Google Ads vs SEO — where spending meets investment

When building an online business, it’s understandable that you’d want to get results fast. At Icarus Media Digital, we transform ideas into successful, scalable businesses.

Google Ads and search engine optimisation (SEO) are both viable strategies that we use for lead generation and sales when building online businesses. Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of each approach.

To determine where best to invest your marketing budget for traffic acquisition, read on to the end of the article for our strategic guidance.

What are Google Ads?

Google Ads are also known as pay-per-click (PPC) ads. This service enables businesses to bid for their adverts to appear when users search for specific keywords on Google search. The business can select for their advert to appear to a particular demographic and interest group that is searching for the term, enabling high levels of targeting.

Businesses then pay per click on their advert. A click will typically take a prospect through to the company website for more information and the potential to make a purchase or subscribe to something, such as a free information guide. It’s therefore important that the page they land on is optimised for conversion.

Google Ads also enable businesses to place their adverts on websites with relevant content through the Google Display Network (GDN).

The advantages of Google Ads

Google Ads enable businesses to be visible to their ideal clients when they are making specific purchase decisions. This hyper-targeting can be very cost-effective compared to more general advertising methods such as radio, billboards and TV advertising. Your business can be visible from the moment your ad is ready to go, which is a huge benefit for new businesses that are yet to build a reputation.

Google Ads also allows you to test what works so you can optimise your adverts and who they target over time to maximise your return on advertising spend. You have access to a dashboard of results to track which adverts perform the best.

Google Ads can also work within specific budgets. You can determine your budget and how much you are happy to spend per click in a period. Your advert will stop being visible once you have reached your spend criteria.

Once you have a Google Ad that converts well — say a return on advertising spend of 2 or more — you can gradually increase your advertising budget to scale your sales. Keep an eye on the metrics to ensure you keep achieving the same return on ad spend (ROAS) at higher spend levels.

The pay-per-click model is advantageous to other online advertising models, which often charge for the number of views an advert gets, regardless of whether viewers take action.

The disadvantages of Google Ads

Google Ads do not improve the rankings of the businesses’ online content in search engines. Businesses that rely on ads for traffic and sales become invisible if they stop investing in advertising.

Google Ads will also not get you a new lead or sale on their own. The advert will take a potential lead through to your site, which must look professional, targeted, and easy to use to convert their interest into subscribing to your email list, making an enquiry or a purchase.

Google Ads requires a marketing budget. The cost per click can be high in competitive spaces, particularly if you sell a high-ticket product on the back end. This cost increases the pressure on having online content and an experience that converts once the potential lead lands on your site.

Setting up Google Ads involves a myriad of settings, keyword choices and ways of tracking. This process can be overwhelming and time-consuming to someone unfamiliar with it and, when not set up correctly, can waste your budget. The other option is to pay for a PPC expert to set things up for you, which adds to the overall cost; however, you would hope it would increase your return on ad spend.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

SEO is the process of writing and formatting your online content, such as blogs and website pages, in a specific way so that it ranks more highly for particular search terms in the various search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo.

This process is known as an organic method because, although you may be investing in the content creation and publishing process, once you have put the content live, it will rank over time without the need to pay for traffic.

The better quality of your content, the more effectively it meets the needs of users looking for that content. The more your online reputation grows positively, the higher the chances are that your content will appear higher up the search results and receive more clicks.

Search engines provide guidance and tools on how to improve your rankings. For example, Google Search Console enables your business to track the performance of its online pages and spot any issues that could be damaging search performance.

The advantages of SEO

SEO helps to build the online reputation of your business. Once you have commissioned or created great content, it will continue to rank and bring traffic and sales for years to come; you may want to review it now and again to ensure it meets the latest best practices and outranks the competition. Unlike Google Ads, there is no cost to your business when a prospect clicks an organically ranking link to your content from the search engines.

This near “one-and-done” model can be highly cost-effective. For the time or financial investment it takes to create a high ranking page, you could have an ongoing stream of traffic for the rest of your years of business.

The content may attract more than leads and sales. For example, if your business starts ranking for specific search terms, you could also receive media and collaboration opportunities linked to these topics.

Understanding the principles of SEO, either by learning them or hiring experts, can help you improve your website’s usability. For example, following SEO best practices will help to increase your website speed and ensure it is mobile-friendly, which supports increased sales.

The disadvantages of SEO

The process of ranking organically through SEO tends to take a lot longer to see results than with Google Ads. SEO requires upfront investment in keyword research and writing quality content, often in the form of relatively long articles.

Many factors impact how long it takes for a specific piece of content to rank. Research studies show that it can take three months to more than a year.

Search ranking criteria can change over time, and your competitors may learn from your content and start a strategy to outrank you for specific search terms. For these reasons, you may need to continue to invest time or money in improving your ranked articles and finding more ways to get other sites to link to them, thereby improving your overall online credibility.

A significant shift in search criteria could see your business losing organic traffic.

Synergies between Google Ads and SEO

This article shows that Google Ads are a powerful way to generate sales and leads quickly, while SEO builds your online reputation and brand awareness over time.

Google Ads enable you to promote specific campaigns or boost traffic and leads quickly, while your SEO supports you in building organic traffic over time. Together these strategies create a powerful synergy, and we use them both in the businesses we scale at Icarus Media Digital.

Making strategic decisions about your marketing budget

It’s common to have doubts about the best strategic use of your marketing budget, whether to focus on ads for a more immediate impact and revenue, take a longer-term approach with SEO, or take a hybrid approach. Then, as the business grows and develops a more established brand presence, it pays to review the approach.

Here are the core questions we explore when determining the best strategy for traffic acquisition across our portfolio of scaling businesses:

Define the goal: is the primary goal traffic? Conversion? Visibility? Brand awareness? A new audience?

Define your expertise, resources and financial risk appetite: what traffic sources do you best understand? What in-house resources are available? Do you have the budget to hire experts? How much budget can you experiment with? What return on investment do you need?

Competitor research: where are your competitors strong? What is working for them? What opportunities does this create for your brand?

Estimate revenue: estimate the likely return from an SEO strategy, from pay-per-click ads and then from a hybrid strategy. Use past business data or market data as a starting point.

Define the key performance indicators (KPIs): what return on investment do you need from the approach in terms of the cost of a customer completing an action (CPA)? If using ads, what return on ad spend is required (ROAS)? With an SEO strategy, which keywords, landing pages and ranking do you need to make the business grow?

Propose a data-driven strategy: after completing this exercise, you’ll have robust data at hand to create a recommended strategy to share with your stakeholders. If this is a plan for a new part of a larger business, show how it follows or adapts the global plan. Demonstrate how the plan considers and balances risk.

Track results and evolve: as you implement the strategy track the results and evolve it over time to optimise it.

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Icarus Media Digital

Icarus Media Digital

At Icarus Media Digital, we create new ventures from the seed of a new idea, right through to its launch and scaling a new, successful business.