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PPC vs. SEO: Similarities, Differences & How To Integrate

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

ppc vs seo

If you go by the mountains of digital marketing content online, PPC and SEO are completely separate and distinct—apples to oranges.

While there are certainly a lot of differences between the two marketing strategies, it is important to understand how PPC and SEO when paired together according to our experts, complement each other. And in this PPC Live UK guide, we’ll be giving you a crash course!

Ready to learn how to integrate your PPC and SEO strategies? Read on.

PPC vs. SEO: An Overview

We'll get to the nitty-gritty details in a bit—for now, here's your crash course in the basics of PPC and SEO.

Project management tool

PPC stands for “pay-per-click”—it's a form of online advertising where (you guessed it) you pay each time someone clicks on your ad. People are served your ads when they search for a keyword that you've bid on—hence the term “paid search”. The amount you pay is largely determined by how popular your keywords are.

Project management tools and software

SEO stands for “search engine optimization”—it's a way of optimizing your website and content (like videos, blogs, etc.) so they rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs), like Google and Bing. SEO focuses on making sure that your website is as relevant and accessible to search engines as possible, using tactics like keyword optimization and backlinking.

Both approaches involve targeting keywords—the difference is that PPC means paying for those keywords, and SEO means optimizing your website to rank higher for them.

The Differences Between PPC and SEO

As you can see, PPC and SEO have some major differences. Let's quickly run through the big ones:

Upfront Costs

PPC isn't free but doesn't necessarily incur any upfront costs aside from ad creation.

With SEO, you'll probably need to invest in some tools and services (like keyword research, backlinking, etc.) that help you optimize your content. Plus, you'll need people to actually create that content over an extended period of time before you start earning revenue (more on that later).

As a result, SEO is a much more expensive option in terms of upfront costs.

Running Costs

Both PPC and SEO have running costs, but the way those costs are incurred is very different.

PPC campaigns involve paying for each click (or impression), which means running costs are fairly linear in relation to the results you're generating.

Your ad got 100 clicks? That'll cost you (approximately) 100 times your bid price.

SEO running costs are much more variable—once you're generating organic traffic you'll be investing in keyword research, content creation, and link building on an as-needed basis. For less competitive keywords, you might not have any running costs.


PPC campaigns give you precise control over who sees your ads—you can use targeting options like demographic data, location, and device type to make sure your ads are being served to the right people at the right time.

SEO campaigns are much more difficult to target. Sure, you can create content with specific audiences in mind, but the way your content is served on SERPs is highly dependent on factors like competition and search engine algorithms.

Creative Visibility Speed

PPC campaigns are fast—as in pretty-much-instant fast.

Create your ads, set up your campaign, and your ads could start appearing within a day or two. Once your ads are being served, it is very possible to significantly affect results in as little as 3 months (especially with a bigger budget). Optimising PPC campaigns however does take a bit more patience, so expect the true outcome of a strategy to only start materialising closer to the 3 months mark or beyond.

SEO campaigns are a bit more… leisurely. It usually takes 4–6 months of dedicated content creation, keyword research, and optimization to see any results at all. And even then, there's no guarantee you'll see strong results until 12+ months into a campaign.

Ultimately, it can take years to experience the SEO dream scenario—high organic visibility at no cost to you. Still a lot longer than it would take for PPC to start showing reliable results.


As I mentioned earlier, the relationship between PPC costs and results is largely linear. Generating exponential ROIs through PPC is almost impossible because you're paying a set amount for each opportunity

SEO campaigns do have the potential to generate exponential ROIs.

HubSpot resume objective examples

See this HubSpot article? Don't let the date fool you—it was written in 2018. The content has remained unchanged for almost 6 years, yet it still holds the second spot on a fairly competitive SERP.


That means the content has been generating leads for a full 6 years—all without incurring any running costs (aside from an occasional repost).

How To Integrate PPC & SEO for Better Business Outcomes

Clearly, there are big differences between PPC and SEO. But as you've probably noticed, these differences actually mean PPC and SEO are quite complementary to each other.

By integrating PPC and SEO, you can maximise your reach and results while minimizing running costs.

Here's how.

1. Use PPC as a Launchpad

Launching an SEO campaign takes time and money—time and money that many new businesses don't have. Use PPC to get your content in front of the right people as soon as possible. This gives you a revenue stream that you can use to finance your SEO campaign.

2. Use PPC as a Research Tool

Rather than diving head first into an uninformed SEO campaign, use PPC to test the waters.

More specifically, use PPC to test the success of certain keywords, topics, messages, and audiences. Creating high-converting content is much easier when you know who your audience is, what they want to hear, and when they need to hear it.

3. Hand Expensive Keywords Off to SEO

As you optimize your PPC campaigns, you'll start to notice keywords that convert incredibly well—but are also incredibly expensive.

SEO is the perfect solution for these kinds of keywords. Since you know they're an effective way to connect with motivated buyers, you can create content that will rank for those keywords and get organic leads.

And since SEO costs aren't keyword or competition dependent, you can create your content without spending a fortune.

4. Retarget Organic Leads With PPC

People (usually) click on your content when they're interested in what you have to offer. As a result, website visitors who don't convert are a highly profitable audience—one that you can retarget with PPC ads.

Your organic content will help create an initial connection, while your PPC ads can be used to bring them back and encourage them to convert. The result is a system that effectively narrows your target audience and increases your conversion rate.

5. Share Data & Insights

Both PPC and SEO campaigns generate mountains of data—things like keyword trends, CPCs, CTRs, audience insights, etc.

Don't be stingy with that data. Not every data point will be applicable across channels, but some will be.

Take messaging and value propositions—both approaches use these to communicate to audiences. If you notice that a certain headline is really resonating with organic leads, try using it in a PPC ad. Similarly, if a certain PPC ad is performing significantly better than the others, take notes and see if you can apply those insights to your organic content.

Is Your Strategy Suffering From Tunnel Vision?

The differences between PPC and SEO are undeniable—but the advantages of integrating them are just as clear.

By combining the reach of PPC with the long-term advantages of SEO, you can create a powerful system that will generate leads and ROIs for years to come. So don't get tunnel vision when it comes to digital marketing—you may be missing out on major benefits!

To ensure that you are alerted to when more detailed & implementable pieces of content like this gets released, subscribe to our weekly newsletter to get PPC news that will unleash your true PPC potential.


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