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Five reasons why SEO should be prioritized over paid media campaigns


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30-second summary:

  • Most marketers combine SEO and paid media campaigns, but the marketing budget between the two should not necessarily be split down the middle.
  • Paid media campaigns, which include PPC, social, and influencer campaigns, are a one-and-done expense, meaning the investment doesn’t build on itself.
  • SEO can take weeks or months to show results, but after the effort, it’s cost-effective and sustainable.
  • All in all, SEO should be prioritized if you’re focused on the longevity of your company’s marketing scheme.
  • Elevation Marketing’s Vice President of Strategy and Marketing Services explains why SEO gives more bang for your buck.

US digital ad spending was expected to grow 19% to $129.34 billion by 2020, finally surpassing traditional advertising methods. According to eMarketer, this figure accounts for 54.2% of total ad spending in the country — and this isn’t a fluke. Digital marketing is effective, but there are multiple routes marketers can take. So, how do you know which?

SEO and paid media campaigns are two of the most common digital marketing strategies, and they’re often implemented together as a one-two punch. SEO is a more long-term play in which marketers will work to enhance a website’s SERP rankings, and the latter includes anything from paid social media ads to PPC campaigns. While paid media can get you thousands of impressions,  it may not always be worth the largest chunk of a marketing budget, especially if you’re thinking about the bigger picture.

The truth is that most online experiences (about 68% according to research) begin with a search engine, and that’s where SEO shines, despite the fact that 25% of marketers admitted to having a less than average understanding of organic traffic. A great SEO strategy won’t see immediate returns like PPC campaigns might, but it provides an effective strategy that is far more scalable and sustainable. 

For this reason, SEO should take priority overpaid media, especially when your marketing budget is tight, but ultimately both types of digital marketing strategies work best when used hand-in-hand.

1. SEO is cost-effective

The ROI of an SEO campaign is a bit harder to calculate than that of a paid campaign. If you’re paying for links or ad clicks or paying an influencer to create a sponsored post, you can easily see the real-time profits. SEO is a little bit different because it can take months to reap the benefits. Nonetheless, it’s still more cost-effective in the long run because once a comprehensive SEO strategy is correctly implemented, it’s set and tends to snowball. You only need to invest in maintenance and updates, rather than investing every single time you run a paid campaign. 

When it comes to search engines, SEO generally has a smaller CPA (cost per acquisition) than PPC. That’s not to say that SEO doesn’t require an initial investment. A great strategy requires a sharp, well-versed professional — which does come at a premium. Google also uses more than 200 different factors to rank websites and some of these factors are constantly evolving, so a long-term investment is a must to keep up with the ever-changing SEO landscape, it just doesn’t usually cost as much as consistently running paid advertising campaigns throughout the entirety of your company’s lifespan.

There are also multiple resources on the web that allow you to learn the basics of SEO on your own. This technical SEO checklist gives step-by-step instructions on how to perform on-page checks that will boost your search engine rankings. This is perfect for those who are just starting out and want to get some base-level SEO added to their site. 

2. SEO has longevity

You might get great results for things like paid search and digital display media, but the second the campaign ends, that success is over. For example, you can bid for a spot on the first page of Google (which can be very expensive depending on the keyword), but that disappears the second you stop paying for it. At the end of the day, paid media is artificially inflated growth.

There is some truth to the old adage that all good things take time, and SEO is a prime example. With a great strategy, you should see solid results by six months, and even more solid results by a year, but these results don’t just disappear the second you decide to divest and reallocate your marketing budget to something else. Once your website’s SEO is established, it’s established (i.e. when you’re in, you’re in). The rest is maintenance, like minding Google’s core updates and creating regular content, or it will trickle to a stopover time. Think of SEO as building a foundation for a house and paid media campaigns as furnishing the room.

3. SEO is sustainable

Paid media’s longevity problem makes it difficult for startups and smaller, newer businesses to maintain long term. While most brands invest a solid amount in paid campaigns from the beginning, it’s not exactly a sustainable strategy. Think of it this way: the average social media influencer charges between $75 to $3,000 per sponsored post — and it can go way beyond that. That’s just for one post that will get buried in a feed, whereas a business could invest the same amount in SEO content, and see the returns for months on end.

In short, SEO is a sustainable way to elevate your online presence and raise brand awareness. Your ROI from SEO will continue to climb long after your paid media efforts have peaked. Even organic social media marketing doesn’t perform the same way. For example, pages with more than 500,000 likes on Facebook have seen a dramatic decrease in reach, possibly to encourage companies to increase their ad spend.

4. Users prefer organic links

Flatly put, people prefer and trust organic links over paid ads. In fact, organic results can get 15 times the CTR of paid search results if you rank well on a high search volume keyword, and that’s because people just don’t trust advertisements. Consumers want results because they’re relevant, not because someone paid to be there.

A survey done by MarketingSherpa showed that 70% of the links users click on are organic, while only 25% are paid. This emphasizes the importance of having your site rank organically as users are far more likely to visit your site via an organic link.

Stat on organic vs paid media campaigns performance

Of course, backlinking is also a crucial part of any SEO strategy. Users may overwhelmingly favor organic content, but there’s a fair chance they won’t see it unless you’ve got a solid link building strategy that includes placements from trustworthy, high-quality, third party websites. Studies have shown that 91% of all pages don’t get organic traffic from Google, largely because they don’t have any backlinks. More than half of all website pages don’t even have one backlink when the more backlinks a page has, the higher it ranks on Google’s SERPs.

5. SEO is scalable

SEO is fully scalable, meaning you can adjust your campaigns as your company grows. In fact, many business owners first dive into the world of SEO by reading up and implementing their own basic strategy before they have the funds to bring in the professionals. The more you do, the better it’s going to work. 

Paid media doesn’t work in the same way. Sure, it can generate impressions and raise the brand, but ad blindness is an extremely real consequence. According to Forbes, Americans are inundated with 4,000 to 10,000 every single day, and it’s no secret that they start to filter them out eventually. 

Overall, a solid SEO strategy sets up a solid foundation for marketing success that can only be elevated through paid campaigns. The same can’t be said for the reverse.

Ryan Gould is Vice President of Strategy and Marketing Services at Elevation Marketing. He can be found on LinkedIn.

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