Small Agile icon

Organic SEO vs. PPC

Do you know the difference?

Illustration of young man using a megaphone

What are SEO and PPC?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO), in the simplest of terms, is including content on your site that has the potential to improve your site’s visibility to search engines (like Google, Bing, Duck Duck Go, etc.) and their users. Improving your SEO is a detailed process that can increase your website's traffic by attracting visitors searching for exactly what you offer. However, building your site's SEO can take time and require updates and improvements to enhance and maintain search rankings.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ads are paid online advertisements that appear at the top of most search engines. Users set a maximum bid, and winners' ads are served to searchers in an instant, online auction format. While PPC doesn't improve your SEO, PPC can often produce faster results. But, there is a catch...once you stop paying for these ads, they disappear forever.

So which should your business use: SEO, PPC, or a combination of both? That can depend on a lot of factors. Let’s explore how each works, and the benefits of both.

Why does this matter?

With 61-88% of consumers researching a planned purchase online before ever visiting a store or consulting with another human being, your business needs to consider an effective search engine optimization and/or PPC strategy.

Let's break this down.

The differences between SEO and PPC are many, but to the uninitiated, the differences can seem unimportant or trivial. With the basics of SEO and PPC behind us, let's delve into a few of the differences:


Cost: Google Ads website traffic is paid. You are charged when someone clicks on your ad (pay-per-click). "Organic" SEO traffic is free. There is no cost when someone clicks on your listing. When you end or suspend PPC campaigns, your website traffic from those campaigns will also end. With SEO, even if you are not actively optimizing your site, search traffic will likely continue (though it may degrade over time without maintenance). The primary cost from SEO is hiring a SEO professional to identify valuable keywords, optimize the content and structure of your website, and monitor progress and resulting web traffic from search. SEO is almost always going to be cheaper and provide greater value in the long run. We think SEO wins this one.


Keywords: Both SEO and PPC advertising are keyword driven. Short tail (1-2 words) and long tail keywords (3-6 words) are the basis for planning and deploying a successful SEO or PPC campaign. This means an effective campaign requires researching what keywords your target audience is typing into their web browsers, understanding the competition surrounding those keywords, and formulating a strategy based on your findings. There is no sense in ranking or creating ads for keywords no one is actually searching. While both SEO and PPC advertising must consider competition, these insights will affect the strategy differently. Higher competition keywords will require more content creation and more stringent SEO practices to achieve great rankings. High competition keywords will inflate winning ad bid prices and result in higher PPC campaign costs. We think this one is a draw.


Reach: SEO will apply across any search engine (Google, Bing, etc.), while Google Ads will only apply to and affiliate sites. While different search engines weight factors differently and have varying search results, good SEO practices will result in favorable rankings across all search engines. For instance, we rank #1 for many keywords on Google, Bing, and even Duck Duck Go. We favor Google due to their vast market share in the search industry, but we benefit from that work across all search engines. If you buy advertising from Google or Bing (Microsoft), then those ads will only be shown on their platforms and affiliate sites. SEO wins again.


ROI & Data Analytics: PPC advertising is more immediate and calculation of ROI is instantly available. SEO results take time and tracking analytics and ROI calculations require data that may take weeks or months to compile. The second you launch a PPC campaign, your ads will enter into into the live bidding process. This means you should quickly have access to data on impressions, engagement and click through rates, and even conversions (if you are savvy in Google Analytics). SEO requires more setup, optimization, measurement, and growth to access reliable data (but it is worth the wait). Score one for PPC.


Audience Targeting & Experimentation: PPC allows for granular audience targeting. You can also test theories and receive feedback in a matter of hours or days. SEO casts a wider net. PPC campaigns allow you to select from a multitude of targeting factors. This allows you to deliver your paid ads to a very specific subset of folks searching the web. However, sometimes overly targeting ads can result in very low visibility. Also, with the advent of increased privacy tools in modern browsers, more and more personal information is blocked from search engines (this is a good thing for everyone, though it does make our jobs a little more complicated). With SEO, we are focusing on broader topics that can attract a wider audience. That is why PPC is often a great choice for online retail stores or someone looking to make a direct sale, right there on the spot. SEO is great for building a brand and an audience. This one is a draw, based on your needs.
Setup screen for Google Ads showing targeting options
Here is an example of how you can target your audience in Google Ads.


Maintenance: SEO requires less maintenance, while PPC requires a bit more supervision. Once SEO is really dialed in, for many businesses, they can check in every few months and take a look through Google Analytics. We would add that business who depend on a lot of lead generation should keep a tighter grip on the reins of their SEO. PPC requires the campaign manager to constantly monitor the effectiveness of ads, tweak them, and adjust target audiences. Your campaign will charge you for clicked ads, ragrdless of whether you make the sale, so you have to make sure your spend results in a good ROI. Chalk one up for SEO.

So what should I choose?

For clients who need instant results, have time sensitive promotions, or need high-volume retail sales (and can justify those higher advertising costs), PPC can be a wonderful ally. For clients who want to build long term exposure, earn sustainable, high quality web traffic, and get the best bang for their buck, SEO is a great choice.

But your choice doesn't have to be so binary. Using SEO and Google Ads together may give you the best chance of bringing traffic to your site in the short term (PPC) while enhancing your business’s presence online for long-term success (SEO). We sometimes start our clients with Google Ads while we build out their SEO, and then we slowly feather their Google Ad budget and switch entirely to SEO for their website traffic and lead generation needs.
Schedule A Call

Nice to meet you.

We are excited you are here, and we’d like to hear more about your project. And don’t worry, we don’t pressure anyone. But if you aren’t ready to reach out quite yet, then please take a minute to learn a bit about Agile!
About Agile
Mug of coffee on a desk with Agile logo on computer screen
A selection of digital marketing work laid out on a desk

See our work.

Take a minute to check out our portfolio. Our work is simply a reflection of our incredible clients. Their stories, passion, and accomplishments are the star of the show, and they get the credit.
Our Portfolio

Schedule a call.

Sometimes a quick call can clear up your questions, point you in the right direction, and give you a clear path to move forward. We'd like to hear about your project, and we're never, ever pushy.
LEt's Talk!
A phone on a desk

We have nice clients.

Here are a few kind things people have said about us. We try to live up to them every single day.
Lindsey Sinozich
“Mike is a true visionary. Beyond developing and designing our website, he helped us see the potential of our online business. Given that we have an in-house marketing department, Mike worked alongside our team to guide and strategize, while building a site that we could manage day-to-day, maximizing our efficiency with minimal recurring cost.”

Lindsey Sinozich
Marketing Director, Fink's Jewelers

Peter Baur
“Mike was willing to express his seasoned and professional opinion without being dismissive of things that felt particularly important to us as the client. When Mike needed to, he made sure we realized any trade-offs in a decision by providing clear reasoning and significant experience to back it up. This created a level of confidence in Mike, and in any final decisions we made.”

Peter Baur
Head of School, Faith Christian School

Clay Skelton
“Finding Agile was a lucky day for us. From the moment we met Mike, it was clear we would work very well together. Mike is a great and patient listener, wise advisor, and super talented marketer. The vision and creativity that Mike has proposed far exceeded our expectations! We have gone with every idea he’s had and couldn’t be happier.”

Clay Skelton
President, ORIGOSafeDriver

Young man dialing phone
Contact Us

Let's get in touch.

Call us at 540.524.2769 between 9AM and 5PM EST, Monday through Friday. Our helpful staff is here to listen. We want to hear about you, your business, and your project…and we’re never pushy folks. Feel free to fill out the form, call our office, or read about our commitment to you during the discovery process.
Fill out the form

Fill out the form.

There's no pressure to call if the time isn't right! We'll learn about your needs and talk at a more convenient time. Please fill out the secure form below, and our team will get right back to you!

We are committed to you.

Even before we work together, our team makes a commitment about how we will treat you during the discovery process...and we really mean it.
Two ladies having a conversation

We'll treat you with decency and courtesy.

You deserve that. We're not pushy or high-pressure. We listened to our moms and always treat you the way we'd like to be treated.
Two men agreeing and shaking hands

We'll provide you with guaranteed pricing.

Our proposals aren't estimates or ballpark numbers. We'll tell you to-the-cent how much your project will cost, and that number won't change as long as the scope of the project remains the same.
Man checking items off of a list

We'll never sell you something you don't need.

Our team will only suggest research-based, ROI-focused marketing strategies designed to achieve big results.