SEO vs Paid Advertising

by | Feb 11, 2022

Comparing SEO and Paid Advertising

No matter the size of your business, you may struggle to get the right viewers at the right times.

With inbound marketing, you can combine all the tools of digital marketing and advertising to bring you closer to your ideal audience.

For any brand, it’s important to utilize both search engine optimization and paid promotions.

SEO and digital advertising are two key components of a robust inbound marketing program. It’s helpful to understand how they differ, how they work, and how employing both of them can have a great impact on your marketing efforts.


A huge component of search engine optimization is strategically creating digital content to improve your rank on organic search results.

Throughout your marketing program you will find online content that can quickly and easily be improved to attract viewers. With a whopping 93% of all online sessions beginning on a search engine, ranking above the competition is a priority for all businesses.

Your rank will depend on your authority and relevance– meaning the more related your content is to the query and more trusted you are as a source, the more likely your content will satisfy the searcher, thus appearing higher on the search engine results page (SERP).


To optimize your website for SEO, it’s important to evaluate your website so that the information contained within it can be found easily by search engines. Fill out any information that may help a search engine find and promote your content. The easiest way to do so is to check that all of the code behind your site, on each of your web pages, is complete including:

A search engine such as Google will judge and rank your content based on these elements. The more unique and accurate information you have on a page, the more likely Google is to trust your site.

Google is not like a human user- it cannot see images or get around broken code. Properly filling out all of these elements will help Google and other search engines to know what is on your page and improve your ranking.


Content is a major component of your site’s relevance. In order to help your ranking, content pages should be organized, and full of helpful information and relevant keywords. The backend code should contain keywords and meta descriptions to help search engines read your content. Doing so ensures that search engines are able to find your content and present it to the user quickly and conveniently. The more popular your content becomes, the more your authority rises.

You can use any type of content for SEO. Long-form blogs, videos, service pages, FAQ pages, pillar pages, and about pages can all help to raise your authority and relevance by offering a lot of helpful and relevant information (to both readers and search engines).

To make sure you are sharing relevant content, write blogs that answer popular questions in your industry, or industry-specific topics that are currently trending. With each post, the goal is to help the reader find what he or she is looking for, while leveraging the keywords for which you would like to be found.

Other content such as pillar pages and FAQ pages can also draw in organic traffic.

Pillar pages are used to organize content based on themes. Pillar pages are very helpful to readers as they conveniently cluster content based on topic; linking other blogs and social posts to this one page can expose users to all the information they need about a single subject. Using pillar pages can increase your authority while also helping to boost the traffic to other content on your site; use pillar pages to draw in readers and connect them with resources they might otherwise have trouble finding.

Similarly, FAQ pages can be used to address many topics on one page. When you list questions and answers, you can use many different combinations of keywords to improve your chances of appearing in a search. You can then use this page like a pillar page and link to other areas of your site with additional information. This will help to improve traffic to less popular pages and can encourage users to navigate your site.

Social Media

Social media is a key component of most marketing strategies, but many marketers may underestimate the power of social content in terms of SEO.

There are many ways in which social media can be used to help with SEO. Primarily, social platforms allow you to connect with your audience in new and exciting ways. When you connect with more viewers online, other viewers are more likely to encounter your brand; the more users interacting with your brand, the bigger the buzz.

The more your content is shared, the more your brand is associated with those keywords. Eventually, search engines will begin to associate your brand name with any search involving those keywords.

One of the biggest drawbacks of relying on SEO to improve traffic is the time it will take to see real results. SEO is absolutely a must for all online content, but it can be a slow build and you may have to give it several months to see your ranking rise after implementing any changes.

Paid Ads

While SEO will build a sustainable foundation for your company to rely on, paid ads will help you get in front of your audience much more quickly. Done right, paid ads can help you to almost instantly bring in more traffic from search engines.

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There are many types of ads you may experience through search engines, but the most common are text ads at the top and bottom of the SERP. For Google, you may also encounter these ads across other Google services and partner sites.

Improving ranking through SEO should always be your goal, but paid ads on SERPs allow you to reach the top right now. Even though your site may not have the authority to be ranked first, you can reach your target audience and show users you have what they are looking for.

Very rarely do users look beyond the first result page- only 25% ever make it to the second page! That means if your ideal consumer is making a search, you must appear on the first page if you want them to see you. Even then, the first result can receive twice the Click Through Rate (CTR) of the second result, and the rate continues to drastically drop as ranking decreases.

If you are unlikely to reach the top of the first page on a search engine, then you may greatly benefit from paying to advertise at the top; this will give your brand the visibility it needs to improve traffic and authority.


This type of ad can be found across the internet- many brands will allow search engines like Google to display ads in various places on their sites. Unlike search ads, display ads will appear when relevant to user history, meaning you can interact with leads at all points of the buyer’s journey.

These ads tend to be more engaging with consumers as they leave much more room for creativity; unlike text-based search ads, display ads can include images, videos, or animations to better attract viewers’ attention. With these ads you can better express your unique brand and stand out from competition.

If you choose to invest in advertising on Google (which holds over 92% of the total search engine market share), you will gain access to users on sites across the web. Instead of waiting for your SEO efforts to start making an impact, you can introduce your brand and get in front of your target market quickly.

Social Media Advertising

Like paid advertisements, the content you share on social media can be used to market your brand and engage target audiences. The problem is, like any other online content, it is easy for your brand to get lost in a sea of competition.

By utilizing paid promotion on social media, you are guaranteed to improve your visibility on that site, which can help to improve brand awareness overall.

To maintain a strong social presence, you will have to build a foundation based on quality content and genuine interactions. You can then use paid promotions to expand your reach and engage new relevant audiences.

All social platforms allow you customize your advertising preferences to ensure you are connecting with the right people. You can adjust your budget based on the results and changing needs of your brand. Most platforms, particularly Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, help you to evaluate the results of your advertising and tweak your campaigns to reach your target market more effectively.

Paid promotion has the appeal of right-now results, and it is a solid component of an inbound marketing plan, but shouldn’t replace other efforts. Paying for your content to be seen will increase how many people see it, but it’s also important to focus on the quality of your interactions and the content you are producing.

Digital marketing is multi faceted, giving you an endless number of options to connect with your target audience. SEO and digital advertising are two vital aspects of marketing that, when used together, can increase engagement, awareness, and the success of your business.

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Thanks for reading,

Editor’s note: This blog was originally published in February 2020 and has been edited and updated in January 2022.

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