One of the most commonly asked questions I hear from small business owners is whether they should buy per-per-click (PPC) ads in Google or invest in search engine optimization (SEO). But surprisingly, many people see it as an “either/or” situation.
First, I want to be clear: in the long run your search marketing strategy should involve both SEO and PPC. Organic and paid search channels should be synergized to maximize your presence online. However, small businesses that operate with limited budgets and resources often need to narrow their focus and marketing dollars to either SEO or PPC. They just cannot afford to do both.A 2011 “merchant confidence survey” from MerchantCircle/Reply.com, conducted among 2,500 US small business owners, indicated that SEO is “the no. 1” marketing channel for small businesses. The question asked was: “If you had to put all your marketing time and budget into only one channel, what would it be?” Thirty-three percent of survey respondents chose SEO, while PPC ranked fifth with 10 percent of votes. Collectively, SEO and PPC significantly outranked any other marketing channel with more than 40 percent of the vote.
While both SEO and PPC offer unique benefits, small business owners need to think strategically before investing their time and money. For example, marketers are often quick to choose PPC ads, which allow them to take their website to the first page in Google in a matter of days on an unlimited number of keywords. By contrast, SEO usually takes at least six months of grueling effort to rank highly on a handful of keywords. Based on the comparison it would seem obvious that small business should initially invest in PPC in order to drive growth. But keep in mind that only about 30 percent of searchers click on paid search ads while the other 70 percent of clicks go to organic links.
Below are a couple of key items you should consider when developing an effective search marketing strategy for your business.
Website: The objective of your search marketing campaign is to drive qualified traffic to your website, which will convert into business leads and buyers. Your website is your online storefront and it is at the core of planning your search strategy. You should closely evaluate your website to make sure it is designed for organic optimization. If you focus on SEO, your website has to be rich in text-based content with a high volume of targeted keywords. Also, you should seriously consider a blog, which can be incorporated into your website, because search engines reward fresh content above static websites. If you have a flash-heavy website with limited content that is not updated frequently, you will not succeed in SEO. Your best bet is PPC.
Campaign Objectives: If you run a long-term campaign, SEO is a viable option. Keep in mind that SEO is a long-term program — results are expected around six months from the start of your campaign. However, if your campaign objective is to drive prospects to a limited-time offer or a live event, you should rather engage in PPC. You can launch a Google Adwords campaign in a matter of days and fully control its duration and spend. You can also target specific geographical areas or arrange to have your ads displayed specifically during predetermined hours. SEO is not a suitable channel for a short-term, high-impact campaign.
Keyword Coverage: You need decent keyword coverage to attain your search marketing objectives. Understand that a successful SEO campaign will get you optimized on about five to 20 un-branded keywords (depending on your budget and website). On the other hand, you can buy thousands of keywords through Google Adwords and significantly increase the size of your keyword coverage. Evaluate your traffic goals carefully and use a combination of SEO and PPC to maximize your website visits and ROI.
Keyword Competitiveness: The more competitive the keywords, the harder it is to rank highly in Google. For instance, if you are a small business owner selling digital cameras, you will not be able to compete head-on with Fortune 500 brands that spend millions of dollars on SEO to get on the first page in Google on a “digital camera” query. But in PPC the playing field is more level. Everyone plays by the same rules. The PPC auction model is a function of your maximum bid and relevancy. If you follow PPC best practices and match relevant ads and website experience against your keywords well, you can actually pay less cost-per-click than the big brands. So pick your battles wisely.
While the right mix of SEO and PPC should be your ultimate goal, small businesses need to strategically invest their limited marketing resources to maximize the return of their investment in search marketing. If you need to choose between SEO and PPC, carefully consider your campaign objectives, the keywords you target and your website’s assets.
For more on search engine optimization, read 3 Easy Ways to Improve Your SEO