seo ppc difference


By Mark
Last updated
17 June 2022

What’s the difference between Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Pay Per Click (PPC)?

The simple answer to this question is that traffic to your website from SEO is free, while PPC traffic is paid for, hence the name ‘pay per click’.

Obviously, there is a little more to it, but the nature of PPC allows you to turn it on and off or indeed up and down when you need it. Whereas SEO is a longer term strategy with a slower burn.

Both have their place within the world of digital marketing, and both are extremely effective with proven results. Furthermore, both SEO and PPC can be measured so you know exactly what works for your business.

Before we get into the details and the other differences between SEO and PPC, let’s get back to basics and review what search engine optimisation and pay per click is.

What is SEO?

SEO is not a ‘black art’ and the fundamentals of SEO haven’t changed over the past 20 years. What has changed is how we implement search and measure the results.

Search optimisation helps to improve your website’s organic rankings within the search engines, to enhance and improve the visibility of your website in the natural search listings.

Today, SEO encompasses website structure, technical SEO, keyword research, on and off page optimisation, content production and it also reaches out to social media. 

Search engine results page

What is PPC?

Pay per click is paid advertising. You pay every time someone clicks on your ad. You can place PPC ads within Google & Bing’s search results, Facebook news feeds, YouTube, Instagram and more.

In Google’s search results the PPC ads appear above the search results so they can allow you to achieve that vital, first page position for keywords that you don’t rank for in organic search results.

It’s a very effective way to market your products and service, if your CPC (cost-per-click) is low, you can deliver a good return on investment (ROI). However, some industries can be very competitive so this needs to be monitored and reviewed regularly.

Organic Traffic v. Paid Search Traffic

We’ve already touched on the different positions in the search results for PPC and SEO, but let’s take a look at the main differences between organic and paid search.


Costs & Budgets

Traffic from organic SEO is free, although you do need to take into account the cost of your time and effort or that of an agency to get that free traffic. This is especially the case when you start with SEO, it may be more cost effective, but results are slower and there are no shortcuts.

PPC can deliver website traffic very quickly but can be expensive, especially if you get it wrong. Paid search depends on the popularity of a keyword and the number of advertisers who want to pay to rank in the results for that particular keyword. On the positive side you only pay for clicks on your ads and you control your budget. It does require constant monitoring and refining to maximise conversion rates and lower the average cost per click (CPC).

Time & Responsiveness

SEO is a process that can take weeks and even months for specific terms and keywords to rank. PPC delivers fast results and within a few days of a paid campaign being set up will be delivering your message to potential customers.

PPC is also more responsive and you can adapt a PPC campaign quickly by reacting to changes in products, a new product launch, a sale or simply test what works best. The long term strategy view of SEO doesn’t have the same instant impact, although is much more sustainable and doesn’t stop immediately if you stop paying.

SEO relies on Google’s algorithms, and isn’t a set it up and forget it kind of marketing. It also needs to be monitored, reviewed, success measured and re-optimised accordingly.


When it comes to targeting, PPC wins hands down as it is highly data driven. Ads can be targeted by a whole host of options, not just keywords. You determine when your paid ad can be seen, the time of day, where your ad is seen and even what device it is seen on! That’s why knowing your target audience is key when developing a PPC campaign.

Location Focus targeting on areas where customers are - from whole countries to regions within countries, or a radius around a specific location
Gender Target users that are more likely to be male or female audiences
Age Target users between specific age ranges
Interests Target users with specific interests as identified by Google
Day / Time Schedule ads to show on specific days and/or between specific hours

SEO doesn’t have the luxury of such precise targeting, but on the upside, organic search can throw it’s net wider and maximise visibility and brand awareness.

Clicks and Conversion Rates

Click through rates (CTR) and conversion rates are what it’s all about. So which visitor is more likely to click through and convert to sale or answer your call to action? A highly targeted ad from a PPC visitor is more likely to convert than someone coming from search, but it costs more. Google Shopping Ads or Product Listing Ads also convert well, due to the visual aspect which encourages high click throughs.

That said, more users click on the organic results but don’t always convert as easily, because your web page can rank for different keywords and may not be exactly what the user is looking for.

Return on Investment (ROI)

SEO is more profitable over the long term and offers a better ROI, with the possibility of hundreds of pages on your website, delivering results all day long, in fact 24/7. SEO is always open for business and positive organic search visibility over months and years increases the ROI from your SEO investments.

PPC requires a bigger investment and you can’t always expect to have perfect ROI, it’s a process of constant fine-tuning and testing different bids, ad copy, keywords, landing pages until it hits the right spot.


When it comes to the pros and cons of SEO and PPC, you’ll probably have noticed a recurring theme from the above points. There isn’t a definitive winner when it comes to SEO versus PPC.

The best answer is that PPC and SEO work well together to maximise conversions while organic search engine results also act as a constant promotion for your brand. The overall result is that you increase your marketing ROI by using both strategies in tandem, then you can achieve both short-term as well as long-term ROI.

The major differences between SEO and PPC:

Long term tactic - takes time to get results Short term tactic - great for getting traffic to your site fast
Traffic is free Traffic is paid for
Search results are always there PPC can be turned off and on
Organic search results are seen by a wider audience Highly targeted
Most cost effective tactic in the long term Can be expensive
Not so responsive to changes in the market Can react quickly to changes in the market
Page rankings are subject to search engine algorithm changes Rankings are more dependent on your PPC spend

What’s right for your business?

Before you can answer this question, you need to know what your business objectives are and what goals you want to achieve. Having a digital marketing strategy in place comes first and then you can look at whether SEO and/or PPC is best to reach your objectives and how these can be met within your budget.

So, don’t think that you need to choose between SEO vs PPC, but understanding their pros and cons can help you leverage the perfect mix for your marketing goals.