thing you should understand is the differentiation between what we’re talking about when we say SEO & PPC.

Here is what a typical search result looks like: 

The difference between SEO and PPC.

You can see that in the top part of the search results you have paid ads, or what we refer to as PPC (Pay-Per-Click). These are sponsored search results that advertisers pay for.

Then below that, you have organic listings, which are not sponsored and you cannot pay Google directly to show up here. Ranking here is influenced by SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

Before we get into advice on which is for you, let’s talk about the pros and cons of each.

Pros And Cons of SEO

Here are some of the biggest advantages that SEO has:

SEO Advantages

SEO Lasts

The links and content from SEO will never go away (for the most part) and continue to be crawled by search engines, as opposed to paid traffic, where as soon as you stop paying its lights out.

SEO Has High ROI

Since you are not directly paying to rank on Google, the ROI of doing SEO is usually very high.

SEO Disadvantages

SEO Takes Time

For SEO to be effective and see your site ranking, this takes months of consistent work. Your SEO campaign will not be an overnight success and takes months of hard work to get you to rank.

Ahrefs did a study, and it showed that only 5.7% ranked in the top 10 search results within one year.

The ranking performance of pages within 1 year from "first seen."

SEO Is Hard To Control

While you can certainly use best practices to influence your rankings, you can’t directly control exactly what position you’re in or how Google displays your site.

High Competition

Depending on your industry, some sites and companies may face challenges trying to rank for specific keyword topics, which can cost more money or take longer (like CBD oil e-commerce versus pet grooming in Lincoln, Nebraska).

Pros And Cons Of PPC

PPC Advantages

PPC Can Get Quick Results

You can set up ads today and as soon as they are approved, they can be displayed. That means you can start getting traffic today.

PPC Gives You Control

With PPC, you have complete control of which product or service you are advertising for, how much you want to spend for how long, and your messaging.

  • Specific Keywords
  • Ad Copy & Message
  • Destination (Landing Page or Blog Post)
  • Locations
  • Audiences
  • Demographics
  • Schedule
  • Placements
  • Campaign Types/Formats

When running PPC campaigns, you can focus on high intent keywords where someone has a problem and needs a solution.

If someone is looking for a Dentist, then bidding on keywords for “Emergency Dentist” or “emergency dentist open 24 hours” is a great way to supply that consumer with a solution NOW if your practice offers emergency dental services.

Examples of emergency dental ads.

Bidding on high intent keywords with PPC allows your business to capture these opportunities using PPC by being in those top spots on page 1 and bringing in new business daily.

You Can Test Different Strategies Quickly With PPC

With PPC, you get to test so many variables to find out which keywords, messaging, imagery, and other elements are the highest converting. Thus, making PPC a great way to test the market before tripling down on SEO efforts.

Optimization takes time to adjust ad copy, landing page copy, keyword adjustments, and much more. Overall it takes time to dial in your precise lead flow for specific services.

But optimization pays off in significant ways!

Example of optimizing to bringing in decent leads to leads that are ready to pay $7,500 per month for services.

In our search ads, we went from a general copy approach to digging deep into their pain points by including words like fed up and tired.

These were common pain points that anyone with an IT Service could be feeling.

With this one point of optimization, our CPC dropped, and our CTR shot up.

A chart outlining the winners and losers of a text ad.

We also did the same with our display ads plus changed the imagery to show an aggressive business owner.

Losing Ad

An example of a losing ad.

Winning Ad

An example of a winning ad.

With PPC You Can Follow Up With Retargeting

With PPC, you can choose specific ad formats and campaign types. One of the best and most profitable are retargeting campaigns. Retargeting allows you to re-engage with past visitors from your ads or website.

A graphic showing how remarketing ads work.

PPC Disadvantages

PPC Can Be “Expensive”

In some industries, you can pay anywhere from $2 per click to $200 per click and anywhere in between. With PPC (Pay-Per-Click), you are only paying for individuals when they click on your ad. If you are a law firm, you can expect to spend an average of $110 per click for anyone looking for a “Personal Injury Lawyer.”

An example from the legal industry of how PPC can be expensive.

Which Should You Use?

One of the biggest points to make is that many people think they should do just 1 between SEO and PPC, but that’s not necessary to choose only 1.

In fact, you can use SEO & PPC in tandem.

Here are some examples of how that can work:

Use PPC data to fuel your SEO campaigns

While some of our SEO clients are consistently building their organic efforts, they have PPC running at the same time.

This way, they are working towards short and long term goals for their business.

Short term, they are focused on bringing in new revenue to keep the cash flow healthy with their PPC efforts.

Long term, they are focusing on ranking for specific keywords to see a higher ROI from their organic efforts. These efforts will bring them a steady stream of traffic that will likely turn into revenue for years to come. Any online business can use the HOTH PPC ROI Calculator to make sure they’re gaining value from paid advertising campaigns.

Clients with this mindset are utilizing PPC data to fuel their SEO campaigns based on which keywords are their most profitable, creating new content around the services that the new business is being generated from, and also continuing to solve problems in their services that the new customers have.

Use Remarketing To Get More ROI From Your SEO Efforts

While you are working on getting traffic to your site with SEO, you can power up simple PPC campaigns to get those visitors back to your website.

This method of marketing is called remarketing and allows multiple PROs when it comes to using SEO and PPC together.

  1. You’re re-engaging past visitors, now someone has seen your brand, and you’re virtually following up with them, unlike your competitors.
  2. The CPC is drastically lower than in search campaigns. In the con section above, we discussed the cost of high CPC’s. With retargeting, your CPC gets dropped down by more than 50% in some cases.

In the example below, you will see our cost went from $4.90 per click down to $0.92 per click!

Our CPC went from $4.90 per click down to $0.92 per click with retargeting.

In the example below, you will see our cost went from $16.17 per click down to $1.04 per click!

Our CPC went from $16.17 per click down to $1.04 per click with retargeting.


Overall both marketing efforts have their Pros and Cons.

In some cases, you’ll have to weigh which is more important to you. If you are looking for leads now, then focus on PPC, and if you can wait it out, then focus on SEO.

In an ideal situation, I would recommend focusing on both at the same time so you can accomplish both short term and long term goals simultaneously.