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SEO vs Google Ads: Which is Better? (8 Pros & Cons)

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Chris Kirksey


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SEO is the farm-to-table ingredient grown with care over time, while Google Ads is the convenient fast food dished up on demand.

Every business needs customers before they can get sales. In the online realm, this means that you need a steady flow of traffic coming to your website to discover your products and services.

Which begs the question: What’s the best way to drive traffic to your website?

Seems like a simple question. But depending on who you ask, you’re likely to get a number of different responses regarding Google ads vs. SEO.

Child: Just ask the magical fairy that collects my tooth. She’ll know what to do, and she’ll leave you a quarter too.

Millenial: Computers have evolved into a higher force, they control the realms of technology and will take over the world, we have no control!

Alexa: You can do anything you set your mind to. Robot Hugs. Depends on your field of expertise, it’s all fun and games when you know what’s really going on behind a screen 😉

Okay, okay you get it- consult with a professional. You’re already off to a good start, and if you’re not a big reader- reach out!

eh em. Moving forward, Google Ads and search engine optimization (SEO) rise to the top as the two most common traffic sources for businesses. But which is better?

Google Ads Overview

Google Ads is a popular advertising platform from the search engine giant. It operates on the pay-per-click (PPC) model. When you start an ad campaign on Google Ads, you will pay every time someone clicks on one of your ads and lands on a specific page you specify. 

You will pay a certain fee for every click, which is referred to as cost-per-click, or CPC. CPC can vary wildly from mere pennies to $100 or higher, depending on your niche, the strength of your website and many other variables.

It’s important to note that the platform is similar to an auction. Businesses compete against each other for the available advertising space, ultimately driving up the Cost Per Click (CPC).

Let’s jump into the pros and cons of Google Ads vs. SEO:

Google Ads Pros

Here are the three biggest advantages advertisers like about Google Ads:

1. Delivers Quick Results

With Google Ads, you can start your first campaign in a matter of days and begin receiving traffic immediately- paid magic!

With a big enough sample size, you will know if your campaign is succeeding or failing. At that point, you can increase your ad spend or pause the campaign to consider adjustments.

2. Builds Brand Awareness

Even when prospects do not click on your ad, they still might see it and notice your business. In fact, one study concludes that Google Ads campaigns raise brand awareness by 6.6% on average.

3. Reconnects with Previous Visitors

You can retarget people who visit your website but leave without making a purchase. When this happens, you can strategically place ads in front of these visitors as they browse other websites.

Many advertisers use remarketing to sweeten the deal. For example, you can reduce the price or include a bonus to your offer. Generally speaking, conversions are higher with retargeted ads because you’re dealing with a warm lead that is already familiar with your business.

4. Easily Measurable Results

With Google Ads, it’s easier to set up conversion goals with landing pages, as well as set up funnels and track every step of the way, to include;

  • Ad impressions
  • Ad click data
  • Lead data
  • Traffic data
  • Keyword conversion data
  • Cost per Acquisition (CPA)

While most of this is also measurable with an SEO campaign, there is much more conversion tracking setup required for an entire website vs. a few targeted landing pages.

Google Ads Cons

On the flip side, here are some disadvantages that come along with Google Ads:

1. Requires Expertise

You can start an ad campaign and achieve results by knowing a few basics. But to continue that success, you’re going to need expert knowledge.

That’s because Google Ads are fluid. New advertisers will jump in to compete with you. Long-time advertisers will increase their ad spend to regain top space on the search engine’s results pages (SERPs).

You should consider hiring an expert as many businesses lose time and money tinkering with Google Ads and learning the platform. One wrong move could cost you a lot of money. 

2. Google Ads Are Competitive

The ad market today is extremely competitive in most industries. Large and small businesses are trying to garner viewers who are looking for the products and services they offer.

The rewards are high, and that means companies are willing to spend considerable sums to achieve their goals. Advertisers who are not careful can easily wind up in a bidding war and end up spending an exorbitant amount of money with little or no results.

Google Ads can be a gamble. 

3. Google Ads Can Get Expensive

While your campaign may be performing well, and your cost per click getting lower and lower over time with proper account monitoring and maintenance, if you stop paying, nobody sees your ad anymore. So, you’ve gotta consistently shell out cash to ensure you keep driving new business. Whereas with SEO, your results on the search page don’t disappear if you stop paying Google, as, you weren’t paying Google anyways for your website to appear.

4. Google's Policies

Google has strict policies that prohibit ads featuring dangerous or offensive material. Meeting that standard is simple enough for most people.

Note that Google adjusts your CPC higher or lower based on what is known as your Quality Score (QS). Your companies authority within your industry affects your QS. So does the quality and relevancy of your landing page to the search terms you are buying for your campaigns.

The problem is, it’s usually decided by algorithms and artificial intelligence so there is a lot of room for error. You can log into your account one day and find your CPCs have catapulted. There’s a lot of account maintenance and optimization that needs to take place almost daily – so, Google ads are pretty time-consuming.

SEO Overview

SEO is short for search engine optimization. It’s the process of optimizing your site’s pages in order to rank higher on search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing.

There’s a number of SEO tasks (around 200-300) that can improve your search engine rankings. But there are a few that hold more weight than most, such as:

  • Reducing the page loading speed for your site,
  • Developing engaging content on a regular basis,
  • Optimizing titles, headings, and internal site links,
  • Improving your website’s user experience through various forms of content,
  • Earning backlinks from other authority websites through content marketing,
  • and more.

Surprisingly, only 36% of businesses have an SEO plan in place. That means you can enjoy an advantage over many of your competitors by implementing SEO strategies.

SEO Pros

The advantages of search engine optimization are too many to list here. But here are the three biggest benefits of SEO for your company.

1. No Cost Per Click

You don’t have to pay Google or other search engines to show up in their search results. You just have to have a mobile-friendly, fast-loading and engaging website loaded with quality content and a solid SEO strategy that is consistent.

With free clicks, SEO lowers your cost per acquisition. The only expense is the cost of hiring an SEO company to create and carry out your SEO plan.

2. Delivers a Highly Targeted Audience

Search engine users are searching for the exact offering which your company specializes in. When they click on your site in the SERPs, they are looking for a solution to their problem. Your business is in the perfect position to solve their problem and provide a win-win for everyone.

3. Organic Search Converts Better

Organic traffic converts better than other sources of traffic because these search listings are more trusted than paid ads.

And we’re not just saying that because of data, our clients all tell us how much better the organic search conversions are vs. paid ad conversions.

When you position your site on the first page of Google, you can receive a steady flow of prospects looking for the exact product or service or information you offer.

organic vs paid CTRs

4. Organic Traffic is Consistent

With Google Ads and other PPC platforms, you stop receiving traffic the minute you stop paying for ads.

But with SEO, your listings typically remain in search engines indefinitely and deliver visitors to your site long after you publish a page. In fact, the more content you create, the more search engine visibility you will enjoy. Staying on your SEO plan means your traffic and brand will always continue to grow.

5. Organic Traffic Provides More Opportunity

With organic search results, you can target both the search results themselves, as well as local map results. While you can run Google Ads for the map pack, there is only 1 ad shown out of 4 map listings on a Google search result page.

The same goes for the search results themselves. Typically, there are anywhere from 0-6 ads on a search results page (and sometimes up to 7 or 8). But there are always more organic results shown – so, there is definitely more opportunity to be found if you work with the right SEO agency.

organic vs paid search statistics

SEO Cons

There are many reasons not everyone has an active search strategy – typically due to the amount of time it takes to see a potential return on investment. Let’s dive into the top factors below:

1. Takes Longer for Search Results

In the beginning, achieving success with SEO can take some time. Think of it as a rolling stone. It starts very small and rolls slowly. But over time, it becomes large and indestructible.

Google Ads are where new sites go for instant traffic. SEO takes longer but the results are worth the wait.

2. Longer Wait for a Return on Your Investment

As it takes a while (typically 6 months – longer for new websites) to gain traction in the search results, it follows that your sales numbers will have to wait for significant ROI.

If you need results right away, you might try Google Ads while waiting for the organic search results to pay off.

3. Google Penalties

You’ve likely heard of the infamous Google algorithm updates, with names like Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird. No one knows when they will come and these updates often drop millions of sites into oblivion in the SERPs.

That said, most sites are safe so long as they optimize their sites, rather than try to “game the system.” Websites that consistently provide quality information and help Google find them through optimization almost always weather the storm of these Google updates.

If you outsource your SEO work, make sure to work with a reputable agency that follows Google’s guidelines for success.

SEO vs Google Ads: Which is Better?

And now the million-dollar question: Who wins the debate between Google Ads vs. SEO?

We recommend SEO, and here’s why:

River Pools & Spas Blog

Well, for one – just take a look at how blogging not only saved a local Virginia company, River Pools & Spas from the 2008 financial crisis but also grew them to be the most popular pool company in the world today. 

With an SEO plan in place, as your website grows, you begin attracting your target audience in through content marketing and blogging, you begin to build your brand and your revenue over time. An effective SEO plan prominently places your website to receive a steady flow of Google’s targeted search traffic for the long term.

You also don’t have to pay every time someone clicks on your website in the search results. If your company suddenly needs to spend money on something else, you don’t risk losing traffic. Because when you turn off your ad campaigns, you turn off all traffic to your site.

But with a strong SEO plan, your website can continue to be prominently listed on Google long indefinitely. Even if you hire an SEO company, the expense is usually considerably less than you would pay to receive an equal amount of traffic through Google Ads.

How do Google Ads Help SEO?

Google Ads can be an extremely effective supplement to an organic SEO strategy in several key ways.

First, Google Ads allows you to drive additional visitors to your site, above and beyond what SEO can deliver.

More traffic means more potential for engagement metrics like time on site, pages per visit, and conversion rates. Since Google’s algorithm values signals like dwell time as an indicator of relevance, increased traffic from ads can ultimately boost organic rankings as well.

Second, running paid search ads enables insightful keyword research that informs where to focus your SEO efforts for maximum impact. The ability to test different keywords, match types, and landing pages provides data on which terms resonate most with your target audience.

You can discover keyword opportunities and optimize content based on metrics from ads before investing extensive SEO resources.

Third, all that additional traffic from ads allows you to experiment with and refine your landing pages to maximize conversions.

Since landing pages that persuade visitors to take action are more likely to rank well organically, you can use paid search as a sandbox for optimization.

And finally, with well-targeted, high-quality ads that align to your SEO strategy, you can build brand awareness and authority in the SERPs.

Great ad copy and relevant landing pages improve your ad rank and Quality Score while associating your brand with those valuable keywords. This brand presence and trust then translates into SEO success.

In summary, when coordinated effectively, Google Ads provides supplementary traffic, actionable data, conversion optimization, and brand building that can dramatically improve the results of an SEO program. The combined strategies work better together than either could alone.

Wrapping Up

So which approach is better for your business – SEO or Google Ads?

The truth is, the most effective digital marketing strategy likely leverages both.

Used together, SEO and Google Ads can produce tremendous synergies. SEO should form the core of your online visibility – building organic rankings and traffic over time through relevance and authority.

Google Ads can then supplement by driving additional conversions in the short term and informing your SEO efforts.

With SEO establishing your base and ads providing an extra boost, your website will soar both in search results and for audience engagement.

Approach them not as competing options but as complementary strategies, and you have a recipe for online success. Focus on aligning great content and landing pages to your target keywords, nurturing organic growth through SEO best practices, and utilizing PPC for a marketing edge.

With the powers of SEO and Google Ads combined, you can maximize your search potential. Interested in learning more about getting started with expert SEO services? Get in touch with our team for a free strategy call!

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