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E-Commerce Mastery: SEO vs PPC in 2022?

EBS Integrator
Jan 31, 2022,

Let’s discuss the merits of both digital marketing strategies – SEO vs PPC? We’ll talk about what they are, how they affect your eCommerce platform, and what are their respective pros and cons.

Continuing with our foray into all things e-commerce, today we’re taking a bite out of one of the most important things when it comes to creating a successful eCommerce platform. Deciding on which marketing approach to take! Which roughly translates into: the premise of getting users to discover and visit your online store, i.e Digital Marketing.

Of course, that is a massive oversimplification. Digital marketing is, as many things in business, incredibly complex. It is very nuanced with many outlets and professions. Hence why we are in the process of breaking it apart into smaller pieces, one article at a time!

Today we are tackling the beast of Search Engine Optimization. Again. This time however we’ll be looking at it via a comparison with its other side of the coin – PPC as well as the lens of eCommerce platforms.

We’ll talk about what exactly is eCommerce SEO. What is Pay Per Click (PPC). Why they matter, and how they affect your online store. Later we’ll discuss what are the best practices you need to keep in mind when developing your marketing campaign.

So, without further ado, let’s dive in!

What is eCommerce SEO?

First of all, let’s reiterate what exactly is SEO. Or go ahead and read our earlier article.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the “scientific” approach to maximize visibility via search engines like Google, Bing, Yandex and others. It is a set of best practices, strategies, and technical know-how to achieve high rankings (top results) on SERPs. Thus, driving organic traffic your way.

SERP or Search Engine Results Page is the adopted term for the first page you see after you input your query into the search box. It doesn’t mean that the first page is the only “SERP”, but as stats go, only 0.78% of searchers click on anything on the second page. So for simplicities sake, anything that matters is on the first page.

Consecutively, eCommerce SEO, is a set of techniques to achieve higher exposure on search engines for your online shop. Those techniques optimize: your content, keywords, site architecture, technical structure, On-page SEO, and use of analytical tools to achieve a higher ranking on the SERPs.

It also improves your brand awareness, drives traffic, generates leads and most importantly – it is the most ROI efficient online marketing strategy for your platform. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

You might be wondering: why is there a distinction between normal SEO and eCommerce SEO?

Even though there is a lot of overlap, and the principles stay relatively the same, there are still differences and what might work for a normal web-app, might not be exactly the best for an online store.

But why does SEO matter?

How does SEO affect eCommerce?

In our day and age, consumers have long developed the habit of performing at least basic research on products they wish to acquire. They look for tips on online forums such as Quora or Reddit among others; look for alternatives or DIY methods to solve their problem before even deciding that they need a product.

Did you know that 81% of consumers spend time researching a product before a purchase? With 60% of consumers doing the research even before visiting an online store.

Customers seek comparisons, additional information, product history etc.

And all that begins with a google search. Google holds the whooping majority (79% as of Q4 2021) of the search engine market, hence most SEO articles revolve around google.

If your platform does not appear on that SERP during the research phase, you lose access to the most critical part for your success: interested consumers.

You might have the most optimized logistics, most intuitive and unobtrusive UX/UI, the best products on the market and cheapest prices.

Yet if it is not findable, you have no customers.

Understandably you might think “well, we’re just going to pay for ads”! Which leads us to…

What about PPC? SEO vs PPC

Now we’re all savvy businesspeople here, and if we know one thing about business! It’s that:

It involves money!

Any promotional action, advertisements, content creation, SEO optimization etc. requires investment. Subsequently you might reason that money can solve any problem, even low visibility. Which is true, to an extent.

This all serves as a segway into our second contender – Pay-Per-Click (PPC)

Essentially using PPC (or Pay Per Click) advertisements on google – your ads end up on banners on various websites and become a “featured” result on SERPs. The targeted ads use the various client databases gathered by our overlords at google to hyper customize who sees what ad, when they do it, and where.

Which solves our problem right?

That might have been the case once, however after nearly two decades of constant ad exposure on the web, users have developed something called “Banner Blindness”.

Essentially, users have learned to ignore content that resembles advertisements, is in close proximity to ads or is in usual positions for ads. It is an instance of selective attention governed by our subconsciousness with users paying attention strictly on stimuli involved in their goal.

User gaze plot, each red dot represents eye fixation of a single user, numbers and lines reflect rapid eye movement.

This leads to 94% of users completely ignoring the ad search results and the PPC overall (banner ads) exposure amounting only to 15% of all traffic.

What are the Pros and Cons of SEO vs PPC?

It might sound that we’re wrongfully bashing PPC right from the “get go”. That is not the case, the 12.7$ billion advertisement market is not going anywhere. For better or worse, digital banner ads will possibly be forever in the human history from now on.

Let’s take a quick/short tally of the “good” and the “bad” of these digital marketing strategies.

PROs of PPC:

PPC exists and thrives for good reason as it does have some distinct advantages:

Ability to pinpoint the target audience

The name of the game is hyper targeted and customized ads to the exact consumers you wish to have – the ones with money and specific needs for a new product right this instant.

This allows you to carpet target users that are ideal customers – they have a problem and are looking for a solution in form of a product.

So much so that all that data you throw into the internet with your social media and internet activity leads to complex algorithms predicting your needs and wants even before you know about them.

Provides quicker results

Setting up targeted advertisement is a relatively easy process (we’re not talking about creating personalized/customized ads, that is a whole science).

Hence generally speaking you can see instant “results” and receive Click-through-rate (CTR), and subsequent conversion into Activation CR.

A CTR is essentially the number of users who were exposed to your advertisement and clicked on it. Activation CR on the other hand is the next step, it is a product metric which calculates the number of users who went ahead and performed a milestone action, like purchase for instance.

For a more detailed examination of the various product metrics, check our piece on them!

Is subject to easy measurements and tests

Because of its relative ease of set up, its lightweight nature, it’s possible, and actually recommended, to set up multiple different campaigns to gauge and measure their success.

After a short time, you can decide to “kill off” the less performing ad, or optimize it by changing copy, or some design element etc.

It’s great as a start

Finally, PPC is great when you have absolutely zero customer exposure, no brick-and-mortar stores with your name anywhere. Essentially – PPC is fantastic for first step brand awareness building.

It won’t outperform proper SEO practices in keeping that awareness but getting people to even hear your name is a first step when building a new brand.

Cons of PPC:

It’s expensive

The biggest drawback of this model.

Costs of PPC heavily rely on the target industry and the search volume of keywords you’re aiming for. However, generally it is a relatively costly endeavour as the average cost as of 2021 was 1-2$ per click. But some market segments can skyrocket it all the way to 54$ per click!

Ads become old news really fast

PPC ads require constant maintenance, improvement, change, new campaigns, new slogans etc.

Ads become stale really quick and due to relative lack of control over how ads are managed by the big boys at google. You might encounter problems of having the same wording or design as your competitors, resulting in customers confusing or ignoring your ads due to overexposure of the segment.

Lower profit margins – Once the money goes so does PPC

While being a short-term win, PPC generally shows lower profit margins in the long term. Requiring constant stream of money to flow into your campaigns, and once the money dries up, so does your CTR.

The aforementioned banner blindness

As discussed earlier, humanity has essentially evolved its attention to simply ignore banners and ads altogether. This phenomenon results in a constant and slow decrease of CTR conversion by paid ads we observe the last 5 years.

Pros of SEO:

On the other side of the proverbial coin of SEO vs PPC discussion, let’s take a look at what SEO achieves and where it lacks:

It’s cheaper in the long run

While the costs of setting up your SEO strategy, paying freelancers, or hiring copywriters or even full-fledged agencies are higher on the onset. They tend to prove to be far more efficient and cheaper in the long run.

Compared to PPC, it requires a heavy load of work in the beginning, however once it’s set up, all it needs is regular optimization. Updating expired links, information, meta-data etc.

Brand awareness and authority

By consistently ranking on the top search results during customer’s research phase, you create a sense of authority and trust among customers as well as increase your brand awareness overall.

Simply seeing your brand’s name/website every time they have an inkling to research a prospective buy, increases your authority as a credible store.

It never stops working entirely

When and if the money dries up, SEO won’t suddenly stop working, it will keep bringing value and new clients long after, sometimes even years in advance.

Cons of SEO:

Umbrella approach – SEO vs PPC

Unlike PPC, SEO does not have the luxury of targeting exact audiences. Merely Keywords or Long-Tail-Keywords. This relies on essentially predicting what your customers will input into their search box. Then writing appropriate content/tags and hoping for the best.

Constant change of the rules

With Google being the undisputed leader of search engines, they set up the rules, and they change them. And Boy’o’boy do they change them a lot.

When before Google would make a few updates/changes to its complex algorithm once or twice per year, now it happens thousands of times with small changes yearly.

This leads to a constant demand for SEO specialists, optimization, and adaption to the new rules.

Exceedingly difficult and complex – more art than science

Reason why there is much ambiguity regarding SEO best practices is, even though everyone likes to say it is, it’s a science. Its not. Only partially.

Sometimes your content works, sometimes it doesn’t. And much like art it requires talent and affinity.

There are ways of improving your chances and thus results, but sometimes your campaign can turn into a flop. And not necessarily due to poor keyword optimization or uninteresting content. But because fully optimizing your platform from the technical standpoint as well as content can be very complex, requiring months of work and planning to get you going.

It takes time, a lot of it

And finally, the biggest woe of SEO overall is that it takes time, sometimes a very long time to start showing tangible results. Thereby we see a lot of “special” requests for SEO among the less informed.

However much like a snowball rolling down a hill, once it gets going, it will keep going and growing, without an increase of investment.

Conclusion – SEO vs PPC which one is better?

What have we learned so far? Both marketing strategies have their ups and downs. As well as merits to exist and thrive.

One of the main aspects to consider when choosing one or the other is their relative conversion rates by segments.
Though on average SEO always outperforms in terms of conversion rates.

A screenshot of a computer Description automatically generated

As mentioned above – it takes a lot of time and a lot of know-how.

Hopefully we’ve given you enough reason to understand that SEO is incredibly and increasingly important to the success of your platform. While PPC is the old veteran approach to marketing which unfortunately is fading for various reasons (such as banner blindness among others).

If you’re short on budget and want a more ROI efficient method, want to increase your brand awareness, and you’re not exactly pressed for time, in the SEO vs PPC match – SEO is the clear winner!

While PPC is a short-term investment with better initial results but a more expensive long-term perspectives, it requires constant maintenance and updates to stay relevant and keep your CAC at acceptable levels.

But at the same time, if you’re a stickler for data-driven decisions and lead your enterprise “by the numbers”, you can’t go wrong with PPC.

Ultimately the best solution is using a form of synergy between the two. After all, they do not exclude one another!

In conclusion we would like to tell you that the best possible thing to do for a successful eCommerce platform – synergies both PPC and SEO marketing together.

That’s where the gold pot is at the end of the rainbow!

Farewell

And that wraps up this short foray into this particular question in digital marketing. There is a good reason why people spend years learning these things and write whole books about the topic. We merely scratched the surface.

Digital marketing is a remarkably interesting topic, but as mentioned above, it is more often than not, more art than science!

We tried being objective, and regardless of if we succeeded or not, next time we’ll try to apply the things we’ve learned and tell you how to optimize your eCommerce SEO with a list of tips and tricks! Sometime later we’ll walk you through in setting up your PPC ads.

With that said, we’d love to hear your experiences, maybe something we’ve missed? Tell us in the comments below!

And as always – stay classy business and tech nerds!