SEO vs. PPC: Heavyweights Duke it Out at SES Chicago 2009

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The session title “SEO vs. PPC: The Ultimate Search Battle” insinuates some kind of inevitable victory of one opponent over the other; despite well-placed jabs delivered from both corners of the panel, the underlying session theme defeated all comers.

The skirmish between SEO and PPC is depends on your current situation and your future goals; there are instances where SEO is the obvious winner over PPC, and vice versa.

During this session, seasoned panelists Christine Churchill, Karen Weber, Rand Fishkin, David Naylor, Michael Gray and moderator Brian Lewis discussed specific areas where it makes the most sense to allocate resources towards SEO as well as scenarios where PPC would be a better alternative.

To begin Brian Lewis, VP of Engine Ready, shared results from studies his company had conducted over the course of a year and a half across various industries. The studies compared ROI and engagement metrics in hopes to identify any trends where SEO outperforms PPC and the other way around.

What’s Converting?The first study showed that users referred to a test site from a paid ad converted 2.03% of the time while those visiting from organic results converted at 1.26%.

Who’s Spending More?
The second study scrutinized the order-value to see if users coming from paid ads were buying more or less than organic search referrals. It turns out that people coming from paid ads spend an average of $117 compared to $106 via organic.

What’s a Visit Worth?
On average a visitor from a paid ad is worth $2.38 while their organic counterpart is worth $1.35.

Who’s Staying Longer?
Lastly, traffic coming for a paid source stays on the site an average of 283 seconds, while organic traffic sits around 219 seconds.

Judging by this data it looks like PPC has the leg up! We’ll have to see about that…

In the red corner- Christine Churchill, President of KeyRelevance. She was up first up to the podium to speak in favor of PPC. She began by giving reasons as to why PPC is better for certain sites.

New Domains
If you have a brand spankin’ new domain and you have no links, no online presence or no partner sites, PPC can bring you traffic immediately.

PPC generates instant online presence:
– Ads can be up and running within an hour
– Return on investment come in considerably fast
– There is no ramp up time in PPC

If it’s fast ROI you’re looking for, then PPC is where it’s at. PPC is particularly fantastic for seasonal and time sensitive promotions.

PPC allows you to track the effectiveness of your marketing message or test a new product; multivariate testing helps illuminate how well an ad is received by the market place.

Regulate Traffic Volume
– Sales pipeline empty? Use PPC to push traffic.
– Overloaded? Pause campaigns or cut back on spending.
– Have a limited sales season? Saturate the market while demand is high.

Targeting is another great benefit of PPC. If you’re involved in regional marketing, you can run tightly focused campaigns; the platform allows you to get in front of your target where and when you need to.

PPC Targeting Advantages
– Control over placement on the search engine results pages (SERPs)
– Enhanced control over titles and descriptions
– Control over landing page/message
– Control marketing spend and reach

Karen Weber, VP of E-Marketing at Irwin Union Bank was next to defend the argument for PPC. She shared her top 5 reasons why she would choose PPC over SEO… if she was ever forced to choose, of course.

1 – Because it’s Fast
– Quickly get into and out of market
– Manipulate keywords to those driving conversions
– Quickly change bid prices

2 – Because it’s Flexible
– Easily turn on/off campaigns
– Run seasonal or short-term initiatives
– Test new product launches
– Run time sensitive campaigns
– Change the ad copy or landing page

3 – Because it’s Limitless
– Target a much wider range of keywords, including misspellings, brand, competitors, plurals and nearly all other iterations

4 – Because it’s Justifiable
– Manage a goal-driven campaign with measurable KPI’s
– Adhere to budgets
– Realize an immediate impact in sales

5 – Because it’s Controllable
In traditional media, it’s often difficult to control who is viewing your ad; with PPC, it’s simple. Additionally, PPC allows you to control:
– Budget
– Landing pages
– Ad copy/marketing message
– Geographic targets, day/time
– Duration of the campaign

After the case for PPC had been made, it was time for SEO to fight back. First to the podium from the blue corner was Rand Fishkin, CEO and Co-Founder of SEOmoz. Rand began by asking the audience a question: “If asked to choose a primary search engine to optimize for whether PPC or SEO, how many would choose Google?”

99% of those in attendance raised their hand.

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But why? Rand noted that Bing realizes 10% of the market place, is easier to optimize for, and converts at a higher rate.

“Why is it that everybody is so eager to jump at a search engine with the majority of the market share?” he asked. Rand pointed out that an imbalance exists in the current SEM market: paid search only receives 10% of all clicks, yet it represents 90% of the budget.

Nearly all in attendance chimed in, agreeing that they would optimize for “the engine with 90% of the clicks (Google).” So why would they want to put all their chips into a market with only 10%?

The referees had spoken. Yes, SEO is more challenging and less controllable, but it allows you to address time sensitive issues, alter ad messages and optimize for better conversions.

Rand’s parting thought: The fact of the matter is that people click organic results 10x more than they do with paid ads.

Next up was Dave Naylor.

“The PPC guys will have you believe it’s the quick fix and how you will get a campaign started really quickly.”

Naylor was recently working with a client to build their domain from the ground up. When the site launched, it was covered in most of the newspapers and various major online publications. Within the first three months the client received their own YouTube channel by way of the 1.3 million impressions the content had received.

If they had used PPC to traffic the 1.2 million unique visitors they obtained organically, the client would have been in the red from the check they’d have had to write.

Essentially, Dave does believe that PPC is a great tool for testing, but not for a long-term business proposition.

SEO is not about optimizing for one keyword per page; it’s about “building rich content and ranking for those keywords by way of a good SEO campaign.” A good SEO campaign includes projecting seasonal program needs and addressing those far enough in advance in order to properly execute on a timeline. Think ahead… that way you won’t get caught with your pants down.

Last in the ring was Michael Gray, Owner of Atlas Web Service. Michael made the argument that SEO can actually enhance your PPC. He added a disclaimer: don’t follow this quite yet as some accounts have been arbitrarily banned for doing similar tactics. In any case, he laid out how it works.

According to Michael, a couple of weeks ago you could have taken an existing ad and keyword in a given account, pointed it at different domains and receive different pricing based on the organic health of the domain.

Healthy domain = favorable pricing
New domain or mediocre domain = mid-range pricing
Banned domain = highest pricing

What do you think? Make your argument for PPC or SEO in the comment field below. Be sure to keep those gloves up. Ready? Steady? Fight!

This guest post was written by Manny Rivas who is an SEO Account Manager at aimClear, an Internet-focused advertising agency which specialises in demographic research.


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