SEO vs. Google Ads: Which one to start first?

Brian Bojan Dordevic
About The Author

Brian Decoded

President at Alpha Efficiency

Join me at the forefront of web design and digital marketing innovation. I am obsessed with web design, business philosophy and marketing performance.
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For companies starting their digital campaigns, it is very important to choose the right strategy that can provide the best results from the get-go and ensure that the time and money you are investing will bring a large volume of high-quality traffic primed to convert into sales and revenue. As a digital agency, one of the most common debates we hear from business owners is whether they should run SEO vs Google Ads campaigns for their business. There are a lot of external factors that influence the type of marketing that would tend to your needs, but we believe that Google Ads can work for most types of businesses. Although using Google Ads requires a budget, the results have shown that Google Ads delivers instantaneous ROI, leads, and sales. While SEO proves to be a more cost-effective form of search advertising, it has extended timelines that are needed to return the results.

seo vs google ads

SEO vs Google Ads

One of the biggest challenges for any marketer is finding valuable lead sources without having to put in an enormous amount of effort. However, this is especially true for those who have just entered the industry and are looking for cost-effective ways to make their businesses visible as soon as possible. It’s not an easy task to fulfill, so which solution apperas to be more appropriate in such as situation? Rightfully executed SEO helps you reach a higher position in the SERPs, but should it be your first step? The answer is, it depends. More often than not, your SEO efforts require significant investments and some time before you see tangible results. SEO is a long term solution, so while a well-executed SEO strategy brings excellent results in the long run, getting your optimization right may take quite a while. Is that something you can afford?

On the other hand, Google Ads has proven to be the fastest tool for this job, which is why some businesses spend billions of dollars a year on search advertising (Google’s expected revenue for 2022 is 60.7 billion). If your Google Ads campaign is converting at a profitable rate, there is no reason to arbitrarily cap spending on that campaign. By increasing your PPC budget, your leads and profit increase accordingly, making this the most cost-effective platform for businesses that need a lot of leads but are short on the budget needed to do SEO. In the short run, this has proven to be a considerably good option. To assist you in making the right decision for your business, our PPC agency in Chicago created a thorough SEO vs Google Ads comparison.

Measuring the results

Traditional marketing channels like TV and magazine advertising offer little to no chance to make exact measurements of the results they offer. The modern market by far surpasses the limited service they can offer. The same goes for SEO because you can’t always know what actions led to increased or decreased rankings and algorithmic impacts on the positioning. SEO aims to bring long term organic results, so there is a pontentially infinite number of factors that impact them. This simply does not fit into the domain of measurable. On the other hand, Google Ads is somewhat transparent. It offers tons of PPC metrics that you can use to estimate which campaigns work and which don’t on a granular level. This way you can easily determine if your campaigns are returning ROI. This allows you follow your progress and make adjustments on the run. You can filter out highly useful campaigns from those that are less so and continuously refine your strategy in order to achieve your best results. Learn more about granular strategies we deploy here at Alpha Efficiency, by reading our article on Single Keyword Ad Groups and Google Ads Micro Campaigns.

How customizable are these strategies

In the past, SEO strategies were pretty general. However, occasional algorithm updates made by the search engines (such as the Core Web Vitals update) have caused an evolution in the SEO field. Although this evolution was gradual, it has led to a need for customized SEO strategies. A generalized approach doesn’t bring much effectiveness any more, instead the need for a  more specialized and adaptable approach has naturally arisen. A specific SEO strategy has to be adjusted to the circumstances and challenges presented by each specific situation. This makes SEO a significantly more complex solution, but also one with significantly more possibilities. Nowadays, SEO customization involves two primary practices: customizing for businesses and niches.
When building a customized SEO strategy, it’s essential to follow a few steps, such as defining your audience as best as possible, establishing the needs and solutions, and using content to deliver solutions for customers’ needs. After completing these steps, you can start working on a thorough website and business analysis. One of the most effective ways to implement this strategy is using optimal keywords obtained by keyword analysis tools and your competitors’ keyword analysis.

Google Ads offers a lot of options to tailor your ads and campaigns to fit your needs and target the exact audience you wish to reach. Let’s name a few:

  • Specify keyword match types – By specifying your keyword match types you can choose to display your ads only to people who search for the exact keyword of your choice, filtering out all the other traffic that you find irrelevant for your campaign. SEO doesn’t offer this option, so your best chance is to keep your fingers crossed and hope for the best.
  • Use ad extensions to display important information about your business, such as images of your products, your company’s location, phone number, links to your website, or even initiate a chat or get an email address right from the SERP.
  • Filter your audience by location, time of day, language, browser, device type, or any other criteria you find relevant.
  • Reach non-search users on platforms like Gmail, YouTube, and many other partner sites.
  • Leverage the display network, which is great for building brand awareness and often converts at a lower cost than Google Search.

How quickly can you see the results

For new businesses and websites using SEO, it can take anywhere from 6 to 18 months for the tangible generation of ROI (4 months with our accelerated SEO plans). This is a quite a long period of time that they may or may not be able to afford. This used to be referred to as the Google sandbox effect since people assumed that Google was deliberately filtering new websites out of the search results. However, the process of reaching out to your audience is much more spontaneous and organic. It has to go by its natural flow and generally takes time. The truth is that the competition is fierce and it takes time for new websites to earn authority and links.

By using Google Ads, new businesses don’t have to wait so long to see the results. It’s a more direct and purposely targeted process that brings certain results right away. So both solutions can be to a certain extend used at the same time, one mutually complementing the other. It is a good idea to put your resources into a Google Ads campaign and start getting impressions and clicks right away, while at the same time working on your site’s SEO by improving authority and content. This can be a way for you to test if a certain keyword or audience is worth pursuing via organic search. If you see a high number of conversions in Google Ads, then it is probably worth trying to rank for in SEO and build out your content in that area.

Another great thing with Google Ads, is that it often offers vouchers that grant some free PPC budget for new advertisers.

SEO vs Google Ads: The Maintenance

Maintaining a large website and keeping up to date with everything in the microcosm of your niche is a challenging and tedious task that requires massive resources. Also, it takes a dedicated team of people continually producing SEO content, working on optimization, and building links to increase organic traffic. It’s a massive task in every concern. This can take a lot of your time and effort with sometimes uncertain outcomes. You need to be absolutely certain that you are willing and ready to undertake such a project. In contrast to that, once your PPC campaigns are built and in place, you will find that they are much less uncertain and will provide value based on the size of your investment. This may or may not be costly, and that’s exactly the benefit – it gives you a lot of control over the process.

Ranking on SERPs

Google Ads accounts for around 97% of Google’s revenue, so it is no wonder that the SERP has changed over time to give more space for ads above the organic results. This may appear as a drawback or as a benefit, it all depends on the approach. Although this could be frustrating for SEO specialists, it is a great opportunity for PPC marketers to get their message high up on the SERP where they are most likely to generate clicks. And for queries with high commercial intent, sponsored ads take 2 out of 3 clicks on the first page, leaving SEO irrelevant in certain verticals.

Google Ads Formats Can Be More Engaging than Organic Results

Over the years Google has created many new ad formats, such as product listing ads and in-video ads on YouTube. They aim to cover any potential requirement, depending on your campaign type and your campaign goal. Each ad format has its own purpose, whether it is that you are looking for ads that are easy to run and affordable or for something more complex and creative. They are going all out to make their ads as engaging as they can be. Their evolved ads generate more clicks bringing more revenue to both Google and the advertiser.

SEO vs Google Ads: Traffic Conversion

Depending on the industry and the nature of the business, conversion rates generated by paid search traffic can be up to two times higher than those generated by organic traffic. This is because paid search traffic is more targeted, and queries that result in ad clicks are more often commercial, rather than informational. However, this doesn’t mean that naturally occurring traffic is not beneficial. In the long run, it may reach amazing results, but that’s exactly the point. It’s in the long run. It all depends on how much time can you afford to invest.

The impact of a well-structured landing page on your conversion rates

Well-structured landing pages are an essential part of your Google Ads campaign. Since these pages allow you to earn trust, convey value and convert your visitor into leads, it’s important to create an eye-catching design. There is always a personal, even emotional component to them. Alluring headlines and clear CTAs are also a must since they significantly increase your chances of conversion. Visitors’ attention is generally limited, so you need to catch is just enough to get them to convert, and you have to make conversion easily available. Still, landing page optimization requires a certain skill level, and we’ve seen many businesses neglect this part of their campaign. If you find yourself struggling with creating spectacular landing pages, we suggest you seek assistance from an experienced web design agency in Chicago.

Google Ads Work Great with Your Other Marketing Channels

Google Ads is complementary to your other marketing channels. Mixing various complementary solutions can potentially bring excellent results if done appropriately. You can use Google Ads to establish remarketing campaigns and target people who have already shown an interest in your business. When a user finds your website through social media, blogs, a product page, or any other way, your display ads will use cookies to monitor their internet activity, so you know what’s effective and what’s not. You can continuously refine your campaign along the way. Retargeted ads have extremely high ROI compared to other marketing channels.


This article has barely scratched the surface when it comes to the hot SEO vs Google Ads debate. With so many forms of digital marketing out there it is important to do your research and carefully pick your battles. Make sure that you understand what you are getting into and that you have the right company for the job. If you are going to invest time and money into growing your business, put your advertising in the hands of someone who knows exactly what they are doing, who has the right tools to make an impact, and who you can trust with your business. Kudos to all of you jacks-of-all-trades out there! You need to make sure your digital campaigns drive real ROI and don’t just cover the cost of marketing. We wish you all that your business scales and grows at a rate you have never seen before! Having a hard time doing the research on your own? Schedule a strategy session with our Chicago PPC agency experts, and let us help you carve a path to digital success.


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