Which has a Bigger Impact: SEO vs Google Ads?

Which has a Bigger Impact: SEO vs Google Ads?


If you own a small business, you need a big impact from your marketing dollars. You want to attract new leads, connect with more customers and increase your brand awareness. If you’ve been wondering whether to spend your money on SEO vs Google Ads, we have you covered with a list of things to consider.

Here, we’ll uncover the strengths and drawbacks of each, to help you decide where best to spend a limited budget.


The Big Picture 

Naturally, if your budget allows, it’s best not to choose between SEO vs Google Ads. Together, they are part of a well-rounded online strategy that allows customers to find you easily.

If budget restraints mean that you need to choose, here are some high-level details and differences to help you decide:


What is SEO? 

SEO stands for search engine optimization. It includes the tactics that site owners can take, to try and improve their ranking in organic search results. SEO tactics include using the right content in the right places so a search engine can easily crawl or scan your site and determine that it matches a given search. 

For example, if you own a pottery studio in Lansing, you might want to optimize your site for a keyword phrase such as, “birthday party Lansing Michigan”. Choosing the right keyword phrases is critical for SEO success; they should be popular, without being too competitive.


What are Google Ads?

Google Ads are paid online advertisements that allow you to market your business through a variety of placements. Think: within search results, on non-search websites, on mobile apps and more.  

To see Google Ads in action, simply conduct a Google search. For almost any topic, you will see a separate group of listings, featured at the top, identified as paid advertisements with the word “Ad” listed before the link. 

When considering SEO vs Google Ads, there isn’t a simple answer for every business. To see which might be more effective for you, it is important to research with an open mind. 


A Deeper Dive Into SEO 

When your content is optimized for SEO, it lets search engines know that your website is relevant to a given search term. Using proprietary algorithms, search engines rank their results, presenting the most relevant first. 

Given that an estimated 75% of search engine users look only at the first page of results, it is important to boost your organic ranking as much as possible. So, how do you do that? 

Search engines keep their algorithms private on purpose, so that site owners can’t take advantage of the rules. There are, however, a few best practices for organic SEO, including:

  • Target keyword phrases that are relevant, but not oversaturated
  • Use relevant tags, metatags, descriptions and headers
  • Strategically place keyword phrases, in ways that make sense throughout your content
  • Link to trustworthy, relevant websites, ideally ones that also use your keyword phrase
  • Secure links from reputable sites to your site, where possible
  • Update your content regularly; a site with static content is usually penalized in results
  • Ensure your site runs well—that it is safe, loads quickly and is easy to use—as Google will penalize sites with technical challenges


Benefits of SEO

Users often prefer to use organic search. Most internet users give more time and credibility to organic search results, which are best achieved through SEO. 

The cost of creating website content is relatively low. Once you know how to optimize your site, you could redo your content in-house for little-to-no additional cost. 

Steady generation of traffic. When you’ve taken the time to optimize your website, it will generate traffic based on your keyword phrase(s) for a long time, unlike ads, which are only useful in the short term.


Drawbacks of SEO

Search algorithms are on the move. If you’ve optimized your website and the search engines tweak their algorithms, you could slip in rankings without knowing how to fix it

Optimizing for keyword phrases can be all or nothing. What if you don’t get the keywords just right? Will all your SEO efforts feel wasted? Given that most users don’t look beyond the first page of search results, the stakes of SEO tactics can feel high.

Indirect costs. While it may sound like a quick fix to rewrite your website content in-house, a small business might not have the time or expertise for the task. You may need to outsource jobs such as writing and technical support.

The appeal of SEO is clear—with a bit of work, you could significantly improve your search engine rankings. But in the SEO vs Google Ads debate, there is an argument for using paid search results. Let’s take a closer look.


A Deeper Dive into Google Ads

When you use Google search ads to promote your business, they will appear as text-only, in a similar format to the organic results. While they are labelled as ads, a user with little time may not notice when they click on your link. 

As many businesses may want to rank highly for the same keywords, Google uses a bidding system along with an Ad Quality Score, to determine where your ad will appear within a given search results page.

In our example, you may bid on a more direct keyword phrase, such as “pottery Lansing” to help users find your pottery studio. Google Ads are known for precision, helping users find exactly what they are after with highly targeted ads. Best practices for Google Ads include: 

  • Set a budget for each campaign and/or period
  • Assign someone on your team to plan, execute and evaluate ad results
  • Choose keywords and keyword phrases that relate to your content
  • Keyword search tools can help you choose keywords that are popular, but not saturated
  • Experiment with both broad and targeted keywords 
  • Write compelling ad copy with a clear call-to-action


Benefits of Google Ads

Nimble search goals. Because Google Ads allow you to bid for keywords or phrases, you can easily promote specific products, services or events without having to re-write content for your entire site.

Excellent tracking and metrics. Google offers substantial tools for tracking the effectiveness of your ads, allowing you to monitor and test metrics such as click-throughs and conversions.

Drawbacks of Google Ads

Bidding for keywords isn’t for every budget. If you have a limited budget, you may find it difficult to compete for keywords relevant to your business. 

Limited-time exposure. Like any other form of advertising, Google Ads are only effective while they are running. In other words, they offer a short-term boost for traffic and leads, but won’t necessarily help your long-term reach within search results.


Test, Analyze, Repeat

When weighing the pros and cons of SEO vs Google Ads, it’s important to keep your business goals, budget and in-house abilities in mind. Of course, if you can manage to do both, it is ideal to help users find your business. If you need to choose, however, it’s worthwhile analyzing the pros and cons of each. 

Whichever you choose, be sure to start with clear goals and an intention to test and evaluate as you go. With some experience and data, you will be able to make adjustments with confidence.

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