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SEO vs. PPC vs. Social media: when to choose each?

When I started in Search Engine Optimisation 20 years ago, Pay Per Click and social media simply didn’t exist.

If you wanted more traffic, you had SEO or directories (like Yahoo). That was it. Today though PPC and Social Media are very significant traffic generators, and they might be more effective then SEO for your business.

So which should you choose? And why?

SEO, PPC and SMM definitions

Each of the different traffic generators are significantly different to each other and you have probably heard of them .. but if your knowledge isn’t so great, here’s a little background.

What is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)?

The oldest of all of the traffic generators, SEO is about ensuring that Google recognises your website for a search term, and ranks you highly whenever someone searches for that query.

Today, internal and external links, authority, content relevance and some elements of user experience play an important role in SEO, although Google tracks hundreds of signals.

Google changes the mix of these signals every day, but quite significant changes happen half a dozen times a month. The mix is somewhat controlled by a machine learning algorithm, which tries to find the signals that matter in order to match the score that a human would attribute to a site.

In order to have consistent growth with as few reductions in traffic from Google as possible, it’s important to pay attention to techniques that Google considers against its terms and conditions. These techniques are often termed grey or black hat.

How many searches per second on Google?

Move your mouse over the result which you think is correct.

Press the result which you think is correct.

I think there are 5,000 searches on Google per second

Sorry, you are incorrect!

I think there are 25,000 searches on Google per second

Sorry, you are incorrect!

I think there are 80,000 searches on Google per second

You are right.

There are an incredible 80,000 searches on Google per second, which equates to nearly 7 billion a day!

What is Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising?

Historically, PPC came next in the battle for traffic generation, when Google launched Adwords. Before then, your only significant option was SEO, which took month or years to build. However, many social media platforms have PPC options these days.

Pay Per Click is as it says – the platform displays your advert to its users and, if they click on it, the platform will charge you a fee. It’s a step on from magazine or billboard advertising when you effectively paid per view.

This means there is a real desire for PPC providers to show the right ads to the right users, and AI is employed on some platforms to determine which to show.

 

What is social media marketing (SMM)?

The youngest of the traffic generators, SMM is the act of leveraging social media platforms to generate business.

Businesses viewed social media with suspicion for a long time, especially those offering B2B services. Was anyone else really reading their content? Did anyone care what they had to say? Will anyone even buy from me, or are they just wasting their own time, as well as mine?

These days it’s unusual to find a business not on social media. It has undeniably transformed society.

Comparision of SEO, PPC and SMM

Which style of marketing you choose is a non-trivial question to answer since style of marketing outshines the other in certain ways. The reality is that many businesses need a mix of at least the basics of all three. 

70% of marketers say SEO is more effective at driving sales than PPC

- DataBox

For example, typically I recommend businesses with reasonable budgets use PPC to determine the true click opportunities so that we can build SEO campaigns on the right queries. Creation of quality content and assets are very expensive, so efficiency is at the front of my project manager mindset. 

In addition, if a new business needs traffic right now, PPC can deliver that while SEO probably can’t.

So, let’s look at the key points of each type of marketing in a bit more detail:

SEO PPC SMM
Speed of success
Slow
Immediate
Moderate
Short term cost of success
$$$
$
$$
Long term cost of success
$
$$$
$$
Matches user intent
High
High
Very low / random
Direct sales opportunities
High
Very high
Low (but depends on product)
Best for
Long term business growth
Temporary campaigns
Brand & marketing messages
Worst for
Totally new categories of products
Long term financial success
Direct selling

When to choose SEO

SEO is the most effective long term strategy for most businesses. 

If someone has a need, and you can satisfy that need with your business, their search intent will be absolutely on point. You also know they are looking for that thing right now.

However, SEO in most cases is very costly and the ROI in the early days is poor. It requires substantial investment to achieve rankings for many of the terms that you would like to rank for.

Clever SEO can help, there’s no doubt, but no one can wave a magic wand and rank you highly for any terms that you want … and if they promise they can, run a mile!

So when should you choose SEO?

  • When you’re already in business and generating some traffic, and you’d like to build additional revenue with more traffic. 
  • If you’re a new business, and would like to start generating traffic to your site – even a moderate amount of the right content can really help your chances of ranking.
  • When your business needs long term and consistent growth.

It's expected that, in 2019, social media will generate around £33.5bn in revenue - up from £12bn in 2013.

- Statista

When to choose PPC

PPC has a place in virtually every business. However, it can be notoriously ineffective with your spend if you don’t use the tools right. You can end up paying for traffic which simply will never convert to a sale on your site, so make sure you watch some tutorials if you’re not outsourcing to an agency!

Many businesses will at the very least pay to ensure that their own brand name is at the top of the search engines. They’d typically rather pay for the traffic than see it go to their competitors, who can also bid on their brand.

So when should you choose PPC?

  • Short term campaigns (such as selling products specifically at Christmas)
  • Starting a business off while SEO and social media build
  • Testing the size of the traffic opportunity while deciding on which SEO terms to tackle.

Facebook: 2.3bn users

Instagram: 1bn users

Twitter: 330m users

Pinterest: 245m users

When to choose SMM

Social media is often considered the underdog, but it really has a place in every business today. At the very least, an effective presence can help to generate some interest around your brand.

However, most companies don’t understand how to make it work for them, and their social media accounts can end up being the responsibility of an “employee who uses facebook” but has no idea how to execute a successful SMM campaign.

If I was to give one piece of advice for your social media accounts, I would suggest that you should have 5 or 6 key brand messages which you’d like to demonstrate, and cycle them with each post. If you’re a gym, you might want one fitness motivation post, then one nutrition post, then one post about a specific type of fitness or an exercise, then one post about your brand values or your journey … and then start again.

So when should you choose SMM?

  • Everyone. Everyone should have an active social media account on at least the single platform that is most effective for their type of business. Just don’t expect to sell a lot from it.
  • Ensuring your brand voice is clearly heard. People will often research your social media before buying from you.
  •  Building relationships with customers.

What about email marketing?

For some types of businesses, email marketing can be exceptionally effective. 

However, it’s not a true traffic generator like SEO, social media and PPC. With email marketing you need to have had access to the customer already to receive their email address, so it doesn’t perform the same job as the others.

 

What about YouTube?

Ahh yes. YouTube is truly massive and is also a traffic generator. I remember about a decade ago hearing about struggling wine merchant who had built a several million dollar a year business from YouTube videos. That’s always stuck in my mind.

Video is likely to be one of the next large traffic generators. However, it is a platform mainly for the younger generations, and it can be difficult to monetise in traditional ways, so I’ve not included it in this comparison .. for now!

Summary & actions

First off, if you aren’t using social media, you should get on it now. If you think you’re not very effective at it, I would get some training, possibly on skillshare, which is a very cheap way of building knowledge, or YouTube.

If you’re a new business, I would tend to suggest that you should be doing some PPC to build some customers. I would tend to outsource this to an agency though as it doesn’t cost too much more and they will be much more effective with your spend.

If you’re a business with some budget, I would always suggest some SEO in the early phases, and certainly for any mature business. If you’d like to discuss how I can help, you can get in touch with me.

Low budget?

In the end, I think most businesses would benefit from all three, but sometimes there isn’t budget for them all. What to do in this case?

Given that social media can be done in house with some fairly cheap training, I would split the budget you do have between PPC and SEO. Over time, as you build, I would suggest moving more budget towards SEO since it’s a more cost effective platform.

However, I would advise against particularly cheap SEO since it can be incredibly costly to undo the damage done by an SEO who is trying to cut costs.

Is SEO right for you? Are you unsure of how to build an effective SEO campaign?