SEO vs. PPC: Is the difference just a matter of costs and time?

As a Digital Marketing Director, you might face the option of using SEO (Search Engine Optimization) or PPC (Pay-Per-Click) to drive traffic from search engines like Google to your sites. SEO and PPC snippets are placed very close on Google results page, just a few centimeters higher or lower. Both are critical ways of increasing the traffic to a website, and it is easy to think that they work similarly, the only difference being that one is paid and one is free.. But are they that similar? Let’s deep dive into the two options to look at each and their characteristics. 

Many of us have been there. We are working on a new site and trying to bring traffic to gain new customers or sell our service or product. SEO and pay-per-click campaigns are the most prominent and frequent elections in these circumstances. The difference between these two search traffic acquisition methods is subtle for users browsing the web. A survey by Ofcom ( shows that about 40% of users are unaware of the difference between a sponsored ad and an organic result. But from the marketing team’s perspective, the difference between each strategy considering efforts, goals, and scope is much more significant than what it might look like.

Cost and time: a noticeable difference

Let’s first review the main difference between SEO and PPC that are well known to anyone working in Digital Marketing: cost and time.

From a cost perspective, PPC is entirely dependent on budget. The traffic will disappear once the budget is gone, and no more users will arrive from this channel. SEO, even if it is not entirely costless since it needs specialized work and dedicated time, usually has long-lasting effects that will not have budget limitations. Traffic will continue arriving for some time (week, months, or years depending on the competitors’ activity), even with no more allocated budget. 

When reviewing the time aspect instead, PPC is speedy (mainly if you already know the keywords and ads that you will use). It is just a matter of setting the campaigns, and a few hours later, visitors will start arriving. SEO strategies, instead, will take time until the changes and optimizations begin to pick up steam. There will be ups and downs, but eventually, a regular amount of traffic will steadily arive.

If we are thinking of SEO and PPC only as a tool to acquire new clients or sell products, then the difference would be those two things; cost and time. But it would be a colossal error to consider customer acquisition as the only function of a website and forget about customer experience and retention. Even if customer acquisition and selling are the main reasons many sites exist, we should be aware that a site should also be fulfilling other marketing functions. For example, improving customer experience and providing the customer with handy solutions when using our products or services are also crucial in the long-run strategy.

SEO is not limited to customer acquisition

The main difference is cost and time when looking at SEO and PPC from a customer acquisition perspective. But there is a lot of other traffic that is still valuable even if it is not strictly related to customer acquisition. This other traffic-related to later stages within the marketing funnel or related to customer services- can reach our site relying mainly on our SEO efforts. 

For that kind of traffic, SEO benefits outperform PPC since it wouldn’t be cost-effective to tackle those marketing functions using paid campaigns since practically none of those queries will make users prone to conversion. So, while every digital marketing manager will be happy to increase their advertising budget to expand the customer base, none will spend advertising money on the other mentioned functions. And it is for those particular functions SEO can show up as a convenient tool while PPC will be out of the equation. 

For example, let’s consider an airline called AirZ. Its users buy flight tickets on its website. After that, they need to be informed about the practical details of the flight. To clear their doubts, they would use Google to look for the best answer:

  • How early should I be at the airport for an AirZ flight?
  • How big can my carry-on bag be on AirZ domestic flights?  
  • Am I allowed to take food and drinks with me on AirZ flights? 

None of those queries is the specific keyword that a PPC manager would be willing to bid for in a customer acquisition campaign. A good reason is that those queries are not focused on buying tickets and will probably have a terrible conversion rate. However, all those queries are great opportunities for SEO initiatives that can easily tackle those questions and help AirZ provide users with a great experience and an after-sale service, giving practical and relevant answers to the client and saving operative costs of a call center.

Conclusion: your site does not exist solely for acquisition

While PPC campaigns are tactically more flexible and a quick way to get new users (assuming you have enough budget to go for them), there are certain marketing functions for which PPC is not cost-effective and for which SEO would be the perfect fit. Following this perspective, SEO and PPC are complementary for customer acquisition functions, and it would be necessary for the strategy to run both simultaneously. But besides this, SEO will also bring value in later stages within the marketing funnel. 

In conclusion, if you have in mind a process that would focus on acquiring new customers and providing an excellent user experience after the user becomes a customer, it will be essential that you consider not only running PPC campaigns. Instead, it will be critical for long-term success to create and improve your site content and UX and finally make it shine with a great SEO strategy.

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Globant's Create Studio combines digital sales and marketing to build transformative experiences that connect people and brands in meaningful ways. By combining the power of technology, data, and creative minds, we offer a full-funnel comprehensive approach that addresses every aspect of digital marketing.