How Does SEO Compare to Paid Results?

Website Optimization and Paid Results

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At BRANDefenders, we’re used to clients asking questions about how to optimize their search engine marketing (SEM) efforts. One of the most common questions we hear is, “What’s the difference between SEO and paid results?”

While both are strategies for online marketing that center on helping you rank higher in search results, they differ greatly in how they achieve this goal. In this post, we’ll go through the basics of SEO and paid results, including how they compare and how you can use both strategies to boost your business’s online reputation and recognition.

What is SEO?

SEO, which stands for Search Engine Optimization, is an online advertising strategy that prioritizes generating content for your website that will help you get more traffic from search results. The end goal of SEO is to make your website rank higher in search engine results. SEO only covers non-paid results and is usually broken up into three categories as follows:

  1. On-Page SEO. This type of optimization involves peppering your content with popular keywords your target audience uses when searching for products and services similar to the ones you offer. On-page tactics can incorporate page titles, meta descriptions, blog posts, service pages, image captions, and other types of web content.
  2. Off-Page SEO. This strategy strives to improve your website’s authority by using backlinks to highly trusted websites, such as .gov and .edu pages. The more valuable, relevant, and helpful your content is, the better your off-page SEO will be and the better authority websites you’ll be able to attract.
  3. Technical SEO. Your page’s technical optimization includes ways to make your page easier for search engines to crawl as they look for content. One of the best ways to do this is to reduce your website’s loading speed. According to a 2017 study by Google, probability for someone to leave your website will go up by 90% if your site takes more than 5 seconds to load, so it pays to put serious effort into building an efficient site.

Pros of SEO

When performed by a digital advertising expert like the staff at BRANDefenders, SEO offers a terrific long-term return on investment (ROI), including consistent traffic to your website and better exposure on search engine results pages (SERPs). Once your website has been optimized, you generally don’t need much to maintain it except to generate new content following SEO best practices over time. Additionally, putting resources into optimizing your webpage increases your online reputation by highlighting you as an authority figure and an expert in your field.

Cons of SEO

The best practices for search engine optimization are always changing, so your return on investment is at the mercy of the algorithm rather than being under your own control. It also takes a long time to see real results using SEO. Finally, the analytics available for interpreting the results of a search engine optimization campaign are not as precise or reliable as the results you get from a paid search. 

What are Paid Results (PPC)?

Paid results, also called pay-per-click (abbreviated as PPC), refers to the purchasing of ads to create more visibility for your website on search engines. When using PPC tactics, the goal is for your ads to show up at the top of the SERP for your target keywords, ahead of the organic results for that same search. You’ll usually be charged each time a user clicks on one of these ads.

Paid results are like an auction, where businesses vie for keywords they want attached to their ads. Search engines then rank those businesses from highest to lowest bidder. The popularity of paid search as a digital marketing strategy is reflected in its prominence; nearly half of all online advertising expenditures in 2015 were from paid results campaigns.

Paid results advertising campaigns are relatively simple to set up, but they require quite a bit of knowledge and planning to be executed well. For that reason, hiring an experienced agency like BRANDefenders to handle a paid results campaign is highly recommended rather than attempting to run it yourself.

Pros of PPC

Paid results are immediate, which is especially helpful if you’re running a time-sensitive campaign such as a sale or promotion. The short-term return on investment is very good with a paid results campaign, and you’ll also receive highly detailed analytics that can help you plan your next campaign.

Cons of PPC

It can be easy to burn through your entire ad budget very quickly through a paid results campaign if you aren’t careful about your expenditures. Paid results should not be attempted by amateurs, making them less accessible than other forms of digital marketing. An expert digital marketing firm such as BRANDefenders needs to be at the helm of a paid results campaign to guarantee a solid ROI.

SEO vs. Paid Results: A Side-By-Side Comparison

The first difference between these two digital advertising tactics is that the top paid searches always show up before the top organic results in a SERP. The first four paid results come before the top ten organic or SEO-based results, after which another section is usually devoted to paid results.

Let’s examine more areas where these two strategies differ a little more closely.

SERP Layout

Organic results driven by SEO usually take up 80% of a SERP, significantly more real estate than paid search. These hits include frequently asked questions, shopping results, relevant locations, and more.


Both SEO and paid search involve some sort of cost. With SEO, a price per post is usually paid to an agency like BRANDefenders to generate relevant, keyword-loaded content for your website. 

With PPC results, you’re paying an agency a fee to target certain keywords for your ads. The cost for a paid search can vary depending on how popular your chosen keywords are and how much competition there is for those keywords. Over the long term, the profit margin for PPC tends to be lower than that of SEO.


When you hire experts like BRANDefenders agents to handle your SEO, the results can continue to generate traffic for your webpage for several years. You won’t be charged when customers find their way to your website by clicking on an organic link. However, you will only continue to generate hits if you continually churn out new content that is search engine optimized.

Paid results campaigns only last for however long you keep buying media. The effects are immediate, and you can start to benefit from a paid search in the hours immediately following the inception of your campaign. However, as soon as you stop spending money, the campaign will end, and you’ll have to reboot it or start a new one to keep up your digital advertising through paid results.

Which is Better for Advertising: SEO or Paid Results?

There are vocal proponents of SEO and PPC as strategies for web advertising, with some insisting that one method is inherently superior to the other. However, our digital marketing experts at BRANDefenders favor using both tactics together to build the strongest possible SERP for your brand.

Here’s a way to think about it: Honing your SEO skills is like learning to make your own clothes while using paid results is like going to the clothing store and purchasing apparel. One method takes a long time to yield great results but will allow you to create your own customized garments independently; the other method means you get immediate access to great clothing you would never be able to make yourself. Using both methods, you’ll have a unique wardrobe that perfectly fits your style and needs.

Of course, striking the perfect balance between these two strategies requires years’ worth of expertise and a thorough knowledge of current digital advertising practice, not to mention strict attention to detail. BRANDefenders is here to help, both with optimizing your on- and off-page content for SEO and with running a targeted and successful paid results campaign. Put as simply as possible, the goal is to use PPC to retarget visitors to your website, increase your market exposure, and help you generate better content for SEO.

The Bottom Line

Understanding the difference between paid results and SEO is key to developing the right marketing strategy for your brand. Online advertising is one of the most important ways to reach new customers, so keeping up with current best practices in digital advertising is essential to ensure your business’s continued growth and relevance. 

BRANDefenders agents are here to assist you on your digital advertising journey by developing a targeted plan to boost your online reputation and domain authority through SEO and paid results tactics. Get in touch with us to learn more.

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