As any digital marketing expert already knows, even the best products and services in the world don’t sell themselves.
They need help getting found by exactly the type of people looking to buy them, and that’s where tried and true solutions like SEO and Google Ads come in.
But what’s the real difference between them? Is one better than the other, or does a good digital marketing campaign really need to involve both?
Here we’ll go over everything you need to know to understand SEO vs Google Ads, including how best to use them both to meet your digital marketing goals.
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What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
The term SEO — short for “search engine optimization” — refers to a collection of techniques, strategies, and best practices for helping a website rank as well as possible on relevant SERPs (search engine results pages).
Most search engine users barely even glance at most of the results a particular search query might return.
A whopping 54.4 percent of clicks go straight to the top three results, and only a small percentage of search engine users ever bother checking out the results on page two.
That said, it’s really not enough to make the first page of a Google search result. You want to achieve as high a rank for your site as possible and break the top three if possible.
SEO helps you do that via techniques like:
Although best SEO practices tend to evolve and change over the years as Google itself updates its algorithm, current examples include:
- Including relevant keywords and key phrases in various places on a website, including within its written content, metadata, URLs, and image tags.
- Using simple, accessible language and organized formatting to make content easy to skim, read, and digest.
- Consistently generating clear, engaging, helpful content that addresses the needs and concerns of search engine users.
What is Google Ads?
There are many pay-per-click (PPC) advertising options available to modern digital marketers, but Google Ads is easily the best known and most popular.
As with other PPC platforms, the Google Ads user pays for their advertising by the click or by the impression. The cost per click varies and is determined via a keyword bidding process.
Paid Google ads appear right along with standard search results, currently in banks located at both the top and bottom of the page.
And, also like other search results, the likelihood of an ad being shown to a search engine user depends on several factors, including bidding price, ad quality, ad timing, and the quality of the user experience on the page the ad links to.
Although Google Ads don’t replace the need for search engine optimization, they do bring many unique advantages to the table. These include:
- The ability to customize individual ad campaigns according to budget.
- Robust ad distribution across additional Google-owned platforms, such as YouTube and Blogger.
- Detailed analytics to help advertisers optimize their campaigns and improve future efforts.
- Easy, timely access to users who are primed and ready to convert.
SEO vs Google Ads: What’s the Difference?
Comparing SEO vs Google Ads is a challenging task, as although they serve similar purposes, the two are very different. It’s a lot like trying to compare apples to oranges!
SEO is an essential long-term marketing strategy that’s truly necessary to build a loyal audience and reliable network of customers.
Google Ads are an optional but valuable part of a larger SEO strategy that can be especially helpful for generating quick, timely traffic.
Here’s a further breakdown of some of the significant differences.
- Google Ads are paid advertising across the board, while SEO is about ongoing work, maintenance, and improvement.
- SEO strategies can take weeks or months to yield real results, while Google Ads can deliver near-instantaneous bursts of traffic.
- Google Ads as a marketing tool can be turned on and off at will, while SEO delivers consistent organic results over the long term.
- SEO strategies work best when they target a smaller collection of keywords and long-tail key phrases at a time, while there are no hard limits on the number you can target through Google Ads.
Think of Google Ads as a way to promote time-sensitive events, advertise specific products, and deliver a fast influx of traffic as needed.
Conversely, SEO is about playing the long game — building lasting authority and a loyal audience that will stay with your brand indefinitely.
How do Google Ads Help with SEO?
Google Ads may not directly generate the same valuable organic traffic that a well-rounded SEO strategy will, but they can help fortify your SEO efforts.
Here are some ways you can use them to make your SEO campaigns more effective.
1. Use Google Ads to quick-start an SEO campaign
When a business or website is brand new, it can be tough to rely entirely on search engine optimization to build it into a big success.
It takes a while for even the best campaigns to gain traction. And it takes time to build a successful content catalog, a social media following, and a roster of loyal repeat customers.
If you have the budget, Google Ads can be a great way to drive initial traffic and boost brand awareness while you wait for your SEO efforts to bear fruit.
Spending can be reduced later once your SEO results start to generate tangible results.
2. Leverage remarketing to increase conversion rates
Consumers who’ve checked out your products and website in the past already know what you’re all about.
They’ve already shown interest and had a little time to consider what your solutions might bring to the table.
In many cases, all such consumers really need in order to convert is a firm push in the right direction.
Google Ads can help provide that push by remarketing your products to people who have already shown an interest in them by viewing them on your website or engaging with your brand elsewhere.
Also sometimes called retargeting, remarketing is a powerful and effective way to reclaim sales that might otherwise be lost.
3. Gain valuable insights and data
Like many Google tools, Google Ads is a potential treasure trove of valuable information marketers can use to improve everything from their future product offerings to their ongoing SEO efforts.
For example, it can help you identify gaps between the key phrases you’re targeting and the search terms that are triggering your ads in the first place.
Use your Google Ads data to identify and follow search trends. Then use what you’ve learned to better understand how your audience thinks, as well as pour more effort into material that resonates with existing and potential customers.
Ultimately, great SEO is about more than just targeting key terms with a high overall search volume.
You need to nail user intent, as well, if you’re serious about raising those conversion rates and boosting your bottom line.
4. Improve your content marketing efforts
Content will always be king when it comes to building brand awareness and establishing a connection with a loyal audience.
Google Ads can be a powerful way to determine which keywords really work for your brand in practice instead of just in theory — especially on an ongoing basis.
Put together a list of your star options with low commercial intent and use them to guide your content marketing efforts via entertaining, educational, share-worthy posts.
Then build conversion-focused landing pages to target the examples with high commercial intent and convince purchase-ready customers to buy now.
5. Build your local clientele
People aren’t just using search engines to research remote purchasing decisions.
Over 60 percent of American consumers use their smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices to look for local solutions on the fly.
Furthermore, a whopping 18 percent of those localized searches result in a same-day sale.
Google Ads provides a valuable opportunity to reach local consumers and expose them to your brand. And this can be a useful SEO practice even if you don’t maintain brick-and-mortar locations.
Use your geo-specific Google Ads data to make your regional and national SEO campaigns more effective.
SEO vs Google Ads: What’s the Best Option Right Now?
So when it comes to SEO vs Google Ads, which is really the best option this year and beyond?
The answer is both.
Classic SEO and paid options like Google Ads may be different, but they complement one another perfectly.
When used together in the proper ratios, they form a comprehensive, well-rounded digital marketing strategy any business can grow with.
Remember, Google Ads are fantastic ways to drive fast, timely traffic — especially when used wisely and responsibly. Meanwhile, SEO is the way to go when it comes to building long-term success, authority, and brand viability.
Now that you’ve got the essential details on SEO vs Google Ads down, it’s time to bone up on ways to make the most of your Google Ads campaigns without breaking the bank.
Yes, it’s paid advertising, and your applicable budget will ultimately affect your Google Ad rank. But that’s only part of the picture.
The rest of the equation is all about creating ads that are relevant, high in quality, and well-suited to the content they link to.
Check out our comprehensive rundown on Google Ad rank and how you can maximize yours.
You’ll learn the formula for calculating ad rank, discover practical ways to help your ads stand out, determine how to fix a low ad rank, and more!
You may also be interested in these articles:
- How to Spot and Address 9 Common Technical SEO Issues
- 10 SEO Tips to Get on the First Page of Google
- Semantic SEO: Rank Higher with These 11 Best Practices