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March 3, 2009
Ali or Frazier? Microsoft or Apple? Republican or Democrat? All tough choices. But perhaps the toughest choice marketers are struggling with today is, SEO or PPC?
For those not in-the-know, SEO, or search engine optimization, best describes the practice by which Web publishers drive free, organic traffic via search engines like Google and Yahoo! PPC, or pay-per-click and sometimes called SEM or search engine marketing, is the strategy by which you can buy traffic via search engines like Google on a, you guessed it, pay-per-click basis. For example, you sell red shoes and decide to buy the term "red shoes," so whenever someone goes on Google and types in "red shoes," your ad shows-up. These listings are typically highlighted and tagged with "Sponsored Links," indicating that it's advertising. Cost is dependent upon the competitiveness of the key phrase and the popularity of your ad.
Fortunately, the choice isn't one or the other. And savvy marketers are utilizing both options to drive targeted traffic and turn a positive return on their investment. It's more peanut butter and jelly than Yankees or Red Sox. However, for the sake of this post, we'll look at the challenge of picking one and the benefits of each in making such a decision. Let's start with PPC.
PPC Benefits
1. Immediate. Google and other search engines make it ridiculously easy to start an account, set-up an ad and begin running that ad within 15 minutes of posting. SEO, in contrast, is typically a much longer process, so if you want to start driving competitive traffic today, PPC is usually the way to go. This is also advantageous if you're promoting a contest or other timely event where waiting isn't an option and there's an expiration date.
2. Geo-targeting. Let's say you're an employer in Atlanta, Georgia. You need a wide variety of area workers, but buying a general term like "jobs" and driving traffic from all over the world doesn't exactly make sense. PPC, particularly on Google, enables you to target your advertising to specific locations. So, that same employer could buy a terms like "jobs," but choose to only have the ad show-up for searchers in Georgia or Atlanta only.
3. Network exposure. You've likely been to a web site and seen a listing of text ads with an "Ads by Google" at the bottom. This is Google AdSense. These are publishers who have opted-in to have Google's PPC advertising on their site. Ads are served based on a page's content so they're targeted in nature to the intent of the user. Sites big and small are in this network and revenue is shared when users click. This enables advertisers to get in front of an audience they wouldn't otherwise be in front of. It's particularly nice for employers who are always looking to get in front of passive job seekers who are already employed and not actively looking for opportunities, but may be open to something if it falls in their lap.
4. Evolution. PPC is a cash-cow for sites like Google and others are hoping to follow suit. For example, popular social networks like Facebook and MySpace or video bohemoths like YouTube all offer some form of PPC advertising. In addition, Google is broadening its reach into things like television and radio, which, although not specifically a PPC model, is similar in nature. Therefore, choosing PPC opens up a whole world of opportunity in driving relevant traffic to your site.
5. Control. With advertising you manage your budget, ad copy, landing pages and the like. This control enables companies to manage their spending and return to an exact science, which is particular key for e-commerce sites.
6. Forget algorithms. With PPC, the fear of Google dropping your site because of a change in how pages are ranked or your competitor out-optimizing you from the rankings is unimportant. You're going to get traffic no matter what search engines do with their organic search results.
7. Support. Search engines want your money. As a result, they offer a plethora of resources to help you get the most out of your marketing experience. For newbies, this kind of hand-holding can be priceless. SEO, in contrast, offers little support outside of a general guideline; there's no help line to call for information on why your site doesn't rank as well as another.
SEO Benefits
1. Where the clicks happen. A recent Hitwise report revealed only 9 percent of Googlers actually clicked on PPC ads when doing searches within the employment sector. That means even if you're spending a ton of money for exposure, you're only getting a sliver of traffic if you had ranked organically for the same key phrase. Human behavior dictates distrust in advertising and PPC is no different.
2. Ownership. Is it better to rent or to own? There's a fair argument that PPC is akin to renting. Once you stop paying, your traffic ceases. SEO, on the other hand, is the gift that keeps on giving. Time and money spent optimizing your Web site will likely pay dividends for months and years to come. For potential acquisition targets, organic search traffic is a direct value to most buyers.
3. Trust. Whether fair or not, people trust Google to be a gatekeeper for what destinations are trusted and which aren't. Sites with high rankings on organic search have Google's seal of approval, which means a lot in today's cluttered world of information and advertising. It's a type of third party endorsement or testimonial. As a result, conversion rates from organic search rankings tend to be higher than PPC ads when searching information. In the employment sector, where phishing scams run rampant, a level of trust is that much more important.
4. Exclusivity. SEO is a competitive practice where the number of people doing it well is small when compared to the vast number of sites on the Web and those being born as I type this article. Becoming an expert and effectively taking advantage of SEO tactics can put you head and shoulders above the masses of advertisers entering the fray on a regular basis and driving up costs as a result. And SEOs perception of difficultly keeps a lot of would-be SEOs out of the game, making such exclusivity a great advantage.
5. Cost. This one gets a little tricky because of the extensive number of keywords out there, but by-and-large SEO is cheaper than PPC, especially over the long haul. For example, I have a client who spends about 80 percent of their search marketing budget on PPC but gets about 75 percent of their search traffic via organic results. This helps make SEO a bargain in comparison.
For me, SEO is the winner. I prefer being where the clicks happen, investing in a site for the long haul and keeping costs down. However, for others - particularly those selling something - PPC may be the clear choice. However, again, most marketers agree that a healthy mix of both is a sound decision. It's up to each individual publisher to find a balance that suits them best.

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Cheezhead founder Joel Cheesman is one of the most widely read bloggers on emerging recruitment issues in the world. He has been featured in Fast Company, Workforce Management, AIRS, Crain’s Business, BusinessWeek, Resumes for Dummies, U.S. News & World Report and The Wall Street Journal. He is also the founder of HRSEO and mJob.

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