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Google Ads VS SEO

Curious whether you’re better off investing in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or Sponsored Search Ads in Google?

Here’s a typical search result (broken out side by side for visibility):

The Search ads (1) appear at the top of the page, followed by the Google Local “3 Pack” (2) with the remaining SEO listings (3) showing up 3rd on the page.

In one sense the biggest differences are simple:

  • With Sponsored Search Ads you can get visits to your site from Google immediately, although you have to pay Google for each click.
  • With SEO, you do not have to pay Google for clicks, but it can take months or even years of work on your site and content before your site can beat your competition and you get visitors.

Also, a caveat with either approach is that in a competitive industry it’s not enough to just “do SEO” or “do Ads” – you need to do them really well to get results.

Let’s compare the two: SEO vs Sponsored Search Ads

SEO: Pros

  • No fees from Google
  • Considered more “trusted” than ads
  • Helps maximize your branding by showing up on a wider variety of topics than ads. With ads, it’s cost-prohibitive to advertise to people who are too early in their research/shopping process
  • Benefits continue even if you stop doing it
  • A great complement to content marketing & thought leadership strategies

Sponsored Search Ads: Pros

  • Immediate results (and immediate opportunities for growth and/or course-correction)
  • Can be carefully targeted at only “high intent” searchers
  • Less uncertainty than SEO – you’ll get results immediately and know if Search Ads work for you, rather than having to wait months or years to find out.
  • Scalable – if ads are working well you can quickly increase your budget and grow your campaigns.

SEO: Cons

  • Uncertainty. You sometimes won’t know for months or years if it works
  • Time consuming. In competitive industries you won’t succeed with SEO without doing a lot of content and PR/linkbuilding work.
  • Less visibility than Ads (especially on Mobile). Ads usually appear over top of the SEO results.

Sponsored Search Ads: Cons

  • Potentially expensive. Because the ad costs are based mostly on a “bid” model, attractive keywords can be expensive to have ads appear for.
  • Challenging and competitive. Higher performing campaigns are favoured by Google (lower cost and better visibility) and you’ll almost certainly need help from an Google Ads agency.

Top SEO Advice

  • Get your SEO Basics in place. Absolutely anyone with a website should do this.
  • Perform a competitor SEO audit to see how hard it will be to beat competitors BEFORE you embark on a more ambitious SEO strategy
  • Definitely consider SEO if you already have a strong content or thought leadership strategy (you’re doing the heavy lifting already)
  • Consider a “niche” SEO strategy to start, where you focus on slightly lower volume keywords that have less competition.

Top Google Search Ads Advice

  • Start by focusing on a narrow, high intent campaign focused on keywords that indicate a searcher is planning to engage your services.
  • Ensure that you have a landing page that is both credible and persuasive. Remember that visitors from Search ads may not have even heard of you before, so you need to build trust and show them why they should reach out to you.
  • Invest significantly in learning how to do it properly or hire a proven marketing company or agency to help you with it (doing a mediocre job on your campaigns has very limited chances for success)

However, it doesn’t need to be a “VS” relationship between SEO and Ads. You can do both and a blended Search strategy can be the best strategy of all. For instance, you can leverage SEO to target folk who are early in their research process (using high level terms) and use Search Ads to make sure you’re showing up when users are ready to engage and are using “high intent” search terms. 

Lastly, while doing all this work to show up in Search, make sure your website and landing pages are highly compelling when folks actually arrive at your website. Doing so is critically important and will help you make the most of your Search Marketing investment.

Questions about SEO or Google Ads?

We’re happy to answer any questions you have and we have very practical service options for both areas. Just get in touch!

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