What’s The Difference Between PPC And SEO?

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PPC, SEO, SEM… The list of acronyms related to Internet marketing seems to grow by the day. As a business owner, you may be excused if it all sounds ridiculously confusing.

Thankfully, this easy-to-understand, plain-English guide will help you make sense out of it all!

Internet Marketing Basics

Internet marketing is based on two basic concepts: One, that you want more visitors to your website. And two, that you have to find a way to get them there. But how do you achieve that, with so many competing websites out there?

There are two main ways of getting people to prefer your website over your competitor’s.

The simple one is to just post lots of interesting content and wait for search engines to pick this up. When they do, you will rank higher on their results page.

The goal is to appear on the first page, as this will exponentially increase your visitors. This kind of traffic is called organic. Just like organic veggies use no pesticides, organic traffic uses no advertising to promote a website.

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, includes all the ways to increase your organic traffic.

There is, however, a faster way of increasing your visitors: paid traffic. As the name suggests, paid traffic involves paying for Ads to be displayed on the Search Engines’ Results Pages (referred to as SERP).

PPC, or Pay-Per-Click, is the model related to paid traffic.

What Is SEM?

SEM stands for Search Engine Management. The term covers pretty much anything you can do to help your website get more traffic, including SEO and PPC.

Confusingly, SEM is sometimes used to refer to paid Ads alone. The term is then used interchangeably with PPC or “Paid Ads.” In this article, we use the original definition: SEM is the umbrella term which covers both SEO and PPC.

There are thousands of companies specializing in SEM and their numbers can only grow as evermore websites are added, competing for a high spot on SERP.

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What Is SEO?

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, refers to the organic ways (i.e. not using Ads) you can make your website show up higher on a search engine’s result pages.

Search engines like Google, Bing or Yahoo only care about one thing: that visitors find what they want as fast as possible. Satisfied visitors will come back to them when they conduct another search, thus helping search engines grow.

To ensure this happens, search engines monitor closely what happens when someone searches for something: how far down do they go? Do they find it on the first page or do they have to keep searching? If they click on a link, do they stay on the visited website or do they bounce away (thus indicating a poor result)?

All this data impacts your ranking with the search engines. If visitors to your website leave after just a few seconds, a search engine may surmise that you have poor quality information, a bad design, or other problems which turn people away. As a result, they will give your position on their SERP to one of your competitors with a higher ranking.

SEO refers to anything you can do to avoid this.

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Improving your search engine rankings

Improving search engine rankings

The best thing you can do to improve your ranking is to produce high-quality content on a regular basis.

This is best done by adding a blog to your website. When you blog often, you generate a lot of content. Search engines favour fresh content over stale one.

Your increased visibility on search engines will lead more people to visit you. The more people visit you, and the longer they stay, the higher you will rank on search engines. This creates a virtuous circle.

There are several other things you can do to improve your ranking, such as clear navigation. Visitors don’t want to hunt around for information. Also, older domains have an advantage, as they have an established reputation. That’s why some entrepreneurs buy existing domains with good rankings instead of starting from scratch.

Your web developer may also have a few tricks up their sleeve. For example, they may add a sitemap and submit it to search engines, thus speeding up the indexing process and cutting down the time it takes search engines to notice your webpages.

It also helps if you have many people linking to you (“inbound links”) and a few high-value, high-relevance outgoing ones (“outbound links”). Web developers may also add keywords such as “alt” tags to your images or other so-called meta data.

If you need help boosting your SEO, check out our Hike SEO review and our FATJOE review.

While SEO can be both highly technical and esoteric, the goal is simple enough: to improve your position on the search engine’s results page.

That’s because your position on SERP—Search Engine Results Page—is crucial. The top website gets one-third of all traffic.

However, the competition for it is fierce. So, how do you make sure your website will show up even if you can’t afford to fully optimize your website?

This is where PPC comes into play.

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What Is PPC?

While PPC, or Pay-Per-Click, covers any kind of paid website promotion on search engines, it usually refers to Google Ads.

To better understand PPC, you have to understand the way search engines choose which Ad to display on their SERP.

Every time you search for something, your keywords trigger a mini bidding war. This behind-the-scenes fighting is over in a fraction of a second but it’s brutal. It takes into account dozens of parameters, including your Ad’s ranking, your website’s ranking, how high you bid, etc.

Once a victorious Ad has emerged, it has the privilege of appearing on the SERP, while the rest of the Ads have a chance to fight again the next time someone enters a trigger keyword.

The reason this process is so cutthroat is that the Ad’s owner (i.e. you) won’t have to pay anything until someone actually clicks on the Ad. So, it’s in the search engine’s interest to display only the most relevant Ads, as any irrelevant one will take up precious advertising space without making them any money.

However, this is good news for you: you have a foolproof way of getting your website in front of people, no matter how good or bad your SEO is.

Are Paid Search And PPC The Same?

Paid Search and PPC

Technically speaking, PPC is the paying model which governs the display of paid Ads in search engines.

However, the terms “Paid Search” and PPC are often used interchangeably and most people assume they refer to the same thing: paid Ads—specifically, Google Ads.

What Is The Difference Between Google Ads And PPC?

While Google Ads are probably the best-known example of PPC, they are just one of many. The PPC model is used on any kind of Internet Ads, from Bing to Facebook. So, PPC is a broader term than Google Ads.

The PPC model has proven successful for two main reasons:

One, the business owner only pays for every click to their website. This keeps costs low, compared to an earlier model whereby business owners paid every time someone viewed their Ad, regardless of whether anyone clicked on them or not.

Second, when your PPC campaigns are well-designed and running smoothly, they are also economical: visits are worth more to your business than what you pay for them.

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Which Is Better, PPC Or SEO?

Now that you understand what PPC and SEO are all about, you may wonder which one might suit your business best. Unfortunately, the answer is not as clear-cut as you may wish.

Pay-per-click marketing is a way of using search engine advertising to generate clicks to your website, rather than “earning” those clicks organically. The very name makes it clear that there is a cost involved. Also implied is that, the moment you stop paying, you stop appearing on the search engine’s results page.

This may make it less appealing than organic traffic. However, it doesn’t mean that SEO is cost-free. Coming up with fresh content regularly is a lot of work.

While keeping well-informed about anything relating to your area of business is certainly a good thing, there may be times when you wish to focus on your core business: keeping your clients happy. If you have a big project or a deadline coming up, stopping to read up on developments in your line of business and blogging about them can be an unwelcome distraction.

That’s why many prefer to outsource their blogs. Which, of course, involves a fee. So, SEO can be costly as well, both in terms of time and money.

Also, SEO is slow to catch on: if you write once a week, you’ll only have some 50 posts after a whole year’s work. Compared to the thousands of pages other websites have, your website may, for a long time, be too small to rank highly on search engines.

PPC And SEO Working Together

PPC and SEO Working Together

The best kind of SEM balances paid Ads and SEO for maximum effect and efficiency.

PPC campaigns can generate traffic fast, helping you get clients right away. While they can boost results, though, they require an advertising budget.

Building organic traffic is time-consuming and requires constant effort. However, once you have established a presence on search engines, you no longer have to pay them to be displayed on their SERP. So, it may suit a businessman who’s on a tighter advertising budget but has some free time.

Whatever your preferred balance between PPC and SEO, SEM is something every business must master. You can find some great ideas on promoting your business online in our article, “How to promote your business on Google.”


Here are some key terms you need to understand Internet marketing:

Organic traffic: Traffic which comes from a search engine without having to pay for Ads.

Paid Ads: Paid promotion that displays your website information on a search engine’s results pages.

PPC: Pay-Per-Click. The paying model which governs the display of paid Ads in search engines.

Ranking: A number which tells a search engine how important your website is. A high ranking means you will appear at the top of SERP, thus generating a lot of organic traffic.

SEM: Search Engine Management. The umbrella term which covers a website’s Internet promotion. However, some use it interchangeably with Paid Ads.

SEO: Search Engine Optimization. The term covers all the organic ways to optimize your position within a search engine’s results pages.

SERP: Search Engine’s Results Page(s). The page(s) you see when you conduct a search on a search engine.

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Business4Beginners has been advising new businesses owners since 2013. The founder, Paul Bryant, has created, grown and sold several successful businesses and remains the editor and fact-checker of all content published on the site.
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