SEO vs PPC 2016…. Which Wins?

The age old question that continues to be asked, and recent changes in Google’s algorithm have shown, one that is becoming of increasing importance. I have PPC blood rushing through my veins, so I can be a little bias but in 2016 I wanted to take a pragmatic approach at how pay per click and search engine optimisation compare.

In some ways SEO was always the ugly duckling of the two, in what was once a very dark art based on manipulation and black hat trickery practiced by more unscrupulous providers – many of whom now thankfully don’t exist.

Over more recent years, practitioners of SEO are now far more legitimate, professional and apply strategies in the right way. This professionalism is vital for search in general to grow. Though there are no qualifications as such for SEO, there are certain success metrics measured from set benchmarks that can show quality, with Google guiding webmasters and SEOs with best practice and notice of impending changes through a series of webinars, videos and blogs.

Having planned and executed pay per click campaigns before Google AdWords was around, redundant terms such as “killer bidding”, “position 1 strategies” and “bid gaps” are not only a distant memory but also demonstrate the vast changes over 14 years in the digital marketing world.

Both channels have their own benefits and we know that most businesses are reliant on one or the other or indeed both.

Which is best PPC or SEO?

Let’s start with defining “best”. Google defines the adjective as “of the most excellent or desirable type or quality”

In this instance I would say most would refer to “best” as the highest performer. This still needs refining, it could mean the most results or the most cost effective results, and both could be quite different and focus on quality or quantity.

Each business will be different so only you can determine from the results what is “best” for your case. In my view, the best is a combination of volume and quality, so let’s take that as a success metric moving forward.

Search Engine Optimisation

 Challenges for 2016

  • Focus on mobile functionality, mobile load speed, mobile navigation and mobile optimisation – could this mean doubled efforts for Mobile and desktop?
  • Paid links may have a lower impact on rankings than before
  • Anchor text may have less value to links than it once had
  • It is likely that content will remain king, however the step up to be more unique, more relevant and higher quality and rich media which will all come at a cost
  • Will SEO services and agencies just become more expensive due to the role now being one of an editorial/communications role rather than just keyword rankings and numbers?
  • Keywords becoming redundant (in a way) – it is not that keywords are no longer relevant to SEO strategies; it is how we utilise them. Without keywords, there is a distinct lack of focus, like running a marketing campaign without goals, the keywords within any SEO campaign allow you to question – what should you be ranking for, and is this the case? For example if you sell bunches of roses across Surrey but you rank below page 3 for the keyword “bunches of roses Surrey” you should still identify and understand why and where you are missing out. So although building links from anchor text specific to one keyword may be phasing out – content on the page and off the page about that keyword still tells google what the page is about. If you don’t mention roses, or bunches, or surrey, why would you be ranked for those terms?
  • Semantic Search – know what to rank for. How people are searching is changing and that adds a whole layer of complexity to things.
  • It is all about the audience.

Positives for 2016

  • Onsite content and structure is still as important as ever. The time and effort to work on your onsite optimisation has not been wasted (as long as you followed best practice)
  • It is all about the audience – controversially those of us who have been focusing on the audience, how they will consume and navigate our website, and making sure we are delivering them the best user experience, may be one step ahead
  • With rich and interesting content comes interest and exposure, if you have not been doing this over the past year or more – how are you ranking at all. If you have, then just continue thinking what will the audience like – what will engage and interact with them – Google likes that.
  • Mobile – if you have optimised your mobile site, and you are focussing already on the content on mobile, and how user behaviour differs on this platform, then you are likely to be ahead of the curve. We could all see it was just a matter of time, the year of mobile has been talked about for the last 10 years, but it came hard in 2015 where Google changed their algorithm to reflect the importance of mobile devices and user behaviour. If you play it right, there is no reason why you cannot rank more successfully than your desktop version as everyone is currently playing catch up.

Pay Per Click

Challenges for 2016

  • CPC increases across locations and devices, although there is speculation that CPC’s may reduce, I would predict that it will only increase as advertisers get more savvy, the competition in every corner increases.
  • Increased competition on mobile bids, again pushing up CPC’s
  • Competition may increase as more sites offer mobile friendly versions of their website and start to increase mobile bids.
  • Complex semantic search queries meaning you will miss out on searches, dynamic search therefore becomes essential

Positives for 2016

  • More in depth Auto Bidding insights to analyse what bid strategies are working and when
  • More interactive Google Shopping ads for users – scrolling and swiping
  • Google Shopping functionality, optimisation and reporting analysis improvements
  • Additional ad extensions to enhance ad text
  • Store visit measurement to estimate a holistic view of customer behaviour
  • Dynamic search capturing more obscure and semantic searches to ensure market coverage
  • Enhanced Remarketing tools and functionality will allow more intelligent targeting

In conclusion, SEO is best for long-term relevance, user friendliness and rich content to drive interest and exposure. PPC is best for driving instant interactions, conveying specific messages and content to the right person, on the right device, at the right time, and keeping control of what costs are making a return for you.

The bottom line is – use both!

Rachel Mepham
With over 15 years’ experience in Digital Marketing, Rachel heads up the team at Digital Clarity. With a deep skill set in the Paid Search, Social Media and Analytics, Rachel is regarded by both clients and peers as one of the most experienced and prolific women in the UK digital space. Her approach and application to digital strategy planning has been used by some of the biggest brands as well as leading advertising and marketing agencies.