Earned vs. paid media: which is more valuable?
This fundamental question underscores every aspect of your marketing strategy. With content and search engine marketing, it takes the form of SEO vs PPC.
We all know how important it is to drive traffic to your website, particularly traffic from active buyers. Search engine marketing is an obvious way to place yourself in front of those buyers by achieving high search rankings through high quality content.
There are two ways to market on search engines: drive organic traffic through search engine optimization (SEO), or deliver ads through pay-per-click (PPC).
Both of these are solid marketing tactics. No one is inherently better than the other. But each one achieves different objectives, and has different costs and benefits.
You have to consider what’s best for your small business, and decide how to prioritize SEO vs PPC in your marketing strategy.
Earned vs. purchased authority
Have you ever searched for something in Google and the search results returned a litany of ads? What do you do when you come across those ads?
Personally, I scroll past the ads and go straight to the organic search results. Right or wrong, I’m not interested in what the ads have to say. I’m sure there are others who do the same.
Generally speaking, paid placement has less to do with the value of the content and more to do with the efficiency of the ad-buyer’s spend, targeting, and optimization. An eye-catching and highly relevant ad could grab someone’s attention, although you have to catch the user at the right time for them to be interested in clicking.
I think the reason many of us skip ads is because we recognize the organic results earned their places there. A search ranking is a sign that you’ve produced something valuable to users. You’ve truly become an authority on the subject at hand.
Long-term investment vs. short-term spend
Small businesses have limited budgets, and there are many ideas out there of how best to spend them. But one thing is undeniable: when you invest in SEO, you’re investing in long-term value versus short-term returns.
Think about it. When you pay someone to write and deploy your content, it lives on your website in perpetuity. Someone may see it next week, or next month, or years from now. But as long as it’s there, there’s the chance of it providing value to a potential customer.
While search engines do prioritize fresh content over older content, as long as you periodically refresh and re-optimize, you can continue to get life out of something you published months, even years ago.
What’s more, each search engine ranking has a compounding effect on past and future content. Search engines don’t just rank a page based on that page alone. They take into account the entire website and how strong the content is across the board.
Thus, with each piece of content you rank, you’re improving the odds of other pieces ranking as well.
Plus, once you create the content, this allows you to deploy value across many different channels, including social media, email, and more.
But when you’re running PPC ads, you only pay for the ranking while the ad campaign is currently running. Once you pause or cancel the campaign, that’s it. It’s over.
Of course, the flip side is that your ad ranks higher on the page, giving you more immediate returns.
To make your dollars go farther over the long term, I’d recommend that you seriously consider spending more time on SEO vs PPC campaigns.
Adding vs. requesting value
Thanks to highly sophisticated algorithms, Google is able to match specific types of content to the user’s search intent.
So if the user is searching for a specific product with the intent to make a purchase, Google will serve them content with a transactional intent. If they’re looking to educate themselves on an issue, Google will serve them content with an informational intent.
A transactional ad for a term that demonstrates an informational search intent can lead to confusion as well as diminished results.
It’s a bit of a simplistic dichotomy, but SEO campaigns are generally more focused at adding value to the user experience, whether in the form of information or a transaction. Because of the upfront investment, most PPC campaigns focus on requesting value from the user in terms of a conversion or purchase.
Both are needed in your overall marketing strategy. But when it comes to search engine marketing, consider whether the user would prefer you to add value versus request it.
Investing in SEO content — while focusing on optimizing for user intent as well as the search term — can help you avoid miscommunication and improve your chances at not only ranking, but getting people to click on what you have to offer.
Building authority vs. narrow impact
I’m hesitant to bring up this point because I’m afraid it’ll muddy the waters. However, I want to talk about the distinction between SEO’s value in building your broad website authority vs. the narrow impact that comes through PPC advertising.
The reason I’m hesitant around this is that it may give off the idea that SEO is not a highly targeted process. That’s far from the truth!
Even under the topic cluster model, which focuses on building broad website authority, the whole point is to create web pages that are focused on highly specific long-tail keywords that start to rank highly, and then drive traffic to the long-form pillar page.
But the fact is that while PPC can get you quicker revenue (if done correctly), SEO helps to build your overall authority as a business and brand, which naturally will bring in new business over time.