SEO v PPC – A different way of thinking

New clients often approach us saying that they:

  • want to try PPC because SEO isn’t working for them,
  • want to switch to SEO because PPC isn’t working out for them,
  • are just starting out but don’t know whether to start with PPC or SEO

I guess it’s a common problem for all clients, especially if they’ve tried something and it just hasn’t worked out for them. Often, they’ve spent quite a bit of money with a media buying agency or a specialist SEO agency and have heard that an integrated digital agency like us here at Thinking Fox would be a better fit for them.

Without wishing to denigrate any of the types of agencies out there/here, it’s not so much about the agency but the people and their experience within that agency. If you go to a shop that specialises in hammers they’re going to sell you hammers and bags of nails all day long. Same with screwdriver shops; they’ll sell you screwdrivers and screws til the cows come home.

“Aha” I hear you say in your best Alan Patridge impression, “but that’s why we go to a hardware store where they sell it all” and yes of course you’re right, but the problem is that if you rock up at one of those faceless monolithic hardware stores you’ll end up walking out with a hammer, a set of screwdrivers, several bags of nails, and a ton of screws of all different sizes and heads, and still have no idea where to start.

The basics

Let’s take a look at what we’re trying to achieve:

  1. User searches Google (other search engines are available)
  2. They see a set of results for their search. This results set contains adverts and organic links
  3. Somewhere in that set of results is a link to a specific page on our target website
  4. The link has a title, some text, and a URL
  5. The user clicks on the link and comes to the page on our site
  6. They make a decision about whether they’re in the right place. If they think they’ve arrived at a page or site that won’t be of use, they’ll click the back button and go back to their search results
  7. Only if they decide that they’re probably in the right place do they continue to either scroll down the page or click a link to another page within our target site
  8. We want them to “do something” and we’re hoping that this is obvious, and lined up with what the user wants to do, that we get a positive conversion from a click to a sale/download/signup etc

This list of steps is the same regardless of whether we’re talking about PPC or SEO. Of course, PPC is a way of getting our target site at the top of the set of results, but wait… so is SEO right? If we SEO correctly we’ll also get to the top… well, the top bit underneath the PPC adverts but yes, the top of organics.

Why is this important?

Brian Dean over at published a research study that they’d done in 2019 which showed exactly why this matters. You can read the study results here. The TL;DR version can be summed up in the following two graphs that Brian put together:

The first shows the CTR for positions 1-10, and then 11-100 :

The second shows you the differences between pages of results:

In summary: you have to be in it to win it.

But that’s only the first part of the battle.

In the London 2012 Olympics the Men’s 100m Final was won by Usain Bolt with a time of 9.63. Loads of people can probably tell you who won. Many will be able to tell you who came in 2nd, and probably 3rd too. My mate Russ, who is a god amongst sports quiz answerers (is that even a word?) can probably tell you all 8 results for that Final but Russ is a bit, well, special.

  1. Usain Bolt (JAM) 9.63.
  2. Yohan Blake (JAM) 9.75.
  3. Justin Gatlin (USA) 9.79.
  4. Tyson Gay (USA) 9.80.
  5. Ryan Bailey (USA) 9.88.
  6. Churandy Martina (NED) 9.94.
  7. Richard Thompson (TRI) 9.98.
  8. Asafa Powell (JAM) 11.99.

You see Richard and Asafa there? 7th and 8th fastest men at 100m in the world at that moment. Nobody remembers. Nobody cares. Apart from Russ of course.

After the race all the news talked about was Usain, and the world moved on. It’s the same with your site in the search rankings. If you’re not up there with the winners then it won’t really matter where you are. You may as well have not bothered.

But there’s more to it than just taking part and getting into the top 3. You have an added problem that those 100m finalists didn’t have. You have the downstream effect…


So you’re in the top 3, or maybe 4, and you’ve paid or SEO’d your way to get there, and we get that magical click. We’re at Step 6 of our user flow. We’re hoping we don’t get a bounce…

Regardless of whether you’ve paid for PPC or sweated your bum off on SEO to get to this point you’re in the same place. Now what matters is your page:

  • Page speed – does it load quickly
  • Page design – does it appeal to a user
  • Page colours – is your page easy to read?
  • Messaging – does your language and tone resonate with your user?
  • Content – do you have enough relevant and well structured content on your page?
  • Call to Action – is it clear what you want a user to do? and is it what they want to do?

That’s all exactly the same for PPC as it is for SEO.


Clients who want to try PPC because SEO isn’t working for them will often find that some simple changes that they’ll need to make to make PPC work properly for them, will actually help their SEO activities hugely.

Likewise, Clients who want to switch to SEO because PPC isn’t working out for them will find that upping their PPC landing page game and their adwords copywriting skills gives them better PPC results but also drives their SEO.

And Clients who are just getting started get told to sort their pages and content out right from the start, and to only pay for PPC when they’re ready to rock’n’roll.

Of course, this is just a simplistic introduction to the subject and some of you reading this will be much further down the road of PPC or SEO, or hopefully both, and you’ll be thinking like this already. For our newer, less-digital-savvy readers, I hope this has given you a starting point and plenty to think about. Do go and read Brian’s research as it contains a whole bunch of other interesting stuff. And as always, please do get in touch if you’re having issues with your PPC or SEO, or both, and need someone to take a look for you.


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About us

We’re a digital marketing agency based in Amersham, Buckinghamshire covering London and the South-East.

We’ve been around since 2009, providing consultancy and strategic services to clients across a number of sectors such as Healthcare, Technology, Telecoms, Publishing, Retail, Finance, and Travel.

We build digital experiences for companies and organisations that are finding their feet, pivoting, or who require a refreshing change.

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