What’s the difference between SEO and PPC?

Here we have explained SEO and PPC. The main difference between Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Pay Per Click (PPC) is that traffic coming from SEO (organic) is free of cost while traffic generated from PPC is not free, you have to pay for it.  

You want to rank on page one of Google, right?  So does your competition.  Getting there can be either expensive or time-consuming.

There are two ways to rank on page one:

  • SEO
  • PPC

What’s the difference?

And why does everything always have an acronym?

Before we get into the differences, let’s look at what each of those are.


SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and it is both an art and a science.  SEO is the process of optimizing your website for search engines so that they understand what your website is all about and where in the Search results they should rank you.

Google’s focus, along with the other search engines, is on the user.  Those querying Google and using it are most important to Google and they want to ensure that they’re providing and optimal experience for users.  That means that if you’re ticking the box on certain elements of SEO, but your page does not provide a good experience for those visiting your site, Google may decide to downrank you based on that.  In fact, in 2021 you can bet that will be the case.  Google is rolling out a new update to their algorithm called Page Experience that will affect those who have not optimized for providing the best user experience they can.

Speaking of Google’s algorithm, did you know that there are over 200 ranking factors in Google’s algorithm that go into determining where you might rank?!

There are three main parts to SEO:

  1. On-Site SEO
  2. Off-Site SEO
  3. Technical SEO

SEO is not a quick fix solution to ranking on page one.  It takes time and effort and is the long-term solution to ranking.  Once you start the process, it can take four to six months to really start seeing much of a change.

On-Site SEO

On-site SEO is the process of optimizing for the search engines on your website.  This means getting things like your heading tags, alt text, meta tags, etc. up to speed.  All of that goes helping the search bots learn what your website is all about when they crawl your site.  

Let’s talk heading tags for a minute (aka H-Tags).  There should be ONE H1 tag, the primary heading tag, per page on your website.  Just one.  This is a commonly made mistake.  Properly formatted heading tags helps Google figure out how to index you.  What I mean by that is, if you have three H1 tags with random words that may not have a whole lot to do with what your page or site is all about, the search bots will be confused and not know what keywords you should be ranking for and may ultimately downrank you as a result.

Off-Site SEO

If on-site SEO is on your website, where do you think off-site SEO will take place?  That’s right.  Off of your website.  I know, that sounds a bit crazy if you’re new to SEO.  Like why would you need to optimize off of your website to help improve your own SEO?!  A part of the ranking structure for the search engines is determining whether your site is credible, relevant and authoritative.  By having links to your website from those other websites, you can demonstrate that you are in fact, credible and authoritative.  Relevancy comes more from your on-site efforts.

In addition to obtaining quality links from other sites to your website (aka backlinks), you can improve your Domain Authority and your ranking.  Though it’s important to note that SEO is a balancing act; You can’t exceed expectations in one realm and not in the other and expect to rank well.  

Another aspect to off-site SEO is to create citations in directories.  This can help you improve your ranking in your local area.  This is known as local SEO and falls under the off-site SEO category.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO is just that… technical.  From ensuring that your URL structure is SEO friendly to structured data, fixing broken links, setting up redirects and so much more, technical SEO is where most falter.  Hiring an agency can be expensive.  Trying to do it yourself with no experience is great, but if you’re not proficient in code, you may find yourself struggling with this part.


PPC stands for pay per click, literally meaning that you will pay each time your ad is clicked on.  One of the most prominent forms of PPC advertising is Google Ads.  Basically, you’re bidding on keywords.  By saying this is your daily budget and these are the keywords that you want your ad shown for when queried, you’re now competing against all other advertisers also trying to get their ad shown for those keywords.

If you’re not familiar with Google Ads or with keyword research, this could rack up some big money.  While it could end up being a total money suck, this is the fastest way to have your content shown on page one of Google.  However, once your budget is spent, your content will no longer be on page one and you’re back to relying on your SEO efforts.

What’s the Difference?

SEO is a long-haul effort that takes time and hard work to get to page one for your relevant/desired keywords.  It can take a couple months just to start seeing improvements.  However, once you’re on page one, with a maintaining mentality, you can easily keep your page one rank and the amount of traffic you’ll be sending to your website will be worth it.

PPC on the hand, can get your content shown on page one of Google, but you’re paying for it.  Each time someone clicks to your website from the advertisement, you get charged.  It is a quick fix solution and when coupled with SEO, PPC can take your marketing efforts even further.

So, what should you be using for your own marketing needs?  SEO is always going to be recommended as the long-term benefit is there.  While you’re building up your SEO you can always run some PPC ads.  Even after you are ranking on page one, you may still want to keep your PPC ads going and become and even bigger threat to the competition.  Ultimately, the decision is in your hands and should be shaped around your goal and your budget.

Author Bio
Jessica Ainsworth, Founder of Pendragon Consulting, LLC, a digital marketing agency based out of Maryland, is focused on helping businesses expand their reach into new pools of potential customers. She has a strong background in research and analytics and has turned that into a passion for marketing. Author of The Beginner’s Guide to Facebook Advertising: Create Impactful Ads and Increase Your Return on Investment and The Beginner’s Guide to Content Marketing: How to Drive Traffic, Provide Value and Increase Revenue, Jessica loves teaching small businesses how to stand on their own two feet to remain competitive without having to pay an agency to do it for them (unless they want to – in which case, give Pendragon a call).