I often get small business owners choosing between SEO or PPC and trying to decide which one is better than the other.

I like to think of PPC as pushing traffic to the site using Google Ads control center, while SEO pulls traffic to the site using the website's content. Should you push or should you pull traffic?

Here are 10 points to consider between PPC and SEO to help you decide.

1. Quick results

Undoubtedly, PPC yields much quicker results than SEO in delivering traffic. Even if you had to rank for non-competitive keywords, you would still need to wait for Google to crawl the page first. For competitive keywords, you may take months to rank on the first page, if at all.

2. Responsiveness

The sluggishness of SEO also means you cannot launch a page and see it rank for a temporary event. By the time the page starts ranking, the event will be over. Getting traffic post-event could be of no value too. You could start your optimisation earlier if there is enough time, but a small event might not warrant this level of effort.

Because of the quick results with PPC, you can launch your ad campaign at short notice and get traffic the same day. Once the event is over, the ads get paused.

3. Control over ads and ad extensions

You have full control over your ads and ad extensions in PPC, allowing you to make tweaks and optimise the ads for better results.

And if you can’t be bothered, the algorithm will do it for you with the responsive search ads where multiple headlines and descriptions are provided. If that’s not enough, Google can even come up with new ones via the Automatically created assets checkbox under campaign settings. How great is that?

With SEO, Google can also display a different title and description to what you’ve written but you have no control over it. I don’t see this as an advantage when your carefully crafted title and description get discarded.

4. Test ads

With full control over ads, you can write another version and set up A/B tests.

Google even encourages you to do that and provides a tool for this. It is in Google’s interests after all to provide high quality ads since they get paid for each click. A lame ad won’t generate much revenue for them…

With SEO, there’s certainly no option to run A/B tests.

You’re stuck with a title and meta description.You can’t stray too far with changing the title as it’s a strong ranking signal so you’ll always want to make sure your most important keywords appear close to the beginning. Not much flexibility there… And that’s if Google doesn’t decide to change your title and description to something else.

5. Bespoke landing pages

Do you think an adgroup should be split into 2 and different landing pages served for each? Not a problem at all. Go ahead and tweak that landing page full of testimonials, forms, buttons, videos, CTAs and whatnot, or perhaps keep it bare with just a video and a massive form to capture leads. Whatever works best, right?

Now try doing that with organic traffic and at best you won’t get any traffic from a page with little content. At worst, you may get penalised for being light on content, or having duplicate landing pages.

6. Full control over traffic

When you pay, you get your money’s worth. That’s more or less what you’re getting with PPC traffic as there are many options to refine the traffic you get beyond just the keywords. Decide when you want ads to run, the geographical targeting, devices to target, audiences, demographics, budget and so on.

With SEO, we can, um…

7. Work with Google rather than against

This is not really an advantage in terms of results, or an advantage at all, but it does highlight the difference between PPC and SEO.

With the latter, you’re trying to manipulate the search results, let’s face it. Rather than build content and traffic will follow as Google used to advise in the past (do they still?), an SEO will use various techniques to try and rank ahead of competitors.

With PPC, well, you’re handing money over to Google. If you’re a big advertiser, you’ll even have face to face meetings with your own Google rep.

Is there a Google customer support for SEOs or is that just for PPC?

8. More reliable

It’s well known that SEO traffic suffers from the vagaries of algorithmic updates.

PPC traffic tends to be more stable, especially if the campaign has been configured correctly. The cost per click may go up, thus decreasing the number of clicks for a given budget but it shouldn’t be as drastic as dropping off the first page, unless a specific account change has been made, for instance adding a new keyword or increasing the max bid. Usually an increase in cpc is just due to increased competition over time.

9. More expensive

Finally, we come to PPC’s first disadvantage over SEO! It’s more expensive given that you have to pay for each and every click. Or do you?

Whilst it does seem more expensive à priori against SEO’s free, unlimited traffic, when you factor in the loss in business whilst waiting for the page to rank, the less commercial nature of SEO traffic and the money spent on buying links, generating content, paying for tools, subscriptions, etc, suddenly, SEO isn’t so free anymore.

PPC is likely to remain more expensive than SEO traffic but the commercial nature of the traffic also means it usually converts better. As long as you hit your target ROI or target CPA, it doesn't really matter how expensive it gets as you're still making the profit you've set out to make. Its other advantages also make up for it.

10. Need to stay on top of it

You can’t just set up an ad campaign and forget about it whilst reaping the rewards. Well, you can do the first part but over time the rewards will end up being worth less than the ad spend.

Google is constantly rolling out new features and ads, your competitors are constantly optimising their ads and websites. You may even yourself be changing your website content. Your landing page may now be broken, keywords may need updating, an ad may be underperforming severely and so on. You could be losing serious money by the day.

With SEO, once a page has gone up the rankings, it is unlikely to drop all the way down again if the rest of the site is being maintained. Blog and news content will eventually fall off the radar but not so for the homepage or evergreen content. The homepage naturally gets new content, so this keeps the page updated. There is of course the danger of an algorithmic update…

11. Not suitable for the research phase

I said 10 but I have a bonus one and quite an important win too for SEO.

Here’s where SEO really wins over PPC all day long: picking up traffic when people are still at the research stage.

There are many, many searches of the type “why is”, “how to”, “what is”, “when”, etc. After Tik Tok videos, this is probably what the internet is best for, in providing this sort of information.

Ranking for this type of traffic is much easier than ranking for commercial queries. These research phase queries have far less commercial value but since the traffic is free and not too hard to get, the few that will convert may make it worthwhile. To squeeze out as much juice out of this low quality traffic as possible, you can try to get the user to subscribe to a newsletter rather than expect them to make a purchase straightaway. Or add them to a remarketing list, get them to follow you on social media, send them to another page on your site.

If they keep in touch one way or the other, it’s more likely they’ll eventually convert. They may not need that TV right now, but when their TV breaks down, you might be the first retailer they’ll think of.

Whilst it may be possible to show ads against these research keywords, they will rarely be worthwhile financially. You’re far better off waiting for their TV to break and then showing an ad for a new one.

It may not even be possible to show ads. Google doesn’t show ads for every single search. Sometimes there may not be advertisers, especially if the query is not commercial in nature; sometimes, the search volume is too low or it’s to retain the user’s privacy.

So which one to pick?

If you’ve reached this far you must have noticed how biased I’ve been towards PPC. Whilst I started out my marketing career doing SEO, I’m now exclusively working on PPC, so it’s a bit human to favour one’s bread and butter!

Having said that, to settle the debate, in my biased opinion, the answer is to select both, of course. Why would you want to put all your eggs in one basket? Why pay over and over for the same PPC traffic, when over time SEO traffic could be contributing more?

I’ve encountered business owners who have only focused on SEO traffic successfully for years because it was “free”, only to lose their business when their website tanked following an update.Why didn’t they put some of that money into PPC and other marketing channels?

I’ve also come across businesses that haven’t done any SEO and been addicted to the easy wins of PPC, only to find it become more and more expensive over time and unable to keep up with competitors who can rely on other cheaper sources of traffic.

PPC or SEO? I’ll have both please.