I’ve been asked a few times for advice on the best strategy for promoting new businesses online. Is it better to buy pay per click ads or to work on search engine optimisation just after a business website goes live? How do they stack up: adwords vs SEO?

Most established businesses do a bit of both, but when you’re starting out, cash flow is often limited and there’s no precedent to refine when starting from scratch. It can be hard to know where to start.

It helps to understand the unique strengths and weaknesses of both paid search ads and website SEO.

There are many search engines you can run search ads on, but for the purposes of this article I’ll be focusing on Google, the biggie.

Google offer seven types of ads:

  1. Search campaigns: text-based ads at the top and bottom of Google search results
  2. Display campaigns: image ads on other people’s websites
  3. Video campaigns: these interrupt YouTube videos or appear in the YouTube search or recommended watching lists
  4. Shopping campaigns: boosted product listings in Google Shopping results
  5. App campaigns: aimed to promote apps, these are shown in search results, as display ads, on Google Play and on YouTube
  6. Local campaigns: locally targeted ads on multiple channels
  7. Smart campaigns: just let Google decide and refine where, how, when and to whom the ads are shown

Google’s pretty good at targeting your ad to people it thinks most likely to convert into leads as they know so much about the interests and habits of their users. However, when you launch a paid search ad you’re entering into an auction, competing for ad space against other advertisers. Without creating a full tutorial on how to set up PPC (Pay Per Click) campaigns, the basic trick is to target search keywords that enjoy higher search traffic but lower competition. This will help provide a better return on your investment.

Search Engine Optimisation

SEO, on the other hand, is all about getting your website to rank well in the ’organic’ search results. These are the normal free search results that are listed according to how useful Google thinks they are for the search in question, with the most useful results at the top. So good SEO isn’t about gaming the system by tricking search engines into preferring your website, instead, it’s all about helping search engines understand how your web pages each help resolve the particular search queries you’re interested in attracting visits for.

There are many moving parts to a successful SEO campaign, but the very basic principles of SEO are:

  1. Your website should be discoverable by search engines
  2. Your website should contain content that matches the intent of searchers you want to attract
  3. Your website should be recommended by other websites through links and mentions (a.k.a citations)
  4. Your website should be fast, accessible and secure for your visitors

Return on investment

Search ads give an instant return on investment, however, the return is limited by your spending.

SEO can take time to provide a return on investment but its return is often exponential.

Should a New Business Pay for Search Ads or SEO? 1

Websites take time to climb up organic search results as Google definitely favours established websites, and it takes time to build up incoming links to new websites from other websites, which is one of Google’s key metrics for organic search rankings.

Also, SEO is easiest to perform when an SEO consultant has existing data on the website’s performance to work with. They can look at the keywords that pages are starting to rank for and optimise them further.

My recommendation

For these reasons, if you’ve just launched a website I’d recommend you start by making sure your website conforms to the basic SEO principles I’ve listed above to make sure search engines can pick up and understand your site. Do some keyword research and write content accordingly.

However, I would recommend then pausing your SEO investment and channeling it into PPC ads to drive traffic to your website using pay per click ads. This extra non-organic traffic will leapfrog your more established competition and help your site get noticed, increasing your likelihood of getting backlinks from other sites to yours, helping your SEO.

Then later, once your site rankings have settled in search engines and you have a regular flow of organic and ad-based traffic, you can hire an SEO consultant again to review the data you’ve built up and recommend further improvements to boost your site’s ranking in organic results.

Eventually, as you establish a respectable presence in organic search results with good website SEO, you’ll be able to scale back your paid search ads and/or target your budget to only the most competitive terms where SEO still falls short.

I hope that has been helpful. If you’re starting out marketing your business or still have any questions, do drop a comment in the box below this post and I’ll try to help where I can.

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Author: Aidan Ashby

Aidan is a web and branding designer living in Bristol, UK. He’s a cautious optimist and is loathe to discuss himself in the third person. He loves pancakes and has a perpetual desire to just be sat in the woods with his feet up in front of a bonfire.

Connect with Aidan on LinkedIn.


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