SEO vs. PPC vs. Social Media: The Ultimate Guide

SEO vs. PPC vs. Social Media:  Which is Better?

If you're a business owner, then you know how important marketing is. You've probably heard of SEO and PPC, and are likely already using a social media account to try to bolster your business.

But all too often, we hear from entrepreneurs who are not getting the results they want from their marketing strategy. They're posting on Facebook, but no one seems to see it. They're writing blogs, but their content isn't standing out.

Simply having an online presence is hardly enough to make an impact, gain customers and—at the end of the day—boost your bottom line. There are an infinite number of business owners, just like you, trying to make a splash in an ocean of search results. Everyone is vying to land on Google's first page—but it too often feels like only a select few gets there.

So, what sets apart the successful brands from the rest?

Having a strategy. This involves knowing your marketing tools inside and out, working hard consistently to get results, and choosing the right digital marketing team to implement these strategies for you.

But where do you start? By getting a firm grasp on best practices and understanding the tools at your disposal. That's why our marketing experts at Digital Shift have broken down SEO, PPC and SMM. No jargon, no confusing marketing mumbo-jumbo that leaves you feeling in the dark. Instead, we've laid it out so you can walk away feeling like an expert. Continue reading to have your SEO vs. PPC vs. SMM questions answered.

Jargon Defined: What's the Difference?

Let's start with the basics. Like any industry, marketing professionals love acronyms. They sound impressive and flashy, but what's more important is what they signify.

Definition of SEO vs. PPC

Standing for search engine optimization, SEO is the process of formatting your website and web pages, so they are deemed authoritative and trustworthy by search engines—namely Google. Websites that Google thinks are reliable and helpful for searchers rank higher.

Although no-one knows exactly how the Google algorithm works, essentially Google uses “crawlers” to find keywords related to what a searcher inputted into the search engine. Quality content that's trustworthy and has these keywords will be chosen by Google and ranked as first-page results. SEO improves traffic organically, as opposed to paid methods.

On-Page vs Off-Page

SEO can be broken down into two arenas: on-page and off-page. Essentially, on-page SEO is anything directly under your control, including optimizing your title tags, streamlining your site's navigation, optimizing your landing page and writing blogs.

Off-page SEO is anything not directly on your website that boosts your website's authority, such as backlinking.

Definition of PPC

The short-hand for pay-per-click, PPC does not improve traffic organically. Rather, it involves paying for an advertisement to land at the very top of Google's first page. These ads are not ranked, and are often referred to as Google Ads. You pay Google each time someone clicks on the link to your website.

Definition of SMM

Social media marketing (SMM) uses platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Pinterest, YouTube and LinkedIn to promote your product/services while building a loyal brand following. It can be organic and also use paid advertisements.

Definition of SEM

Essentially, SEM—or search engine marketing—is the process of using paid ads (pay-per-click) to drive traffic to a website.

Definition of SERPs

This stands for search engine results page. And yes, you guessed it! It's the acronym for the pages companies like Google pull up in response to search queries.

SEO vs. PPC Campaign Pros

Now that we've got the jargon out of the way, let's move on to discussing the advantages and disadvantages of SEO, PPC and SMM. We'll start with the benefits of search engine optimization.

Ideal for Long-Term Success

Did you know that SEO leads have a higher conversion rate than outbound leads, like direct mail or print advertising? This is because instead of trying to present your product or service to a consumer, they are already actively looking for you. 

Think about it. If someone inputs “plumber near me” and your website pops up, you're fulfilling a pre-existing need. It's much easier to convince them to hire your services because they're already halfway there.

Alternatively, putting a flyer in someone's mailbox outlining your plumbing business is less effective because the consumer isn't looking for your services. It's likely your flyer will end up in the recycling bin.

Cost of Traffic is FREE

Yes, you read that right. The cost of traffic gained with an SEO campaign is free. Since you're ranking organically, you don't have to pay for the top spot. Depending on the keyword you're ranking for, you could be saving thousands of dollars each month.

Earn Lasting Trust

Organic traffic is always better than paid traffic from Google Ads—although PPC has its place. Usually, organic search results (including those listed in Google Maps) have a significantly higher click-through rate than paid ads. On average, organic traffic makes up 72.7% of clicks—compared to search ads, which only account for 27.3% of clicks.

Why is this?

Because organic results are always considered more trustworthy when compared to paid ads. Think about it, when you're looking up a query on Google how often do you skip over the ads at the top? Increasingly, consumers are ignoring ads—but we'll have more on ad blindness and fatigue later. Subsequently, organic search results feel more genuine and authentic.

Builds Site Authority

Consumers aren't the only entity that consider optimized sites more trustworthy. So do the search engines themselves. The more optimized your website and content are for Google, the more the search engine will favour you. SEO helps illustrate to Google that your content is valuable to consumers; the more authoritative Google deems your site, the higher it ranks. The higher you rank, the more consumers click on your site. This reinforces your authority and helps you stay on the first page.

Benefit from Backlinks

Backlinks are when another website links to one of your pages. People like to reference trustworthy and authoritative sites in their own content. This line of thinking is no different from a journalist interviewing an expert, or a student citing a reliable source. Your credibility bolsters their own credibility. Once Google decides your content is authoritative, other websites will too. This is beneficial to you because your authority increases as you gain backlinks—helping to maintain or increase your ranking.

The Gift that Keeps Giving

As you may have already guessed, organic rankings continue to drive traffic to your site. Once  you’ve earned authority, you’ll rank on Google’s first page. This creates a positive feedback loop. Consumers will continue to trust your company and click on your site. Other websites will link to your resources. All of this continues to show Google your site provides value to consumers, so it continues to rank.

Cons of SEO Efforts

Without a doubt, SEO is one of the best ways to drive traffic to your site and convert searchers into paying customers. However, this marketing strategy is not without its drawbacks.

Patience is Key

The primary downside of an SEO campaign is that it truly is a long-term strategy. Usually, optimized content takes between 6 and 9 months to rank—depending on the keyword difficulty. This is because there is so much content on the internet. The competition is fierce! Especially if you're trying to break into a field where there are already other authoritative websites ranking. This is why it's important to be patient. Correctly optimized content will rank, it's only a matter of time.

Less Control

Unlike paid ads, which are guaranteed a top-spot, your organic position can fluctuate—meaning you have less control over the campaign. Also, since no-one completely knows the Google algorithm and given that it's always changing, it's natural for your position to shift slightly. This leads us into our next point...

Requires Consistent Effort

Although SEO is not as demanding as PPC, it still requires close monitoring and constant effort. We told you a successful digital marketing strategy relies on hard work! Since SEO is a long-term strategy, it requires you to be invested in consistent content marketing efforts, while staying on top of any changes to the algorithm and Google's Terms of Service.

Relies on a Team

Both on-page and off-page SEO strategies are a team effort. You need specialists to optimize your website, research target keywords, integrate those keywords into quality pieces of content, spearhead backlink outreach and monitor the success of your campaign.

PPC Advertising Pros

We've all seen the rows of ads lining the top of any Google search results page, and perhaps have even clicked through—experiencing the benefits of Google Ads as a consumer. But as a business owner, how does this strategy benefit your company?

Get to the Top Instantly

Right off the bat, the greatest advantage of a pay-per-click ad campaign is that the top position can be bought. This immediately places you where prospects can find you, and encourages potential customers to choose your product or service. It offers immediate returns and works very quickly. This speed is especially helpful to increase PPC traffic and push sales if you're a brand-new company with no established authority.

Full Control of PPC Campaigns

Unlike SEO, with a PPC ad campaign you have complete control over your online marketing efforts. Your advertisement stays in the top position as long as you continue to pay the search engine—usually Google by way of Google Ads. This can be especially helpful if you want to experiment by way of A/B testing. Since PPC offers quick results, you can run different campaigns to see what resonates with your target audience and what doesn't.

Allows for Niche Targeting

Another excellent benefit of PPC ads is that you have more granular control. With Google Ads, you can edit the audiences you want to reach based on different types of data, such as demographics and location. This is helpful if you want to focus on ads that will resonate with a specific niche—such as single women under 40 living in Dallas.

PPC Marketing Cons

By now, you may be thinking that pay-per-click advertising is the way to go. But, let's take a moment to unpack some of its drawbacks.

Very Expensive

PPC is a significant financial investment. You pay every time a prospect clicks on your link, which is what you want out of the campaign to begin with. This means the more successful your campaign is, the more it will cost you. Depending on the keyword you've selected, you could be paying thousands of dollars every month to stay at the top-spot in a highly competitive field.

Not to mention, it is possible to get into a bidding war over keywords with other companies. This will significantly drive up the cost of your ad, possibly crippling your marketing budget. Even without a bidding war, there is no cap on the cost per click and cost per lead, meaning the price of your advertisement could continually increase.

Labour Intensive

With any marketing campaign, consistency is key. But this is taken to another level with PPC marketing. You have to continuously pay the search engines to remain in the top-spot. As soon as you stop paying, your advertisement disappears. Your position is only visible while the campaign runs. PPC also requires close monitoring to ensure your ads are working.

Short-Term Results

PPC is not a long-term strategy. It may offer a quicker return, but PPC traffic is short-lived. After your money is spent on a click, there are no residual benefits. The campaign won't build web-authority or trust in your target audience. Also, like we mentioned earlier, the ad disappears once you stop paying for it. Only organically ranked pages remain.

Ad Blindness & Fatigue

The greatest danger of a pay-per-click campaign is that your target audience will grow tired of your ads and skip over them completely. Much like in traditional advertising, novelty is key. If you're not offering additional value, prospects who skipped over your ad the first time will do so again. Remember your consumer is bombarded with ads every day, so it's important that yours stands out or you'll miss the opportunity to gain a click.

SMM Campaign Pros

Social media marketing is quickly becoming one of the most buzz-worthy tools in the digital sphere. And certainly, we've all seen brands blow-up on Instagram—reaching thousands of loyal followers. But is social media truly worth the hype? Let's find out.

FREE Way to Connect With Audience

A big benefit of social media is that it's a free tool you can use to connect with your target customer. People who resonate with your brand will be more inclined to follow you. Keep in mind though that different demographics use different platforms—and each platform has its own algorithm.

Build Brand Loyalty

Successful social media campaigns build brand authority and boost credibility. The prime reason why consumers love social media is because it makes them feel like they're connecting with the people behind a brand. It's called “social” media for a reason! This helps your brand feel more authentic, which customers reward with loyalty.

Learn About Your Audience

Most social media platforms for businesses include analytics, so you gain easy insight into your audience's traits. This will help you create content geared towards the people who are already resonating with your brand—improving customer retention.

SMM Efforts Cons

Despite its benefits, even the exciting frontier of social media has a few drawbacks.

Takes a Lot of Time

If you think SEO takes a lot of time, that's nothing compared to building a loyal social media following. Not only does it take time to create content that actually resonates with your target audience, but the key part of social media—the socializing—means engaging with customers nearly 24/7. And on top of all that, it can take months—even years—to build an engaged, active following simply because...

It's Highly Competitive

Many entrepreneurs think social media is the answer to their marketing woes. And yes, this tool can be highly effective when your content, company and brand aligns with a large group of people. But remember, there are millions of other people using these tools! While with an SEO campaign your content will appear in front of searchers looking for answers your site provides, social media doesn't work like that. Each platform has a different use. For example, LinkedIn is great for connecting with commercial clients, whereas Instagram hinges on an aesthetically pleasing feed.

Key Takeaways: SEO vs. PPC vs. SMM

So, now we've broken down the benefits and drawbacks of the three heavy-hitters of digital marketing, SEO vs. PPC vs. SMM; but what does this all mean? And how can you make these tools work for you?

A successful digital marketing strategy integrates all three of these techniques. By using SEO to rank organically, you invest in a long-term solution that will convert searchers into paying customers by winning clients over with your quality content creation. With PPC, you can target specific niches and push promotions to boost your bottom line. Finally, by having an intentional social media strategy you can increase brand awareness and reach new prospects.

Why Does Organic Traffic Matter?

If you can only choose one of these three online marketing tools—perhaps you have a limited budget or work at a start-up with a small team—we suggest investing in search engine optimization. While this strategy may take a little longer to get off the ground, it gives you greater visibility in search results and has a higher return on investment because of its greater click-through and conversion rates. This offers long-term results that consistently provide value to customers through your content strategy—winning over new prospects.

We've said it before, and we'll say it again, organic search is by far the most authoritative way to build trust in your company. Whereas online advertising becomes stale quickly, organic visibility is a lasting way to make a positive impression on clients throughout all phases of the marketing funnel. This strategy compounds over time, and continues to deliver organic leads as time goes on.

SEO vs. PPC vs. SMM: What’s Better?


Cost of traffic
Result duration


Time-frame : Medium to long-term
Cost of traffic : Free
Control : Limited
Result duration: Long-term


Time-frame : Get to the top instantly
Cost of traffic : Pay per lead or click
Control : Full control
Result duration: Short-term

Social Media

Time-frame : Ideal for long-term success
Cost of traffic : Free and paid
Control : Limited
Result duration: Medium-term

Take Your Marketing Strategy to the Next Level

Are you ready to meet—and exceed—your marketing goals? At Digital Shift, we have a growing team of experts that are ready to support your digital marketing campaign. From our thorough SEO strategists and excellent content creators, to our savvy social media and Google Ads teams, we'll design a strategy perfect for your needs. We'll work with you to convert potential customers into loyal clients.

If you're interested in learning more about our full range of services, or have questions about your business goals, we invite you to book a FREE 15-minute consultation. We’re looking forward to meeting you and taking your marketing strategy to the next level.

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