SEO vs PPC: When To Use Each?

November 2, 2021

In most business, the overarching objective of digital marketing is to drive traffic to your website with the intention of converting these leads into sales. With this in mind, Google provides you with two ways to market your business on their search engine results page (SERP), by using Search Engine Optimisation or Pay-Per-Click (SEO vs PPC) Marketing. But how different are these marketing two models? How do you know which strategy works best for you?

Before we break down the differences between these two marketing tools for you, let us go through some basics of digital marketing.

PPC is a component of Search Engine Marketing (SEM), which includes any form of paid listings on the search engine. Other common SEM activities are Paid search ads, Cost-Per-Click (CPC), Cost-Per-Impressions (CPM). 

Both SEO and PPC are part of the overarching digital marketing model of search marketing, as they both operate by making use of strategic keywords to increase the visibility of the website. In this article, we dive deep into SEO vs PPC, and the unique qualities about them. 

1.Difference in Definition

PPC Definition

PPC is essentially paid advertising – you participate in an auction by informing Google how much you are willing to pay for the advertising space for a specific and targeted keyword on the SERP. However, you will only be charged every time someone clicks on your advertisement.

SEO Definition

SEO is the organic way to rank in the SERP. The SEO investment revolves around spending time and energy in optimiSing your website, and does not involve any financial commitment. SEO competency includes being able to provide relevant content to the users while also being able to relay to the search algorithm that your business or brand is of authority in the particular subject matter.


2. Difference in SERP Visibility

PPC Visibility

Your PPC ads will be placed at the top of the SERP, and will be tagged with a green colour “Ad” icon to indicate that it is a paid ad (see below). If you have indicated your business address, your ad can also be placed in the location listing. Additionally, Google will also place three more paid ads at the bottom of the SERP. Paid Ads has more real estate on the SERP than websites that solely rely on SEO.

PPC placement and SEO placement

2 PPC placement and SEO placement

SEO Visibility

Websites that are reliant on SEO will always find their website sandwiched between the PPC-driven websites. As you are not paying any money for a space on the Google SERP, your website will always be second priority after the PPC ads. Websites with high relevancy scores will be displayed first which means that you will need to put in much effort and time to organically work your way to be ranked on the first page and also on top of the SERP. 


3. Difference in Keyword Research

Keywords refer to a word or a set of words that users type into google when performing a search. The types of keywords that are part of PPC and SEO are different and play different functions. The keyword research process will slightly differ as well depending on the strategy that is utilised.

For both PPC and SEO, we will make use of Keyword Planner which is a free keyword research tool provided by Google Ads. To gain access to this tool, you simply need to have a Google account and register your business on the Google Account. One of the benefits of using this tool is that it can be used for both PPC and SEO. 

To use the tool, simply insert the keyword that you are researching. You may also input multiple keywords at once, but in this example, for both PPC and SEO, we shall only use the keyword “Cake”. Make sure that the search settings are accurate. We would also advice for you to select the filter “Show closely related ideas”. This will give you a list of keyword terms that may be more suitable for use.

Keyword Planner Example

Immediately, you will be provided with very useful data that you can use to provide you with better direction in your keyword research. We will discuss further how you can use the data to provide more structure into your keyword research.

PPC Keywords

In PPC, the key metric that you will need to look at are :

  • Average Monthly Searches
  • Competition 
  • Top of page bid (both low and high ranges) 

Average Monthly Searches provides you with the volume of potential customers that have shown interest in your business. Competition shows you the level of difficulty in ranking. Top of the page bid will give you the approximate cost-per-click (CPC) bids that your competitors are paying for each keyword. In this example, we will compare the keywords “carrot cake” and “cake shop”. 

eyword Planner SEO Example

The first thing you should do is to sort the results in descending order of the average monthly searches. This will make it easier to discern which keywords you should focus on. 

The two keywords highlighted have the same volume of monthly searches but different competition levels. The bid range also differs slightly. At first glance, it would seem rational to bid for the keyword “Carrot Cake” due to its low competition. The higher your bid price, the better your chances of your ad being shown first. In this case, the difference in bid is quite minimal, so it is up to you to decide which keyword is more relevant to your business. Keep in mind that Google also takes into account many other factors in determining if your ad should be placed on top.

If the keyword term “Carrot Cake” is not relevant to your business, do not try to bid for it as Google will also take into consideration the relevancy of your website to the keyword chosen. Low relevancy scores will result in your ad not being shown and your keyword research effort will prove to be futile. 

SEO Keywords

For SEO, the key metric that you will need to look at are :

  • Average Monthly Searches, 
  • Competition

Average Monthly Searches provides you with the volume of potential customers that have shown interest in your business. Competition shows you the level of difficulty in ranking. In this example, we will compare the keywords “carrot cake” and “cake shop”. 

Keyword Planner PPC Example

The first thing you should do is to sort the results in descending order of the average monthly searches. This will make it easier to discern which keywords you should focus on. 

The two keywords highlighted have the same volume of monthly searches but different competition levels. Rationally, it would make sense to try to rank for keywords with low competition but relatively high search volume. However, do ensure the relevancy of the keyword to your business. Low competition does not necessarily mean easy ranking. Google still takes into account the relevancy of the keyword to the user. 

4. Difference in Keyword Types

PPC – Keyword Types 

Keywords in PPC have taken on a customised level where you are able to control and further refine the keywords that you have chosen. These are called keyword match types, which can be categorised as such:

Keyword Types PPCSource: Google Support

In general, the broad match will show your ads to a wider audience, while the exact match will narrow it down to specific groups of customers. The broad match is the default match type that your keywords will be assigned to. A good tip would always be to cast a wider net through your keyword and start with a broad match type before narrowing down to a specific user group.

Another category of match type that you can consider using are the “Negative Keywords”. These are keywords that informs Google to block out irrelevant traffic from seeing your ad. The special symbol is a negative sign “-” that is placed in front of the keyword. Example of such keyword is “”-pie” if your bakery does not sell pies.

SEO – Keyword Types

There are various types of keywords that you can use in SEO. Keywords in SEO generally ties in very closely with the user intention of the searcher. When deciding on keywords, always be mindful of the end goal of the user and the purpose behind the keywords used.

Some of the types of keywords that you can consider using are:

4.1 Branded or Product Keywords

These are keywords that contain your brand name, such as “Jane’s Sweet Shop”, or contains the specific product name, such as “Jane’s Rich Chocolate Cake”. It is recommended to add in branded keywords to increase your brand awareness. Ideally, you should strive to rank at the top with your branded keywords. Adding the product keywords will also allow customers to find the specific products via search.

4.2 Geo-Targeted Keywords

These are keywords that identifies the location of the business. Customers who are looking for a particular product or business close to them will have a better chance to coming across your website first. An example is “Cake Shop in Singapore”.

4.3 Transactional Keywords

These are keywords that contains the purchasing intent of the customer, such as “buy chocolate cake”. This is a valuable type of keyword to use as customers who use these types of keywords are usually in the conversion phase of the purchasing funnel already.

4.4 Short-tail Keywords

These are keywords that consists of 1-2 words, such as “cake” or “birthday cake”. These types of keywords are very generic and have high competition levels. The user intention for such keywords are vague as you do not know if the user want to purchase a cake, or wants to know how to bake a cake. 

4.5 Long-tail Keywords

These are keywords that consists of 3 or more words to make up a phrase, such a “red velvet birthday cake”. These keywords are more specific and geared towards building quality traffic. The conversion rate of long-tail keywords are usually much higher than the short-tail keywords. 

Keyword Chart










The graph above shows the impact of short-tail and long-tail keywords. Short-tail keywords, generate high search volume but low conversion rate. This is because they are popular terms but with very vague search intention. Long-tail keywords have low search volume but high conversion rates. This is because customers who use longer phrases to search for what they are looking for has a specific need they want to fulfill. Thus, if your website contains keywords relevant to their search, they are more likely to convert.


5. Difference in Traffic  

PPC Traffic

PPC ads are able to quickly generate more clicks, but this will come at a cost, and the potential for conversion are not guranteed. Also take note that traffic will flow only as long as your PPC ads are running. Once you disable your ads, the traffic will also immediately stop. In essence, PPC ads will always bring your traffic, but the quality of traffic will depend on the types of keywords and the relevancy of the keywords chosen. If your ads are highly targeted and optimised, then PPC traffic will have a better chance of conversion. 

SEO Traffic

The traffic generated from your SEO efforts are all organic. This means that the people who are visiting your site via this channel are more likely to have placed their trust in your business since your high rank on Google SERP suggests high credibility. In essence, the traffic generated via SEO are usually considered to be of high quality and have high expected conversion levels.


6. Difference in ROI 


If you are just starting out, or are looking to getting fast results, PPC ads will be a good strategy to utilise. It is a good short-term strategy which when used correctly, can help to generate a steady ROI at a shorter time frame. This is a good strategy to use to jumpstart and further propel your SEO efforts. 


SEO is usually seen as a long-term strategy. Although technically, it is “free”, you should also consider and time and effort put into setting up a functional and solid SEO strategy. The ROI for your SEO efforts are a little difficult to measure. However, once you have a working SEO strategy in place, you will be able to see a continuous flow of high quality traffic 24/7. Patience is key as it might take months, or even years  before you start seeing positive results.


Both SEO and PPC strategy comes with their own sets of advantages and disadvantages. Instead of being too reliant on one type of strategy, it is advisable to work on both strategies at the same time. PPC is a great way to gain traffic quickly, but SEO is still the backbone of any good website. SEO may be a free method of gaining traffic, but the man hours and effort that goes into it should be taken into consideration as well. 

Both SEO and PPC are not easy to optimise for if you are not competent. A good trick that you may think about employing is to use PPC to quickly determine which keywords work for you and then use those keywords for your SEO strategy. Take note that this means that your SEO efforts are not entirely free, but you will gain a better understanding of your online customer base this way.

SEO and PPC are complementing strategies can can be used hand in hand. When utilised correctly, they can help boost the performance of one another. If you are keen, drop us a message and we will craft out a strategy that is unique to your business needs. 

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