SEO vs AdWords: Do You Want The Money Sooner Or Later?


SEO vs AdWords

When I first got into the online marketing industry back in 2005, most of the action was happening on the SEO front.

Clients were fully focussed on getting page 1 rankings (preferrably page 1, position 1) on the organic side of Google, and the volume of clicks you got if you were at position #1 (or similar) was substantial.

It was essentially a free ticket to success for most web site owners, given the amount of visitors they would get to their site at that kind of level.

Added to which, it wasn’t mega-difficult to achieve good rankings for fairly competitive keywords with the sort of SEO we did back then.

I guess after all those years of business owners being raped by Yellow Pages for their advertising, having to spend as little as $400 a month with us for introductory SEO seemed like a good deal (as long as they got the rankings of course).

However, even back then the biggest challenge was time.

The length of time it took to actually achieve results was not short. 3-6 months was a fairly normal time frame before you started to see some movement, and if the client didn’t really understand how SEO worked and why it took time to achieve results, they would be on your case by the end of week 3 if they weren’t #1!

Trust me. That WAS painful (and yes, we DID have some clients like that).

Anyway, even back then I knew the value of AdWords compared to SEO.

Yes, it cost money everytime someone clicked on your ads, and yes, there was no guarantee of getting a lead or sale from each click (not that SEO can offer a guarantee like that either).

HOWEVER, the big advantage it offered was speed to market.

I could have a client’s website getting traffic and potentially ranking near the top of the page (if their budget was right for the job) on day 1, whereas if they signed up for SEO, they wouldn’t be likely to see a click on their priority keywords until month 3-6 in most cases. Yes, it was sometimes cheaper, and yes, once you had the rankings the clicks were essentially (not totally true – see below) free.

One of my first real examples of this in action was with a travel accommodation site (well, actually 7 in the family) for an Australian couple living in Rome, Italy.

Jill and Leon Kammer had a serious need for targeted traffic, as it was costing a lot of money to keep their Italy-Accom series of sites live but with not enough traffic.

So, they signed up with us for SEO, but also decided to give me a shot at AdWords as well.

Within a week, they were getting clicks to their sites, leads, and in a fairly short time – sales – all from Google AdWords.

On the other hand, the SEO results they wanted would take in excess of 1 year for some of their primary keywords to reach high positions on page 1.

So, the point of all this is to simply make the point:

If you have spent time & money on building an online presence and you are trying to decide between AdWords and SEO, I always have 1 and only 1 question for you:

“Do you want the money sooner or later?”

In other words, using AdWords means you can begin making money on your investment straight away vs waiting 3 – 6 – 12 months or more for SEO results to start kicking in.

Moving forward 7 or 8 years, things are VERY different now.

SEO has become a super-tough game to play, with all of Google’s ongoing changes to how the organic listings are now ranked.

Yes, AdWords has become more complex as well, and DEFINITELY more expensive, BUT it’s still your best choice for speed to market and control over your destiny.

Here’s some thoughts to consider, when making your decision:

1) They (SEO & AdWords) are 2 different approaches to getting traffic from Google.

2) They BOTH cost money. Don’t fall for the old SEO “pitch” of the traffic being free. It costs money to get your site to a high enough ranking on Google that you get “free” traffic from SEO. AND, it usually costs money on an ongoing basis to maintain those SEO rankings. It never lasts forever.

3) SEO is a long term strategy. It’s rare to see results in less than 3 – 6 months and if it’s a highly competitive keyword like “real estate perth” or “home builder perth,” it could potentially take you 1-2 years to get to near the top of page 1. If you’re paying a professional SEO firm to do that work, it might cost $1-2K per month (or more) for those 1-2 years. For more competitive terms like “real estate” or “home builder” it might be even more expensive (maybe $5K/month or more?) and possibly also take longer.

4) The other BIG problem with SEO is that it’s entirely dependent on Google and their ranking algorithms. They change them on a regular basis, and in the last 5+ years there’s been a lot of focus on getting rid of spam and junk listings in the Google index. If your SEO provider does ANYTHING dodgy (often called Grey or Black Hat), you run the very real risk of having your site listings penalised from page 1 to page 54 in the blink of an eye. Even mega international companies have had this done to them due to their SEO agency indulging (cheating) in black hat techniques (BMW & Interflora UK are 2 big examples – see for some more).

5) 2 particularly common black hat SEO techniques which are still practised by many SEO firms claiming to be “white hat” are:

a. Getting links from fake blog networks (often called blog or content farms) to help grow your site’s link popularity (or “authority”) with Google. This was always done because it’s cheap and easy to get links this way. Now however, Google has penalised most of the big link farms on the web, which means any benefit you WERE getting from those links is now gone. PLUS, you run the risk of having Google also penalise your site even further for participating in such a scheme.

i. I’m now seeing SEO firms claim they have their own “private SAFE network of sites” for link building. Here’s a word for word quote from 1 supposedly white hat Australian SEO agency to me on the subject recently “…a very few smarter agencies have done, by building their own websites, (Thousands of them) and constantly adding content and growing those sites, whilst limiting the number of links they pass off the site, in order to maintain high link juice for the few links they give, and maintain integrity of the domain.” Unfortunately for them, if it hasn’t already happened, Google WILL catch up with them eventually, as they are still content farms, whichever way you look at it. If it looks and sounds too good, chances are it IS too good. Buyer beware!

b. The other common practise is the creation of cheap article content for publication on a client’s site AND/OR offsite for link building purposes. A 500 word article can be purchased from a cheap international outsourcer for as little as $5. SEO companies then “spin” these articles (rewrite them over & over to say much the same thing, just in different words) for publication on link building networks across the internet, and add links back to their client’s site in each published spun article. As mentioned in this Wikipedia entry on “article spinning” “Contrary to popular opinion, until 2010, Google did not penalize web sites that have duplicated content on them, but the advances in filtering techniques mean that duplicate content will rarely feature well in SERPS. In 2010 and 2011, changes to Google’s search algorithm targeting content farms aim to penalize sites containing significant duplicate content”

6) Those SEO firms practising SAFE, WHITE HAT, GOOGLE FRIENDLY techniques tend to charge a fair bit more than those who aren’t, because this kind of SEO is both skilled manpower AND time intensive. You don’t get something for nothing, so if you don’t want to run the risk of having your thousands or tens of thousands of dollars of SEO work destroyed in the flick of a switch by a change in Google’s algorithm, then you cannot take the risk of using any SEO tactics that are disapproved by Google. For more information on Google’s rules of what constitutes quality SEO vs. spam tactics, visit – Matt Cutts is head of the Search Quality group at Google, whose primary focus is to find and penalise web spam, and (as a consequence) improve the quality of Google’s search results.

7) While on the subject of SEO and the colour of its hat, this article is a slightly different but very sensible take on the subject

8) One last item on the subject of SEO. It is an ever-changing game with Google. They consistently update and modify their algorithms, so what works now for SEO is not guaranteed to work in 6, 12 or even 24 months. It’s a never-ending war between Google and web spammers (whether from an SEO agency or an individual) to try and one-up each other. That means things will NOT remain static. Anything except pure squeaky clean white hat SEO is building on a foundation of cards, and the slightest shudder of the surface will bring it all crashing to the ground!

9) Now, onto Google AdWords… Yes, it costs money. Every click costs money. Every click forever more will cost money! There’s no way around that, so be prepared to spend money for as long as you want the benefit of AdWords traffic. Depending on what keywords you are bidding on, it’s expensive in some cases. For example, I’m currently running a campaign where every click costs $10-$15 each! We spend a lot each month because of this… That means we need to make a lot of sales each month, just to break even! Obviously, less competitive &/or less expensive market categories won’t have to spend that much, but some have to spend even more!

10) However, one of the biggest advantages of AdWords vs. SEO is that it’s effectively instant (as mentioned above). You can turn a campaign on and start getting traffic the first day! Even for the highly competitive SEO keywords that might take 6-12 months just to get to page 1, let alone position 1 on page 1! This allows smart businesses to begin generating leads & sales in the first day (or week or month, depending on their market) from their AdWords campaign, whereas any SEO campaign is not going to produce any traffic, let alone leads/sales for 3-6 months minimum, maybe a lot more. Using AdWords is how you generate a return on the investment made in your website AND online marketing budget fast.

11) AdWords is a lot more targeted. You can change the ad which shows on Google any time you like (you can’t do that with SEO) and you can also change the landing page it targets immediately (which you can’t do with SEO either). That gives you the flexibility to react to changes in market conditions, offer special deals for limited time events (for example, Christmas, Easter, Royal Show, etc.) and so forth. I once set up a one-time ad in 15 mins targeting the name of the horse that had just won the Melbourne Cup. The campaign was selling memorabilia that could be customised by the client. Within 10 mins of the finish of the big race, we had our first sale of memorabilia with the winning horse’s name on it. You could NEVER do that with SEO!

12) With AdWords, you can target 1 or 1,000 or even 100,000 different keywords with highly relevant ads. With SEO, it’s very difficult (and expensive) to do more than 1-150 keywords at best. Only firms with huge SEO budgets (like for example) can afford to effectively target much larger numbers of different keywords.

13) With AdWords, you can quickly test different ad messages, different landing pages and so forth, to find the combination that produces the highest conversion rate (or ROI). SEO is too slow to do this, and in fact, most serious players do all the testing using AdWords first and THEN roll out those results into their SEO campaign to increase the overall effectiveness of the website.

About the author 

Eran Malloch

  1. Great article, I really can’t fault your reasoning here.

    In my experience running SEM campaigns for small-medium businesses, PPC campaigns have always yielded the fastest, highest-volume and more importantly most accountable RoI than any SEO campaigns. A good balance between both SEO and PPC is a good business model, but it takes months to see any results from SEO and the cost often outweighs the return.

  2. Great article. Your last point is one of the most important and I’m surprised you waited till the very end to talk about it. You’re leaving money on the table if you don’t test EVERYTHING. With SEO, that’s just not practical. You need the speed of Adwords to do any kind of testing.

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