SEO v. PPC Again.... Experts Trade Punches In TweetFight

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By Guy Levine
on 25/9/09

Yesterday I was watching my tweet stream when I saw someone who I really respect saying some things I was really shocked about, so being Twitter I pinged him a tweet and even more shocking replies came back! Don’t you love social media.

Some Background...
PPC v. SEO is a really long debate. A really long debate. At WMA we are focussed on Return On Investment, so my view is that while everyone wants no. 1 rankings, as long as PPC is producing a positive ROI why stop. If I could spend £1 and make £3 I’m going to do it every day. In fact, I want to spend £100 and make £300. Just feed the machine.

The Offending Tweets...

"design your website first for search engines"
"pay per click is NOT search engine optimization. once you get SEO working, you can turn your PPC off"
“PPC is good as test. but shld take limited $ & go for lowest cost / sale, which is even MORE content for SEO”

By the way, in honour of fairness, the tweeter is Mike Volpe from Hubspot, and some of these might be out of context.

I mean come on, build websites for SEO first? What about Conversion? PPC should be a limited test? Turn PPC off it is profitable. Mike is a total Guru online, how can he be saying this stuff?

The Enlightenment
Mike kindly pointed me to a post by Hubspot when he replied to my tweet, and to be honest it opened my eyes. I talk about ROI, but the post went even better than that.

Basically, the article said;

  • PCC aka Google Adwords is a real time auction where it is hard to build a competitive advantage (ed. Apart from a great quality score, mature account and good click through rates)
  • That we are all looking, or should be looking for a Sustainable Competitive Advantage, which translates into what gives you an advantage that still works after initial growth and that stops others from reducing your profit? (Which now I read this, PPC is very susceptible to with people spending more)
  • There are 3 things you can do. Create great technology which is hard to copy. Have uber effective methods of distributing products and reaching new markets which are hard to learn. Have an operational advantage which is hard to reproduce.

The post is saying that SEO is a competitive advantage, because if you are doing really well with pay per click and some upstart comes along with a big budget, a bidding war starts. One of the reasons why we love Google Adwords is that we can have a client on the front page of Google in 3 hours, but it also reduces the barriers to entry for a competitor. In this situation, your lead acquisition cost goes up as now the choice for your potential clients/leads is bigger. At this point it does not matter about the quality of product, it’s the marketing and lead generation front end which people are seeing.

For SEO, you have an aged domain (www address), you have built relationships with bloggers who publish your content, people tweet about you, you have build up a lot of incoming links to great content and your website traffic raises monthly. This is much harder to buy, and really hard to buy quickly!

So, the end paragraph of the article which we are in agreement with

“Don't get me wrong.  I have nothing against PPC.  For many businesses, it's a great way to get profitable traffic through the search engines.  I just think that over the longer-term, an investment in SEO will likely yield better results and more sustainable competitive advantage.”

The Final Word
Well, this turned out to be a voyage of discovery, and it has made me think a little differently but I still think our viewpoint is right and that Mike’s tweets were a little black and white! I still respect the man!

If you are starting from a standing start, PPC/Adwords is like rocket fuel, but in some markets, starting your Adwords account is like taking a step into the lion’s den. You can win but you might get a little bashed and bruised along the way. I would say this, but that’s why Digital Marketing Agencies like us work out well, because we already battle hardened!

Although many people think PPC is sexy, it’s no excuse not to do SEO. I know it’s hard to invest in something for up to 12 months before seeing a result especially when the alternative shows a profit in its 12th hour, but SEO works better especially in the long term. It’s harder to duplicate and if worked on continuously it will become a sustainable competitive advantage.

So for strategy purposed, start with PPC, run SEO in tandem, know that PPC is more susceptible to disruption, but when something is producing a positive ROI, don’t stop it!

Any comments? What do you think?