Marketers surveyed say they would choose Google Ads over SEO if they had to

During this time of marketing budget freezes and re-deployments, the question of which channels to use for greatest impact is top of mind for most marketers. Two surveys cast some light on the current thinking among marketing professionals and small business owners about the relative merits of SEO and PPC.

Paid search preferred. A survey by BestSEOCompanies.com, polled 1,000 marketing professionals and consumers (split almost evenly) and asked about the effectiveness of SEO vs. Google Ads according to several measures.

Marketers in roughly equal numbers found both SEM (90%) and SEO (87%) to be effective. Forced to choose one or the other, however, a surprising 64% said they would choose Google Ads, although SEO was seen as more affordable and sustainable than paid search.

Source: BestSEOCompanies.com survey (2020)

This response comes despite the fact that SEO drives more referral traffic than paid search. Data from BrightEdge last year, for example, showed that organic search was responsible for 53% of site traffic while paid drove roughly 15%.

Consumers respond more to organic results. The survey asked consumers about the trustworthiness and relevance of different SERP features and their engagement with those features. It also asked consumers about their inclinations to click on organic results vs. paid ads. While 84% said they frequently click organic results, only 45% said the same of paid-search ads.

The survey thus reveals a gap of sorts between these marketer-respondents and consumers. The fact that the marketers preferred paid search to SEO, I suspect, has to do with the greater sense of control and trackability that paid search offers. A larger percentage said they could measure ROI with paid search (52%) vs. 36% who said they could track ROI from their SEO efforts.

SMBs’ missing SEO strategy. A separate survey of 500 small business owners from The Manifest found that “just 30% have an SEO strategy in place to improve their website’s organic ranking.” The majority of respondents (75%) were from firms with between two and 10 employees.

SEO is challenging and too complex for most true small business owners to manage themselves. However, the survey found that’s mostly what’s going on: 62% of businesses doing SEO are managing it in-house, with 77% of those working on SEO doing it only part-time.

Why we care. This SEO vs. PPC debate has been going on since the beginning of search marketing itself. The smart answer to the question of whether to do SEO or PPC is “and” not “or” — both tactics complement one another. (The BestSEOCompanies.com should not necessarily be extrapolated to the entire industry because of its methodology and relatively small sample size.)

However, as budgets are being squeezed and paused right now — especially in the case of SMBs — the SEO vs. PPC question takes on new importance and urgency. While many marketers reading this article would probably argue SEO is foundational and PPC is more discretionary, the ultimate answer is basically case-by-case.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land, a member of the programming team for SMX events and the VP, Market Insights at Uberall.

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