For ecommerce sales, which is better? SEO or PPC?

9 September, 2014

Flickr Image Courtesy Ryan SummersI bet you’re expecting another one of those classic pro’s and con’s articles where the key points are carefully laid out for the reader to make their own informed decision.

Well, not today.

I’m going to give you my answer straight up, then convince you to believe it. No independent editorial high horse here.

SEO is better than PPC

Broad statement, but I believe it.

I can hear the sticklers winding up already.

Of course, the SEO or PPC debate depends on your objectives. But as a long term investment, taking time and costs into account, quality SEO should come out on top if you’re looking for ecommerce sales.

Don’t get me wrong, paid online advertising can still be great.

Pay-per-click ads are a super way to create immediate traffic and sales. No doubt about it. We love PPC. If you haven’t worked it out by now, PPC advertising is one of our services, so I’m treading on thin ice here.

BUT, the ROI delivered from paid advertising has a much shorter lifespan than the potential benefits of SEO and content marketing for an online store.

I’ve opened up the eternal argument. The swords are sharpening and the SEO and PPC troops are spoiling for a fight…

Image Courtesy Swordsmanship Wikipedia

Let me explain:

Your advertising spend for the month is $5000. Once your ads are shown and you’ve paid your money to Google (or a TV network/online publisher/print magazine/radio station etc), that money is gone.

Let’s hope you have attracted some long term customers, subscribers and even built some brand awareness.

Here’s the sticking point – to attract more of the same again next month, you’ll need to find another $5000 to rent the audience owned by the advertising platform or channel. The value for your brand from this spend is finite.

If you were to invest this money in SEO and content marketing, the online world is your oyster.

During the month you might have:

  • optimised your category pages
  • created some valuable content for you target audience, and
  • managed to attract a link or two back to your website from some influential bloggers in your niche

As a result:

  • your search engine rankings and website traffic jumped up a little
  • at the end of the month, you follow a similar path again
  • you concentrate on creating more valuable content that sends the same message to your target audience

All of a sudden your rankings and traffic jump a little higher again. Your audience is slowly building. You have a bunch more email subscribers keen to engage with your content on a regular basis…

You’re building on your efforts from the previous month.

Of course, SEO and content can be a slower process. It takes time, dedication, persistence and hard work to build an audience. Creating and promoting content that builds trust is difficult. Converting that trusted audience into online sales is another challenge again.

However, the long term ROI from a continual content marketing program can far outweigh the return from paid ads. Your grandma understood the power of compounding.

Flickr Image Courtesy Joe Shlabotnik

When she gave you that moneybox with a few dollars in it, she was teaching you how to save. She set you up a bank account and explained that the earlier you start saving the bigger your savings will be.

For the visually minded, or for those without a thrifty grandparent, here’s an almost condescendingly simple line graph:

Seo Traffic Compared To Ppc

For those who refuse to have accounting analogies referenced in anything to do with their lives, you might have preferred me to use something a little less boring to illustrate my point.

You’re in luck:


Over time the benefits of SEO and content investment exponentially outweigh advertising dollars. Although it starts off slow, your ROI eventually rockets further and further in front of paid ads (if you’re committed to long term quality).

The longer you commit to building and monetising your audience the bigger the difference becomes.

Of course, when building a sustainable business, diversifying your traffic and revenue sources is a smart idea.

So, broken record time – I’m not trying to turn you off PPC advertising. Incorporating paid advertising the right way helps you spread your risk and accelerate your results.

But that same grandma that taught you about compound interest probably told you to buy your own house instead of renting. Audiences are the same. You want to build your own, not keep paying to rent someone else’s.

In addition, SEO and content marketing allow you to build website traffic from a diverse range of sources. How you ask?

Let me explain – Round Two!

You’ve created valuable content that helps to solve problems for your target audience. So what makes this better than PPC?

Remember that big old snowball? Here goes:

  • Now you have some great content to promote on social media .
  • This helps you bring more traffic back to your site.
  • More social promotion can lead to mentions on popular forums and industry blogs.
  • These mentions help build links back to your website from influencers with big audiences made up of your target customers.
  • When these potential customers are introduced to your super helpful content, they head on over to your site.
  • If your new visitors like the cut of your content’s jib, you’ll be able to sign them up to receive regular email updates of more helpful goodness.
  • Each email opened, each piece of content clicked on means more people coming back to your site.

Suddenly you’re building an audience of subscribers that you can interact with again and again.

When you develop a relationship, your subscriber becomes loyal. To buy from a competitor would be akin to ecommerce adultery.

SEO and content marketing can build the audience that powers your other marketing channels

The Seo Content Marketing 360

The rising cost of Google ads is another serious consideration when comparing PPC and SEO (particularly for small businesses). There has been plenty written about the increasing cost of PPC, driven by increasing competition and less “real estate” available.

The strategy I recommend to our clients?

Get the wheel turning with PPC and invest simultaneously in SEO. We can speed up short term momentum and build for long term results and increasing ROI.

If you have a different approach, I’d love to hear it. Jump down and leave a comment telling me why I’m wrong and PPC is better. Gorillas love a good argument!

No matter how you use SEO and PPC, I wish you good luck online.

I’ve had enough three letter acronyms for my day (this post is starting to look like a teenager’s text message), so I’ll brb next week with another post.

By Scott Evans
As co-founder and Director of Gorilla 360, Scott has spent the last 12 years helping businesses grow through smart digital marketing.
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