PPC vs SEO: Which is Better for Startup Marketing?

Startup marketing is all about getting the most bang for your buck.

The general goal of marketing is to get the most results for the least amount of money possible. Nowhere is that as clear as it is with startup marketing, where every dollar counts.

So, how do you get results and stay within your marketing budget?

The most popular two methods today are PPC and SEO.

In this article, we’re going to discuss the pros and cons of PPC and SEO, and help you make the best decision for your startup.

Let’s take a look!

What Is PPC?

PPC, short for pay-per-click advertising, is an online advertising model in which you only pay for the clicks you get on your ads.

Let’s say your startup sold unicorn glitter.

You wouldn’t pay for all the eyeballs that scrolled across your ad, as used to be the case with traditional CPM (cost per mille/thousand) models.

Instead, you’d only pay for the people who clicked on your ad and went to your site to purchase unicorn glitter.

PPC is present on the majority of search engines, including Google, which is what makes it one of the most cost-effective search engine advertising models today. Even social networks (Facebook, Linkedin) use the PPC model nowadays.

With the ability to target queries with particular intents, you’re in a great position to maximize your advertising ROI.

What is PPC?

PPC stands for pay per click. When you run an ad online you are only charged when someone clicks on your ad. You pay for clicks (traffic) to your website.
PPC statistics for 2019/2020. 33% click on paid search ads because it directly answers their search query.
Source 1  Source 2  Source 3  Source 4

Additionally, you can use
PPC for branded campaigns.

For example, you can counteract branded campaigns.

If your competitors are bidding on your branded keywords, you can bid yourself.

Or you can use your competitors’ popularity to bid on their name and funnel their organic traffic to your website.

Ultimately, you can choose what your organic searchers see first by advertising specific pages for your own branded terms.

Is PPC Effective?

As an advanced form of advertising, search engine PPC is more than capable:

  • 65% of buyer-intent keywords are paid clicks. (Source)
  • PPC visitors are 50% more likely to purchase something than organic visitors. (Source)
  • Search ads can increase brand awareness by 80 percent. (Source)

Considering hundreds of millions now use ad blockers, search engine PPC advertising is the right way to advertise your startup. With PPC, you’ll get access to millions of potential users looking for products just like yours.

50% of PPC visitors are more likely to purchase something than organic visitors.

PPC isn’t free.

But it doesn’t have to be too expensive to consider, either. We’ve written a detailed guide on how to calculate your PPC budget.

Your PPC costs depend on the results you want to get and your industry.

However, you can do plenty to mitigate the costs by hiring a specialist PPC agency that can improve your ad quality and targeting.  

So if you want to jumpstart your startup sales, PPC is the best advertising model you can select.

What Is SEO?

SEO, short for search engine optimization, is a method of influencing search engine results for your target queries to attract organic traffic to your website.

Let’s say your startup sold unicorn glitter.

If your potential customers use search for queries such as: “What is unicorn glitter?” “Unicorn glitter price” and “Best unicorn glitter 2019,” you’d use those queries to optimize your content.

Google search image showing keywords

Then, whenever a potential customer searches for that term, your page will be among one of the first results displayed.

The best part is: you don’t have to pay for organic traffic you get through SEO.

What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimization. It essentially means you can get organic traffic from search engines without paying for it.
SEO statistics for 2019/2020. 67% of all clicks go to the first five organic results. 10x more traffic is driven by search engines to shopping websites than social media.
Source 1 Source 2 Source 3

Is SEO Effective?

Yes, and we’ve got the numbers to prove it:

  • SEO generates more leads than any other marketing initiative for 57% of B2B marketers (Source)
  • Google makes up for 94% of total organic traffic (Source)
  • SEO leads have an average conversion rate of 14.6% (Source)

There is a catch, though. It can take a while for your startup to start appearing in the top spots for your target queries.

It all depends on your industry. However, it usually takes 6 – 12 months to attain the rankings you need to get profitable traffic. This usually means appearing on the first page for your target queries.

75% of users never scroll past the first page of search results.

Once you get higher rankings, it’s easier to stay there. Just keep an eye on algorithm updates and your competition.

When you do your startup SEO yourself or in-house, it’s one of the most cost-effective marketing methods.

However, if you decide to bring in the pros (and if your industry is competitive, you’re going to have to), the costs can rise upwards of $10,000 month.

Still, SEO has its perks.

And so does PPC.

The Main Differences Between PPC and SEO

While both PPC and SEO are cost-effective, they have their pros and cons.

Additionally, you may find that one method suits your startup better, depending on your audience, size, and budget.

Free vs. Paid

The most common misconception is that SEO is completely free.

However, SEO takes work; be that from your in-house team or independent specialists you brought in to make sure you reach the top position.

According to recent research, average SEOs usually charge anywhere between $100 and $150 per hour.

Retainers will usually set you back for $500 to $1000 per month, with similar per-project pricing.

However, the more experienced SEO you get, the more you can expect to pay.

So if SEO setup isn’t free, what’s the real difference?

Your traffic is free with SEO.

You don’t have to pay to drive visitors to your website continually.

Once you establish your domain and page authority and reach your target rankings, you can expect a steady stream of visitors.

Once you set SEO up, it’s much easier to maintain the results.

300% more traffic is driven to websites from organic search than social media.

Conversely, PPC is a paid advertising method.

The traffic you generate from PPC is paid traffic, and you’ll be paying for every single click you get.

The average cost per click on Google Ads search network is between $1 and $2 in the US.

The exact CPC depends on your industry, keyword popularity, targeting, and ad quality.

If you’re in a highly-saturated niche and a lot of your competitors run paid ads, you can expect higher costs.

Conversely, if your startup is operating in a niche that doesn’t get a lot of competitors, you can expect to pay significantly less.

Average CTR (click through rate) for 2019/2020 for Google search.

PPC costs are direct, whereas SEO costs are indirect.

You may pay for the work necessary to set up your SEO, but you won’t have to pay for traffic. With PPC, once you stop paying for ads, the traffic (from the ad) will stop coming.

What is CTR?
CTR stands for click through rate. When you run an online advertisement campaign, it is the percentage of impressions that resulted in a click. You want to aim for as high CTR as possible because low CTR can mean your ad is not relevant to who you are targeting it to.

Position in SERPs

The second significant difference between SEO and PPC lies in your search engine position.

The ideal is to appear in the first spot.

However, if ads dominate results pages and search engine features (e.g., featured snippets, knowledge panels), your page – no matter how optimized – may appear in fifth place.

Consider the SERPs for “email marketing software:

Screenshot of

For this particular query, organic results only appear in sixth place. The first four results are paid ads, and the fifth is a featured snippet.

With SEO, you have no guarantee that you’ll appear first when your potential customers search for your target queries.

However, with PPC, you can pay to appear in the top spot. It’s no surprise that businesses earn $3 for every $1.60 they spend on Google Ads.

PPC Traffic vs. SEO Traffic

When it comes to the difference between traffic potentials of PPC and SEO, you should be aware that 70% of clicked search results are organic, but PPC visitors are 50% more likely to buy than organic visitors.

However, the higher conversion rates also translate to higher costs.

Since you have to pay for every single one of those clicks, you may need a bigger budget to get the traffic you need.

Conversely, with SEO, you can expect a steady stream of traffic.

Once you get your target position, you’ll be getting constant traffic that you don’t have to pay for at all.

In that respect, PPC and SEO traffic even each other out.

However, if you’re not ranking in one of the top positions organically, you won’t get traffic.

Since it will take time for your startup to start ranking in top positions, it may be better to start with PPC ads to drive immediate traffic as you’re waiting for your SEO results to kick in.

Conversion Potential

Since both PPC and SEO use the inbound principle of catering instead of disrupting, they’re both very effective methods of driving sales for your startup.

Your potential customers are already in the position to respond better to your ads since they’re searching for the terms you’re using. This makes the overall conversion rates much higher, regardless of the method.

Similarly, you can target long-tail, purchase intent keywords both with your content (for SEO) and with your ads (for PPC).

This nearly guarantees that you’ll reach potential customers.

However, there are slight differences between PPC and SEO conversion potential:

With SEO, you can’t know for sure which pages will rank for target keywords.

For example, you may be targeting “unicorn glitter,” but your page could rank for “unicorn tears” as well.

So while your results will be showing up, you won’t experience high conversion rates because of the difference between searcher intent and landing page intent.

Screenshot of Campaign monitor ad in Google search

This Sendinblue ad shows ad extensions highlighted above.

With PPC, you can optimize your ads and select the exact keywords you want to appear for.

You can even exclude keywords you don’t want your ads to appear for.

Similarly, you can add on to your ads with ad extensions showing promotions, specifics of your startup, and much more.

Your paid listings can be more dynamic than your organic listings.

Branded Campaigns

With SEO, your only chance of using your competitors’ results to attract their customers are comparison posts.

Even then, your results may not be ideal, especially if your competitors have higher domain authority than you.

However, if you use PPC, you can run highly-successful (and affordable) branded campaigns.

A screenshot of a google search for

Recrur uses Google branded campaigns to remain the top advertisement for their branded keyword.

You can run branded campaigns targeting your keywords. Choose exactly which pages the searchers will see.

Google always selects organic results, so even with proper optimization, you may not get to show your potential customers all the links and pages you want them to see.

But with ads, you can craft the perfect offer.


With PPC, your return on investment is immediate.

If you’ve set up your campaigns correctly and calculated the budget accurately, you can expect to see significant returns.

However, if you’re going down the SEO road, you’ll have to wait for a bit before you see the results. Once you do, it’ll be much easier to sustain them and generate traffic for years to come.

SEO is a long play, so don’t expect overnight results.

Fortunately, both of these methods will help your startup get the customers it needs. The only difference is the delivery date.  

SEO vs. PPC: Which Method Does Your Startup Need?

Ultimately, both SEO and PPC have their places in your startup marketing toolbox.

SEO is a long-term marketing and content planning strategy.

PPC, on the other hand, brings immediate results and significant traffic boosts.

It’s not a matter of “or,” it’s a matter of “if” and “when.”

If your startup needs to see immediate sales, start with PPC. However, make sure you don’t forget about SEO.

As you scale and grow, it’ll be an excellent way to capture an even more significant market share.

Celia Yarwood
Co-Founder @ Hey Digital. Design ninja, crystal lover and stationery nerd.

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