SEO vs. PPC: which is better?

The answer isn’t quite so black and white as one might think, but definitely worth looking into. The truth is, both can have equally big benefits, it just depends on your needs as a business.

Of course, search engine optimization has a lot to offer for e-commerce businesses. It can secure much more organic traffic at a much lower price. However, for a new business, SEO can take time to gain momentum, whereas pay-per-click can see more immediate traffic.

But again, it all comes down to your needs as a business. In order to know which will work best for you, you have to consider your customers and what will best work with their web habits.

Obviously though, the first step in considering which would work best is knowing what each has to offer and what that would mean for you. Not to mention, you don’t have to choose one over the other: a well executed mix of SEO and PPC can work wonders for your business.

But to start, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each.


The two main differentiating factors between SEO and PPC are that

  1. The PPC ads are found at the very top of the page, above the organic search results provided by SEO.
  2. The SEO’s organic traffic is free, whereas with PPC ads (as the name indicates) you pay for each click.

What SEO Can Offer Your Business:

First, let’s look at the pros of SEO:

Visibility and traffic. In a sense, SEO can almost act as free advertising because it gets you seen, a must for any e-commerce business. Naturally, the more visible your website is in the organic search results, the more website traffic you’ll receive, which in turn gives you the opportunity to inform potential customers about your product and ultimately, the opportunity to profit. Plus, a much higher percentage of click-throughs goes to organic search results rather than the PPC ads, so the visibility provided by SEO is extra important.

Trustworthy and credible branding. Not only does SEO boost your website’s visibility, but it can also aid in developing a reputation as a trustworthy brand. The higher up in the search results your site appears, the more likely potential customers are to trust it, even more so than paid ad results. It gives the opportunity to showcase your experience and credibility amongst competitors, especially when reviews and answers to inquiries are present.

Cost. Unlike PPC methods, there’s no direct costs for click-throughs and website traffic. Granted, e-commerce SEO isn’t free or easy, but in the long run it can prove itself to be well worth the cost and efforts. It strengthens your overall web presence and proves that your e-commerce business is worth looking into, and ultimately worth buying from. In addition, organic traffic can provide a better return of investment, ROI, than PPC and other methods.

Sustainability. A recurring theme with e-commerce SEO is that you get back what you put into it, and that applies to sustainability too. Even if you stop devoting part of your budget too it, you can still continue to reap everything quality SEO has to offer. Granted, in time it will need to be updated. But you won’t lose its benefits immediately, unlike PPC.

Strategic advantage. Again, quality e-commerce SEO isn’t easy. But that can have surprising benefits. Assuming it’s been done correctly, SEO can gain you top spot in the organic search results over competitors, and there’s no quick and easy way for them to top that, especially with paid results. By putting more time and effort into SEO, you’re also putting yourself ahead of competition and giving your business the advantage of more website traffic.

Of course, SEO isn’t the perfect solution to everything. For businesses starting out, results may be slow to show, or your business could be drastically overshadowed by large e-commerce corporations like Amazon.

In addition, it may be difficult for some smaller or newer businesses to acquire the resources necessary for quality SEO. Given the complexity of some SEO tactics, expert support may be needed to achieve the desired results.

Organic traffic doesn’t guarantee purchases, either. While it may provide traffic for pre-purchase inquiries and research, PPC may offer a needed push to encourage users to go through with the purchase.

What PPC Has To Offer:

With all the benefits of SEO and organic traffic, why choose PPC? Let’s look at the benefits:

Position and visibility. When you run a search, the paid results will always appear before any of the organic results, providing guaranteed visibility. Even if organic search results are generally more trusted, paid ads will always be more seen, even if a user scrolls past them.

Better advertising. PPC ads open the way to a ton of new advertising methods not otherwise available via organic search. For example, Google provides the option of Product Listing Ads (PLAs) that allow prospective customers to see some of the products listed on a website before they even click on it, which can really improve the click-through rate.

Targeting. PPC offers much more specific visibility to a targeted user base than organic traffic. Keywords, location, language, timing frame, and device type can all be used to target PPC ads to the desired audiences.

Speed. While creating a good web presence with SEO can take a lot of time, PPC methods can be put into effect in a matter of weeks. Paid advertising is without a doubt the quickest method of making your business visible and immediately available to users.

Marketing intelligence. Keyword data from organic search is generally hidden for privacy sake, unlike paid searches.  By utilizing conversion tracking and analytics software, you’ll find which keywords covert and at what percentage and cost. This information can not only be used to help further advertising campaigns, but also to improve SEO for organic traffic.

Stability. While the world of SEO is constantly changing and updating, PPC is a lot more stable. That’s not to say there’s never any changes, but rather the changes are less drastic and much easier to work with. Plus, with the search information PPC can provide, junk search can be removed, in time allow in increase in the ROI.

Cost. Contrary to popular belief, PPC can be very cost effective when run properly. With the right keywords and efficient targeting, the right leads can be gained without taking a financial hit. Plus, it allows for a very tight budget control and easy monitoring, in order to ensure you’re truly getting the most out of it for your business.

Clearly, PPC also has a great deal of benefits to offer. But like SEO, there are aspects to watch out for that may not fully suit your business’s needs.

PPC isn’t always cheap. Especially in the case of country-wide or international ad campaigns, costs can quickly add up.

Unlike SEO, when you stop investing in PPC strategies, you lose the benefits. It’s a consistent cost if you’re looking for consistent results.

Granted, SEO isn’t a one-and-done payment, there’s maintenance involved. But the benefits can linger for quite awhile after you’re done investing, unlike PPC.

PPC also offers various advertising options, so it requires good strategization and smart choices in order to get the most out of it. For a product listing dominated search result page, running a text ad might not be the best call, as it’s likely to get overshadowed.

It’s important, too, to consider other advertisers. You won’t be the only company advertising their products by any means, so entering bidding wars with other advertisers is always a possibility, and one that could drive costs up greatly for you.

Competitors could also evaluate and copy your advertising strategy with relative ease. There’s not much that can be done about this imitation, it’s just a part of the digital marketing world.

Quality PPC also needs good management. There’s a lot of factors to monitor, such as click-through rates, quality scores, etc. to ensure its success.

If you don’t have the time or resources to do this yourself, an e-commerce marketing expert can ensure that your paid advertising stays profitable and top quality on all fronts.

Making The Choice: SEO or PPC?

Given the pros and cons of each, the answer isn’t quite so black and white, and it depends a lot on the individual needs of each business.

For example, a small, a local business without much competition could easily gain good visibility at a low cost or even with their own simple SEO. On the other hand, a new e-commerce business might lose visibility to large online stores like Amazon or eBay, so click-throughs from organic search results might be a lot trickier to come by.

In order make the right decision, you need to identify your needs as an e-commerce business.

Consider the following:

  • Are you looking for immediate leads?
  • Are you taking into account the long game?
  • Do you have website authority to help?
  • What is the organic search competition like?
  • In paid search, what’s the cost per click?

Further help in making the decision includes clear ideas of short and long-term goals and a suitable marketing strategy to help reach those goals.

Considering SEO and PPC:

It doesn’t have to be a matter of choosing one over the other.

When properly utilized, SEO and PPC can work together to fully meet the needs of your e-commerce business.

Their pros and cons can even each other out and have an even greater end result than using either of them singularly.

Working with SEO and PPC together can grant the following benefits:

  • SEO can improve organic search using the keyword and conversion data PPC provides.
  • Website traffic can be increased for both paid and organic search results by targeting clicks with high-performing keywords.
  • Keywords that are high-cost, high-volume, or low performing can be moved to organic search from PPC.
  • A/B testing of ad copy and landing pages can be used to help your organic listing and landing pages.
  • With remarketing, you can maintain visibility after an initial touch with organic search and customize messaging around their engagement with your site.
  • PPC allows you to test keyword strategies before you commit to them long-term with SEO.
  • Target users at any point in the transaction process from research to purchase by using  commercial keywords.
  • Improve brand awareness and reputation with a strong web presence via good organic and paid visibility.

So in the end, SEO and PPC each have a lot to offer your e-commerce business, even more so when they’re skillfully combined. The resulting paid and organic traffic can greatly increase profitability. However, it still depends on the business, and an integrated approach might not be necessary in some cases.

But for those looking for high growth rates and an aggressive marketing strategy, utilizing SEO and PPC together will provide much greater results than using one or the other alone, and will be well worth any time or energy invested.