Hi, I'm Huyen

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Throughout my extensive SEO career, I’ve heard two FAQ questions return again and again:

  • Firstly, “Do I really need SEO if I have Google Ads running already? My ads are already in the top positions for my targeted keywords…
  • And secondly, “My keywords are already ranking quite highly for most targeted keywords… Is AdWords still necessary?”

It’s a tricky but all-important decision: Should we run Pay Per Click campaigns? Or should we run PPC and SEO together for ultimate search engine success?

I took some time to share what I’ve learnt about the intersection between these two campaign types, and below are a few of my insights:

Know what you’re after? Jump to the section:

1. You need AdWords, because Google is trying to aggressively monetise search results
2. SEO has higher Return on Investment ( ROI ) and higher Conversion Rate
3. AdWords can be used to direct SEO campaigns and provide fast results
4. Use SEO to avoid expensive PPC Keywords

1. You need AdWords, because Google is trying to aggressively monetise search results

The realities of search engine optimisation are changing; a predictable evolution made even clearer by the host of recent search result interface changes - including the increase in ads above the fold area (4 listings in the top results and 1 listing in Google maps), and many more…

Why so much change?

It’s pretty simple: Google is trying to retain all the lucrative real estate of the “above the fold” area on search result pages.

This means that local and organic SEO search results don’t show until users scroll down.

Google is trying very hard to make the ads look exactly like normal search results. So we accidentally click, and they make more money.

It’s a win for those with big paid campaigns, but it’s not so positive for small businesses working to get their listings up without the extensive financial fork-out…

local keywords page in Google ads

Figure 1: As you can see, when it comes to local keywords, the first half of the page is Google Ads

featured Google Maps

Figure 2: Currently, only one ad is featured on the Google Maps area, but I think soon enough Google will add another in

The hard cold truth is: if you want to compete - especially on local level - you need to run Adwords together with SEO to gain full momentum.

But that raises another question: “Why bother with SEO, when we could just be running AdWords?"

2. SEO has higher Return on Investment ( ROI ) and higher Conversion Rate

SEO still has a higher Click Through Rate on Search Results

Despite Google’s attempts to make ads look exactly like normal search results, search users are getting savvier. We can, more often than not, spot paid advertising and skip down to the local and organic search results.

I sure do – unless I find a particularly eye-catching ad!

This means that Click Through Rates (CTR) really are different for Paid Ads and Organic Listings.

Some studies have shown that the average click through rate on ads is 1.9% - less than 2 people per 100 views actually click through!

Why so low? Google rotates ads and shares top ad listing spots among all eligible advertisers, so you’ll never really enjoy total visibility.

The solution? Ensure your ads are of Google quality, otherwise it doesn’t matter how much you pay - Google will push your ads down in position if they suck!

Check out what happens as your ad drops down a few spots:

Accuracast ad position

Figure 3: Thanks to Accuracast for the above chart

So What About the Click Through Rate on Organic Listings?

Surprisingly, organic listings “below” the ads get significantly more clicks (sometimes 30%+).

advanced web ranking

Figure 4: Correlation between ranking and click through rate for the top organic listings. Image credited to Advanced Web Ranking

This chart isn’t a hard and fast rule, but you can probably expect 10% or more CTR for the first 3 positions! That’s some pretty powerful traffic.

SEO has higher ROI & Conversion Rate

Before we get started on SEO’s ROI, let’s look at what Google Ads is going to cost you

Below is a spread of the average cost per “action” (from Wordstream again). This ‘cost per action’ refers to a sale (even just an email signup or contact form filled out):


A Google Ads (on search) could cost $59 per sale - presuming your ads work well, and your website sells well (and these are not always a given, I can tell you that much).

If you’re selling high-end products ($$$), that’s perhaps not a bad deal. PPC certainly is a good bet for people with high profit margins.

But people don’t always buy after one click – especially when it comes to high-end services.

So, although these figures may vary, a possible $59 is massive for small turnover businesses and long sales cycles.

You’ll also have to factor in a possible employee or contractor who does your AdWords for you. But of course, you do get instant results (more on that later…)

Now, let’s take a look at organic search results:

SEO (mostly Google) traffic is long-lasting. It’s like buying a great Mercedes instead of a cheaper foreign import.

I’ve run hundreds of different AdWords and SEO campaigns in parallel. The conclusion? SEO delivers higher Returns on Investment than AdWords, at the scale of 2 to 1.

Want some proof? For the last four months, we’ve spent $17,893.97 on AdWords and only $6200 on SEO for a local medical practice.

As you can see in the table below, SEO’s conversion rates (10.7%) are two times higher than AdWords (5.99%). And the cost of per lead for AdWords is $97, as opposed to $48 for SEO.

With those numbers, it’s hard to devalue the importance of keeping SEO campaigns on board.

adword spend vs seo spend

Figure 5: AdWords Spend $17,893.97 vs SEO Spend $6200 -   $97 vs $48/Lead

3. AdWords can be used to direct SEO campaigns and provide fast results

It’s all about time – and time is money. 

So the first beauty of PPC is its immediacy – tweak ad copy and 5 mins later you are getting traffic and conversion data – and it’s the same with new keywords.

This means you can test certain hypotheses in PPC to get an idea of performance before rolling them out in SEO campaigns.

This ability to test our ads can help understand what imagery is most appealing to our audience, too. Split-testing image ads with different selling points can give us info on what messaging really works, before we deploy them on site!

What does this mean for SEO? Put simply, if your keywords work for paid search they will work for SEO too. If they don’t, don’t waste your time on them!

I also get why small businesses opt for AdWords instead of earning their spot at the top with SEO and great content.

Doing SEO instead would be like waiting for an amazing cup of coffee, instead of just whipping up that not so good cup of instant.

But keep in mind that paid listings are, in essence, short term solutions. Great to test the water before engaging in full-scale SEO campaigns, but not great in the long run: Google Ads only get more expensive as more advertisers hop on board.

Luckily, Google Ads can be scaled down to groups of keywords that bring in more sales than the rest.

Or if your SEO campaign has picked up and driven good quality leads through that group of keywords, you can reduce the budget for AdWords.

advantage of google adwords

4. Use SEO to avoid expensive PPC Keywords

I’ve worked across a range of industries, and I’ve found that some PPC keywords just aren’t cost-effective.

Do your digging, find those pricy keywords, and communicate these to your SEO team. They can emphasise organic ranking for these terms and use the PPC budget for more cost-effective terms!

And do it now. This way, your PPC team can pause ads for those expensive keywords and redistribute their budget.

Or, look to get both organic and paid placements on the first page.

With all that in mind, here’s what I suggest:

If you need traffic now, give AdWords a try. But don’t forget to start creating content and trying to rank on Google yourself.

That way, in the long term, you can reduce your ad spend once you start ranking higher.

And if you have the money, it’s worth covering both the SEO angle and PPC ads on Google.

Ultimately, SEO hasn’t been replaced by big budgets and paid listings. In fact, in some respects, SEO is still ahead of the curve.

So explore the options available to you on both ends of the search results scale, and find a happy medium.

Your sales will thank you later!

Hi, I'm Huyen

Our work (and this site) is devoted to sharing ideas, tools and resources that will help you automate, grow and scale your practice.


Learn More

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