PPC, or Pay Per Click, refers to Internet advertising where plain-text ads are generally displayed at the top or sides of a search page. The most common example, of course, are the ads on a Google results page. Though often overlooked in favor of SEO (search engine optimization), PPC is a great model to consider for getting noticed and selling product online. PPC isn’t a poor cousin to SEO: It often beats SEO hands down as a marketing channel. Here’s why:
1. With PPC, you have a lot more control
With SEO, Google is the boss, and you have a limited ability to guide the user's experience. But when it comes to PPC, you call the shots. PPC provides you with control over your ad copy (so that you can test it to maximize performance); control over the choice of landing page; control over which keywords you show up on, how visibly, etc. That should lead to better results and fewer excuses.
2. Tighter feedback loops
With SEO, you mainly work on building reputation externally and creating content elements on your website. It takes months to find out whether these experiments and work projects impact ranking and revenues. Before long, another year has passed. With PPC, you're constantly finding out what works so you can get results and learn from them immediately.
3. Better appreciation of cause and effect
As a result of the above two factors, your tests provide meaningful and often indisputable conclusions about which keywords work at what price; what landing page format converts; which ads do a better job of filtering out the wrong searchers, etc.
4. Better service
If you're an advertiser, Google and other publishers have an obligation to help. On the SEO side, they owe you nothing. It's true that on the SEO side there are some tools and resources nowadays, but on the paid search side you can call the support line anytime. Larger accounts and agencies have teams of specialists at their disposal, and there are also special private education events and more.
5. Fewer algorithm changes
SEO is determined by algorithms — complex formulas that calculate which site should rank first for what searches. The problem: Algorithms change. One day you can be riding high, convinced that your tactics are aligned with Google's view of "great content." The next day, your traffic drops by 50 or even or 80% because Google is sweeping through the content universe trying to weed out spam and discounting commonly used SEO tactics ... and you're caught in the net. This type of business risk is not as acute with PPC, because search engines have much less spam to worry about in the paid search universe. Though there is a Google Quality Score algorithm on the paid search side that rewards advertisers for relevance, the changes here are typically smaller and less devastating. Google deals more respectfully with a finite universe of known advertisers with credit cards who pay for each click.
--Andrew Goodman is the founder and president of Page Zero Media, a full-service digital marketing agency founded in 2000, focusing on SEM and display ads. Clients include DirectEnergy, Nuts.com, and Postmedia Digital. Andrew is author of Winning Results with Google AdWords (2nd ed., 2008), writes a regular column for ClickZ, and maintains a streak of speaking at every SES conference in North America since 2002 (39 and counting).