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SEO vs. PPC. Which One Should You Do First?

When first launching a new website, most marketers develop an obsession with web traffic. Regardless of where it’s coming from, they want to get the numbers up just so they can start measuring behavior on the site and testing out new ideas. The question is where should they focus their attention and marketing dollars?


The majority of marketing executives I’ve encountered see SEO as the default choice for online marketing. I think this bias is the natural result of having so many senior marketing positions occupied by people that have previously worked in content/copy writing or marketing communications roles. These types of jobs usually entail significant interaction with the SEO teams at their organizations. Also, SEO is generally less expensive than paid advertising, so many marketing departments working on a tight budget prefer to start with SEO.

Some marketers believe that Pay-Per-Click advertising (PPC) is the best starting point. From my experience, this belief is more common among executives with experience in offline industries. These people understand that advertising is a must for every business trying to grow its customer base (i.e. every company that intends to be around in a few months). Once they decide that they want to advertise, most begin with Google AdWords campaigns, and sometimes even Facebook ads. Though there are countless other ad networks, these are the most popular.

While it’s recommended to market websites with all relevant channels, including SEO, PPC, PR, social media and more, it’s not always possible. When resources are limited, tough choices need to be made.

Listed Below are the Pros and Cons for starting with SEO and PPC.



  • Does not require a large, up-front investment
  • SEO professionals can get started right away without having to first learn the ins and outs of your business model
  • Sites with lots of SEO traffic are an asset, therefore spending money on SEO is effectively an investment in the business


  • Seeing results before 6-9 months is rare
  • Building an in-house team can be very expensive in the long run, often requires 3+ people
  • More difficult to measure ROI than with PPC
  • More difficult to predict the likelihood of long-term success
  • Google algorithm updates can cause large fluctuations in traffic



  • Results are measurable within days, sometimes even hours
  • Very easy to measure ROI and likelihood of achieving long term profits
  • Updates to Google AdWords are frequent, but rarely have a major impact on campaign performance


  • Requires an initial budget that’s at least 5 times greater than SEO
  • Profitable campaigns are not an asset. The moment you stop paying for the ads, the traffic goes away.
  • PPC managers need to fully understand your online sales process before they can begin, which means you need to be comfortable really opening up about your business.
  • Traffic costs invariably increase over time

Both SEO and PPC require having patience until you finally see an ROI. They also both require a lot of ongoing work to be done by people that know what they’re doing.

When deciding, our recommendation is to first ask yourself one question, “if I cannot prove that this website can make money within 6 months, will this project be shut down?” If the answer is yes, then PPC is the only way to go. If you have the budget needed to start with a PPC campaign that will cover many of the relevant keywords, and there’s pressure to produce results quickly, you should go for it. If money is tight, but regardless of short-term performance the company is intent on investing in online marketing for the long term, SEO is your best bet.

The tricky question is what to do when you’re on a very limited budget, but also need to produce short term results. In such a scenario, you can test a small, super targeted PPC campaign that includes only those keywords that best describe what your site offers. This will at least give you some idea of how you can expect potential customers to react to your site. If the results are encouraging, you’ll be motivated to shift budgets from other places in order to grow the campaigns. Regardless of which path you take, the one thing that’s a constant, is that the more work you put into it, the better the results, so be prepared to buckle down.

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