The conversation around PPC (pay-per-click advertising, especially search advertising like Google AdWords or Microsoft adCenter) vs. SEO (search engine optimization) is pretty controversial, at least when it comes to separating fact from fiction. I've been directly involved in a lot of the industry debates and gotten into arguments, given the vast quantities of snake oil that are sold in these industries. Given this, I think it’s important that small business owners be informed of why exactly they should be devoting their time and business dollars to PPC.
One of the most enduring myths in online marketing is that SEO is a “core” element of traffic generation, while paid search (also known as PPC) is an “optional add-on.” Some in the SEO community go so far as to suggest that PPC is only for “wimps” who have “failed” at SEO.
The reality is, on many commercially-oriented search terms, a high proportion of screen real estate above the fold gets taken up by paid units of one form or another; usually, highly visible plain-text ads that look a little bit like the regular search results. If you’re waiting to get all your SEO ducks in a row before you make a serious bid to increase your search referral volume, you may be waiting a long time.
Broadly speaking, with PPC you can take a more direct route to achieving serious business objectives. Especially when you have a diverse keyword universe — for example if you’re a retailer with many SKUs — it can be almost impossible to achieve top rankings for all SEO terms. Paid search allows for wider coverage.
But even in narrower niches, it’s vital to consider PPC. That’s because you’re selling something, and your offer is worth putting in front of people directly. Many of the pages that rank well in organic search may be informational in nature — the epitome of the “great content” that search engines help users to discover. If your strength is in sales and service for a complex filtration system or organic fertilizer, your website’s product pages may never outrank that government website, Wikipedia entry, or scholarly journal on the subject. You could reinvent yourself as a content company or hire that university professor to consult for you and blog for you… just to make Google Search happy. Or you could grab the bull by the horns and bid on keywords of value to your business. Which is “costlier”? It depends on your perspective.