illustration of seesaw weighing SEO vs Google Ads

This article is from a business partner we team up with, KowAbundant, a Google Ads and SEO Management firm in Columbus.

I get this question a lot, “what is better SEO or Google Ads?” I also hear, “should I focus on SEO or Google Ads?” Both SEO and Google Ads have their advantages and disadvantages. Both require investment and time but each has differences in the investment required. Google Ads is Google’s advertising platform that uses Google search. SEO, in this case, focuses mainly on optimization for Google since the majority of searches take place on it. Other search engines use the same ideas though so this can be applied to others as well. In this article, I will go over How Google Ads and SEO work, the good and bad of both, and recommendations of which is best for you. So let’s dive in and look at both to find out what is better.

How Google Ads Work

Most every business wants to be on the first page of Google for their products or services. For example, if you sell widgets, when people search for “widgets near me” you want to be the first search that pops up. Google Ads benefits include getting to the top of a search, usually, top 3 is possible for certain keywords. The marketing benefit of online advertising is that your business can quickly rank as a top search result if you have a good website and a proper bid. AdWords works by you placing a bid for the search phrase “widgets near me”. Each time a person clicks your specific ad you pay Google a certain agreed amount for that click. Bids or Cost Per Click (CPC) ranges from $0.50 to $12+ depending on industry and other factors. Most clicks average around $2 to $4 per click; although they can cost higher or lower. Google recommends that you get 10 clicks to get that one customer that buys so you can do the math.
Google Ads works under the premise of “paid search”. This means that you pay for placement on Google’s search engine. “Organic search” is what SEO often refers to. This means search results that are not paid for. Even with ads, Google still uses its algorithm to serve you the best content no matter what and better ads and content win over less relevant ads.

Benefits of Google Ads

  • Get in top 5 website results or get shown at top of the first page
  • Can specify local targeting by zip code or around your business
  • Can set hours you wish to show for certain keywords or phrases
  • Drive customers to a specific landing page
  • Track conversions or leads
  • Create custom remarketing lists to show display ads to

Disadvantages of Google Ads

  • Not a long-term solution
  • Costly over time vs SEO
  • Can only use 1 website or domain per account
  • Ads show up labeled “Ads” in Google search
    Example of a Google ad, note the “Ad” callout:

screen shot of Google ad for mens tennis shoes

  • Can take time to find the best keywords to use

How SEO Works

Google Ads has its benefits if you want to get high in the rankings fast for a specific amount of time. However, if you are looking for a long-term solution then SEO might be the best option for you. SEO involves doing backend website work so that Google gives you higher rankings over time. This process involves content creation, optimizing your website, establishing goals, and tracking progress over time.

SEO involves improving your website to increase traffic and optimize site conversions. A conversion is an action someone takes to complete one of your goals. This can range from staying on your site for a certain amount of time, clicking a certain link, playing a video, adding an item to their cart, or making a purchase. A site with great SEO will load fast, have great content, be easy to understand and navigate, and very helpful to your customers. Great SEO also includes items that you cannot see that developers or professionals work on behind-the-scenes to get your Google rankings higher. Some of the advantages of SEO include the following:

Benefits of SEO

  • Great long-term solution for higher Google ranking
  • Get organic traffic which leads to lower abandonment rates
  • Do not have to pay for clicks
  • Higher trust rate for customers vs ads
  • Google and search engines love optimized sites

Example of an SEO search result does not have the word “ad” mentioned:

screen shot of seo result in Google search

Disadvantages of SEO

  • Can take 3 to 6 months of work to see ranking improvements
  • Ongoing effort required to keep higher rankings
  • You often will not see immediate results or returns unlike Google Ads
  • Requires long-term investment and time

So which is better, SEO or Google Ads?

flow chart comparing SEO to Google AdsClick here to view larger flowchart of SEO or AdWords on KowAbundant's website.

Google Ads is better for quick, top of the page results and SEO is better for long-term Google ranking. If budget is more of a concern and time is not then SEO is better. If you want to be at the top of the first-page search result like next week then Google Ads is better for you. If you can, the best strategy is to do both as they work together very well.

In the beginning, you can focus more on Google Ads to get top of page results quickly, then, as your SEO ranking improves you can lower your Google Ads budget accordingly. By now, you have a good understanding of what SEO is and how it differs from running a Google Ads campaign. This way you will not have holes in your online search strategy.

To learn more about KowAbundant, check out their website here.