last Updated 13 July 2020

What’s the Difference Between PPC and SEO (and which is better)

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If you're confused about how search engine optimisation (SEO) differs from pay-per-click advertising (PPC), and which one would win in a fight, then you are not alone.

Many people don’t know the difference and, even if they do, they may struggle to understand the pros and cons of each system. That’s not surprising, as both SEO and PPC do a similar job but in different ways.

Businesses use SEO or PPC to get their website to show up on page one of Google when their products or services are searched for by a potential customer. 

PPC ads are a feature of all the major search engines. On Google, the platform which is used to run PPC campaigns is called Google Ads

A Google search will result in PPC adverts being shown at the top and bottom of the page. These adverts are often referred to as the paid search results. Organic results (also sometimes called natural results) will be shown on the rest of the page.

This screenshot of a search for "ice cream van insurance" illustrates this. I've highlighted the PPC results at the top and bottom with a red border and the organic results have been given a green border.

Google search engine results page with PPC results highlighted in red and organic search results highlighted in green

SEO is for Organic Search Results

If you want your website to appear in the organic results you will need to convince Google that your website:

  • is highly relevant for the particular phrase that has been searched
  • has a high level of authority.

This is achieved by doing SEO.

PPC is for Paid Search Results

To run PPC campaigns and appear in the paid search results you will need to create a Google Ads account. And you'll need to be willing to pay each time someone clicks on your advert and is taken through to your website.

When you use Google Ads, you write your own adverts and choose which keywords should trigger your ads to be shown to searchers. You also get to specify the maximum amount you are willing to pay for each click. Google then uses an auction system to decide whether to show one of your ads each time someone runs a search on Google which matches one of your keywords

difference between ppc and seo - What’s the Difference Between PPC and SEO (and which is better)

Which is Better - SEO or PPC?

As you might expect, there's no simple answer to that question; nor is is it always easy to say whether it's going to be PPC or SEO which will win in the fight to get your website to deliver the most sales or leads.

Both SEO and PPC have their pros and cons, the main ones being as follows:

Pros and Cons of SEO


  • There is no cost when someone clicks through to your website from the organic results. 
  • You get exposure in multiple search engines. If you carry out SEO with the aim of getting high rankings on Google, you will probably start to rank higher on other search engines too.
  • If you put time and effort into SEO today and achieve good rankings, you can continue to reap the rewards in terms of increased traffic for years  to come even if you scale back your efforts for a while.
  • Some people say that they prefer to click on organic results because they feel they are more trustworthy.


  • There is a cost in terms of the time, effort and content marketing required for SEO to be effective.
  • It can take 3-6 months before your website will start to rank highly in organic search results
  • You will need to know how to edit some of the meta tag data on your website, optimise images, and create new onsite content.
  • Ultimately it is Google’s algorithm which determines whether a particular website will rank well on Google or not. An SEO expert can do all the right things but there can never be any guarantee that Google will respond in the desired way.
difference between ppc and seo - What’s the Difference Between PPC and SEO (and which is better)

Pros and Cons of PPC


  • Once your PPC campaign is created, you can expect to be on page one of Google within a few hours.
  • PPC results on Google appear above the organic results. So if you want to get to the very top then PPC with Google Ads is the only way to do it.
  • You can normally launch a PPC campaign without having to make any technical changes to your website.
  • If you want to guarantee getting on page one of Google then you need to use PPC and run Google Ads rather than relying on SEO.


  • Used correctly, PPC is very cost effective. But it is very easy for a beginner to rack up huge costs without seeing any return on investment.
  • If you want exposure on multiple search engines you’ll have to set up PPC campaigns for each different search engine.
  • To avoid wasting money you must regularly monitor you PPC campaigns and keep optimising your bids, keywords and ads.
  • The moment you stop funding your Google Ads account your PPC ads will stop appearing and your traffic will dry up.


SEO and PPC both have some significant benefits and disadvantages. For that reason, I usually find that although people might start off by focusing on one or the other, most successful clients ultimately end up using both SEO and PPC. That way they enjoy the best of both worlds and maximise their exposure on all search engines.

But what if you don't have enough time and/or money to do both SEO and PPC right from the start?


Well, if you're working with a limited budget and don't mind putting in several months of effort while waiting for your website to take off, then you're best off sticking with SEO.

But if you want to hit the ground running and start getting leads and sales right now then you should seriously consider allocating a budget for PPC and making use of Google Ads. Just make sure you learn how it works first of all, otherwise you will lose money.

About the author 

David Miles

As a digital marketing consultant, author and trainer, I specialise in helping businesses in the financial services sector use the internet to get more enquiries and increase profits.

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