Digital marketing is well known for its acronyms - SEM, CRO, CPC, CTR, CTA… but two acronyms are known for making those new to digital marketing say WTF more than most - SEO and PPC. 

For those unfamiliar with digital marketing, SEO and PPC on face value can seem fairly similar if not interchangeable. They both help your business appear in search engines, both drive traffic to your website and both involve satisfying algorithms and ranking factors in order for your business to appear prominently in results.

This guide tackles some key differences between SEO and PPC and hopefully removes some confusion about the qualities of each. 


SEO and PPC - The basics

SEO stands for search engine optimisation and is concerned with improving websites to increase their visibility in search engines and in turn increase organic traffic and enquiries. Organic traffic is the traffic coming from the natural search results displayed on search engine results pages. 

This is done in a variety of ways which can include improving:

  • The content of your website.
  • Technical elements, such as page speed, mobile experience and how search engines crawl and index your website.
  • The quality of the links linking to your website.

By improving these areas and more, SEO looks to improve a website from the perspectives of both search engines and users. 

PPC stands for pay per click and is a form of online advertising where advertisers pay to promote their business across the web. This includes text ads in search engines but also more visual ads on websites. As the name suggests, advertisers often pay every time a user clicks on an advert. With PPC you pay for the traffic that it generates to your website. However, many other payment models are available, including CPM (cost per thousand impressions) and CPA (cost per acquisition).

The central confusion between SEO and PPC comes from how they both appear in search engine results and both work to increase website traffic. PPC ads are often at the top and bottom of the page, with organic listings (the focus of SEO) taking the majority of the space on the page.

Below we will discuss some key differences between SEO and PPC that are often overlooked:

How long it takes

As both PPC and SEO concern promoting your website via search engines, it can be easy to assume that they both take similar amounts of time and can generate results just as fast.

While some SEO changes can have a rapid impact on website traffic, SEO often takes months to see results. This is because there are a whole host of issues for an SEO to analyse and work through, with each change varying in how fast and how intense its impact on the website will be. The time it takes to see improvements will vary on the particular website’s condition before it is improved.

Some changes may be made and result in website pages rapidly increasing in ranking position, while others may take longer for Google to understand and reflect in your website rankings.

PPC, on the other hand, can be set up much quicker. A Google Ads account can be created, campaigns built, ads written and turned on in a matter of days. Depending on your budget and how much you choose to bid for particular keywords, from the moment your ad account is live you can compete in top positions for the keywords you want to appear for.

This means you can get a rapid increase in traffic much quicker than SEO, which has to work on improving the website itself to see results over a longer period. 

However, as soon as you stop spending on PPC, that traffic will stop, so it’s important that SEO is also invested in for a long-term approach to increasing website traffic from these channels.

How You Pay For Results

A crude distinction is often drawn between PPC and SEO, that with PPC you pay for results and with SEO you don’t. 

With regards to SEO, a more accurate statement would be you don’t pay for organic clicks from Google, and your website may naturally rank well and generate traffic without you spending money. However, you do pay for SEO when an SEO agency or consultant spends time improving your SEO.

Whether this is done in-house or in the form of an agency, SEO takes both time and money to implement.

This also goes for PPC, as on top of your PPC budget, you will often have to pay a management fee for someone to manage your account, campaigns and budgets to ensure that your marketing budget is being used wisely and not wasted on irrelevant traffic.

How you rank

With regard to rankings, SEO focuses on improving how visible you are in the organic listings of search engine results pages. PPC, on the other hand, aims to show your ads as part of the paid results.

Ranking in SEO and PPC differs in several ways. With SEO, Google is often quite vague about what exactly helps websites rank higher than others. It is however explicit about things it wants and doesn’t want websites to do.

  • Helping Google find your content - by controlling what you do and don’t want to be indexed.
  • Helping Google and users understand your content - by accurately representing your content in both search results and on the page itself. This includes providing accurate meta titles, descriptions and headings.
  • Managing your appearance in Google Search results - by organising your website structure and navigation.
  • Optimising your content - by making your site interesting and useful, appealing to users and using links wisely.
  • Optimising your images - by describing your images accurately and helping Google find your images.
  • Making your site mobile friendly - so it can be understood by both Google and users.
  • Promoting your website - through social media and other marketing efforts.
  • Analysing your search performance and user behaviour - to gain insight into how to improve your website for both users and search engines.

Within these areas are specific practices that can aid website rankings which include keyword optimisation and improving content, improving internal linking and enhancing a website’s link profile, for example.

Practices that Google definitely doesn’t want websites to engage in include link schemes, presenting different versions of pages to users and Google, using auto-generated content and stealing or scraping content from other websites. 

For PPC, ranking and appearing for your desired keywords is driven by ad rank. Ad rank is determined by:

  • Bid amount
  • Ad-quality at auction time (expected click-through rate, ad relevance, landing page experience).
  • Ad rank thresholds (the minimum bid necessary for your ad to show in a particular position).
  • The context of a person’s search
  • The expected impact of ad extensions and other ad formats.

All of these factors determine where you appear in search results. As you can see, unlike SEO, only one of these factors is to do with the website (landing page experience). As such, PPC ranking is very much confined to factors within the ad platform itself.


PPC is not just confined to search engine results, through PPC you can also run a range of paid media activity, including:

  • Text, image and video display advertising on other websites.
  • Video ads on YouTube
  • Google Shopping campaigns
  • Gmail advertising
  • Social media advertising across platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

SEO, however, is confined to the search engines your website appears in. While most predominantly focus on Google, SEO can help your website appear on Bing, Yahoo, MSN, DuckDuckGo. 


As both SEO and PPC display in search results, you may think that both have similar targeting options. However, PPC has a far greater range of targeting options to help you reach your desired audience. Some forms of paid search targeting include:

  • Keywords
  • Location
  • Age
  • Gender
  • In-market audiences - to target users who are more likely to purchase your product.
  • Interests
  • Custom intent - words, phrases, URLs, websites and content related to your business.
  • Device
  • Parental status
  • Marital status
  • Education level
  • Homeownership status
  • Remarketing - targeting users who have already visited your website or engaged with your business.

Campaigns incorporate all of these different forms of targeting, with budgets and bid adjustments made to prioritise certain audiences.

With SEO your targeting is generally limited to the particular keywords you wish to appear for. This is done through optimising particular pages for certain keywords and improving rankings for these phrases. 


Need help with SEO and PPC?

If you’re still unsure about where your business stands with SEO and PPC, contact us today 


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