SEO vs PPC: What Should You Do First? [VIDEO]


Today we’re going to talk about SEO vs PPC and which search marketing tactic your company needs first.

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We could build a structured pros, cons, and advantages article; however, I’m sure there are thousands out there. Instead, what I’d like share today is some of the misconceptions people take into both services. I’ll break down each and discuss various misconceptions so you are confident in which search marketing service (maybe both!) works best for you.

SEO vs. PPC Misconceptions

One of the largest search marketing falsehoods we see on a consistent basis is “PPC gets you quick results and SEO takes a long time“. This statement is almost true, but it gives you the wrong foundational starting point or wrong perspective going into either.

Let’s unpack this phrase a little.

Graphic text showing SEO vs PPC misconception number one.



When it comes to pay-per-click advertising, it’s not that it won’t get you results quickly. It’s that most people don’t get the results they want because they don’t determine beforehand if their targeted keywords and their brand are cohesive.

For example, at Directive, when we first launched a PPC campaign for ourselves, we didn’t know which keywords were going to convert the best. Depending on the volume of those keywords, we can’t turn them off until we have statistically significant data.  

This means we need a certain amount of clicks, which depending on your budget, might take three to six months to gather enough data to properly make a decision on whether certain keywords are profitable or not.

Then, if you layer in your sales cycle or the time it takes someone from a form fill to closing a deal — this idea that PPC will work lightning fast is just incorrect.

For example and from experience, we know if someone searches “agency,” that’s a better keyword modifier than “services.” We know that the person, individual, or company who is looking for an agency has a higher propensity to pay for our services than someone searching with the query “services”. “Services” queries are usually from someone looking for a freelancer, such as Upwork, Fiverr, or something cheaper.

They need a service, and they need it done for as cheap as possible.

Someone looking for an agency is looking for a business partner and understands that it might cost more. Also, this person typically has a larger budget to spend. However, you don’t know that when you go into this PPC experiment or start a fresh campaign.

It’s imperative that you go into campaigns with your eyes wide open and recognize that PPC will get you clicks very fast.

You can turn a PPC campaign on and get clicks right away — but to think that those clicks are going to turn into opportunities, deals, and revenue in a way that makes sense on your financial statement, that takes time.

I want to be clear there because it’s important that you go into PPC with the understanding that it takes a full process to make it a profitable channel for your business and that’s okay.


SEO, on the other hand, also takes time. However, the misconception here, is “this going to take a long time, it’s all about keywords and X, Y, or Z.” The reality of SEO is it can happen very quickly! It depends on where you’re starting from and what your goals are.

If you’re a brand-new website in a brand-new business, it could take two to four years.

Not six months. Not three months. Not whoever is telling you how long it will take.


Because you don’t have to beat Google. This is the misconception people get burned into their brains. In reality, you have to beat all the other brands!

You have to get more people talking about your brand than all competitors striving to rank for the same keywords you’re targeting. You need:

  • mentions
  • people talking about you in the news
  • your industry talking about you
  • partners talking about you

It’s time to get the buzz circling around you! By this, I mean linking to you. In other words, you need to build your brand using link building tactics. It’s difficult to rank without any quality backlinks leading to your site.

Furthermore, you need an exceptional design. You need content that meets your prospected audience right where they are. You need each of these parts to build the full picture.


Text graphic explaining importance of link building in SEO.

If you’re a publicly-traded company, a midmarket player, an established small business, have people talking about you, and have good content, then, hire the right SEO agency. They will come in and make the right recommendations and changes, and you’ll often get results even faster than PPC. This is in the sense that they can take you from the fifth rank to third or from the third rank to number one.

The massive amount of clickthrough rates you get from going to the third position to the first can do exponentially more from a cost-per-opportunity standpoint than PPC could in the first three months.

It took our team four years to rank number one for “SEO agency.” But was it worth it? Absolutely.

Every time we rank, each one of those clicks that turns into an opportunity is all hitting against the initial sunk cost we invested in the SEO.

That sunk cost is our time. It’s paying writers. It’s earning links. It’s doing outreach.

Each one of these actions still costs you. It’s not like SEO is free while paid costs money.

The difference is, in paid search, you’re paying an agency fee or just Google, directly. In SEO, you’re still paying an agency fee, and also paying writers for content, designers for CRO enhancements, and developers who ensure you fix all technical issues.

Graphic showing that SEO still costs money at the end of the day.

SEO with PPC > SEO vs PPC

When you put the two services together, now, that’s when you get something powerful. The thought process shouldn’t be SEO versus PPC. It should be SEO with PPC.

If you can take your paid search, go into your search terms report, and find all keywords that generate the most opportunity, deals, and revenue for your business, then, you can take that exact data from the search term report, give that to your SEO team, and say, “We notice that people searching X convert far more than people searching Y. Let’s change our title tags under each one.”

If you’re trying to decide what to do first, here’s a great way to look at it.

This is What You Should Do First

First, you’re going to want to evaluate your overall budget.

Do you have money to pay Google and an agency?

Remember, if you’re only paying Google $3,000 to $5,000 a month and then pay an agency 15% to 10% to 30% of your ad spend, you’re getting $10,000 – $15,000 a month, and then that agency probably wants to bill at about $250 an hour. So, you’re getting four hours a month of someone’s time, you’re probably not going to get the results, right?

There’s nothing worse, in my opinion than underpaying an agency. Why? Now you don’t know if Google Ads doesn’t work or if you hired the wrong vendor. That is not a position of power.

Does My Budget Fit Better for SEO or PPC?

In my opinion, if you’re in-house, you want to hire the best agency possible. Even if you have a smaller budget, I recommend paying an agency $3,000 and have a $3,000 Google budget instead of trying to pay Google $5,000 and then the agency $1,000.

You need to learn which terms are driving revenue profitably and an agency giving you four to 10 hours a month can’t do that.

Graphic representing making choices for search marketing.

If you’re looking to only do SEO, and have a budget of $6,000, you can get a lot of bang for your buck from a firm for this price.

Avoid dropping below $3,500 to $3,000 when paying an SEO firm. It’s difficult for you to get time and attention from specialists with actual expertise to get you results you want.

If not, you’re dealing with a junior-level person spending ten hours a month focusing on you and giving boilerplate recommendations from a systematized process that’s not unique to your goals.

At the end of the day, you do get what you pay for. Ask yourself: “Does my budget fit better for SEO or PPC? For a $5,000 budget or a $6,000 budget, you’re going to get more from SEO than you will for PPC.”

Look at Your Internal Resources

Next, let’s look at your internal resources for your team. Ask yourself, “Is my team where I’m currently at?” The timeline is based on your team and what you can execute internally.

In other words, if you have:

  • Strategic writers
  • Powerful brand presence
  • An authoritative website
  • Poor on-page targeting
  • No experience with an experienced SEO firm

Then, you probably will get results faster from SEO than starting PPC for the first time.

If you have:

  • Previous PPC results
  • Never done custom landing pages
  • Great historical data
  • No writer, no developer and your link profile’s pretty poor

Then, the timeline for PPC is going to be quicker for you instead.

You see, it’s not that SEO takes longer than PPC or vice versa, it’s that each is relevant to your own business, your own team and where you’re at digitally.

Really assess and think, “Are we set on our content, our development, and our brand, or do we have a lot of historical data already, but we don’t like our performance?

Now, you can adjust your timeline for each.

How Involved Do You Want To Be?

Lastly, you have to decide how involved you want to be. If you’re working with us on SEO, there’s going to be more things we need from you than if you’re working with us on PPC.

SEO vs. PPC misconception about beating Google.

For example, when we do PPC, we have complete control of your landing pages using third-party software. We have complete control of Google Ads and of the budget.

In other words, we just need your team to approve things!

When it comes to SEO, maybe you’re a large organization. We don’t have access to your CMS. Maybe you have your own content team and you want them to write everything. Maybe you need your developers to make all the changes, but they’re kind of busy working on the product.

You see, there are different bottlenecks there, so you have to ask yourself: “Are we going to have more bottlenecks on paid than we are on organic?

Once again, all of these different factors matter. It shouldn’t be SEO vs PPC, it should be SEO with PPC. Ask yourself,  “Where should we start” or “Do we want to do both?

That’s the decision you need to make based on your budget, your team, and your bottlenecks.

Hopefully, this video walks you through the realities of each and helps you make a better decision based on your own situation.

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Garrett Mehrguth is the CEO and co-founder of Directive Consulting – a global search marketing agency headquartered in Southern California specializing in comprehensive search marketing campaigns for B2B and enterprise companies.

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