PPC vs SEO Showdown: SES London 2010 Recap

With lunch over and done with we move to the 3rd session of our SES London coverage, which is a no-holds barred, set for one fall, steel cage challenge between the merits of Search Engine Optimisation vs. Paid Search... No prizes for guessing which side of the fence I stand on, one is for wimps and the other is for real men.. <ahem> I mean of course that both work together seamlessly within an integrated digital marketing mix yada yada yada...

PPC or SEO? The Ultimate Search Marketing Battle

SEO: Ralph Tegtmeier, Dave Naylor, Rand Fishkin

PPC: Paul Mead, Andrew Goodman

Rand kicks off the debate with a number of slides showing stats around trends which show how companies are going to be spending more on SEO than PPC in the future.


The main argument for SEO is that most people click on the organic results. But "what use is volume if it doesnt convert?" My view: Umm but SEO can convert just as much, and YOU DONT HAVE TO PAY FOR IT.  Sorry, back to reporting (but got a feeling I might be coming back to that one).

SEO comes with risk - eg getting banned, uncontrolled drops; PPC doesn't.

Clickthrough Rate - how many SEOs can tell you their clickthrough rates? Dave puts his hand up.  Awesome. Must speak to him about how he goes about getting it, but it's true, most of us don't.

Q from moderator: if you have a brand new domain, might that not be a ways that PPC wins over SEO for getting immediate visibility? Rand says no, but he's just sticking up for his corner really - its a good point.

Fantomaster: PPC is useful for testing

Fantomaster raises click fraud as a problem with PPC. "We havent talked about that yet, why not?"

Another blast from Fantomaster: "what about the fact that PPC prices have been inflated like mad? Do you really want to be throwing money at Google?"

Dave Naylor: "thats the great thing about SEO - I don't mind my friends and family clicking on my organic listings. I don't even care about people doing click fraud on my organic listings"

Goodman: if you take a site that's been well optimised for both PPC and SEO, the conversion split is 70/30 - for the highest converting phrases people look to the sponsored results for transactions and deals.

Dave Naylor: people get banned from PPC as well! One guy came to me and said "I've only ever done PPC (£1m/month) and I've been banned, what do i do?" I said, "Your Screwed."

Goodman raises a point about people not knowing how to do basic SEO stuff properly - eg a developer who cant do a title tag properly screwing you up.  Dave Naylor comes straight back with the fact that the same thing can happen with PPC - eg burning tens of thousands into content network ads because you didn't know to switch it off.

Fantomaster: we're actually working on a product for Quality Score cloaking which people are starting to do now... Very interesting blackhat stuff as always from Fantomaster. There ensues a long debate where the PPC guys claim you cant cloak quality score, and also debate around whether the strength of the domain affects quality score in PPC.

Rand: "I'm very curious about PPC myself". Dave: "Almost bi-curious in fact." Its fast becoming all against all here in the PPC vs SEO showdown.

Dave Naylor talking about how someone tested a query where they 'owned' almost the entire page with universal results - images, videos, products, local etc - as well

Dave Naylor: the point is, you'd never say choose one or the other - there's a place for both.  But PPC seems to be costing more and more these days.

Question from the floor about how much agencies make from PPC vs SEO. The consensus is that SEO makes more margin for an agency than PPC.  But this question is what I always say

Question (from me!) - we've seen a case where switching off PPC actually lead to an uplift in rankings - ever seen this? Answer: no - its inconclusive.  Would be awesome if it was true!

Another question from me(!)  - There tends to be a lot more ROI tracking for PPC compared to SEO - people dont measure their SEO ROI and that's one of the reasons why companies prefer spending on PPC.  Rand agrees that this is the case - Google works hard to make it easy to see ROI but make it hard to measure rankings and organic clickthroughs.  SEOs should spend more time measuring ROI.  Dave: we do measure it.

Fantomaster: people nowadays are interested in 'saturation' of SERPS rather than just rankings... he mentioned there are blackhat way s of achieving this SERP dominations and that these techniques in the short term bring you amazing ROI!  He gave an example of a client who was ranking positions 1-64 in Yahoo for a keyword...and he left it at that :)

Another followup on measuring clickthroughs - someone from the floor said she measures clickthrough using traffic figures and dividing them with Google Keyword Tool search volume data. Is that the best way? Dave Naylor talks about the way they do it monitoring rankings and traffic vs normalised search data from Google Insights API (I think) and constantly calculating average clickthrough rates for certain  positions for non-branded keyphrases. This feeds into strategy of what keywords to go for as well as forecasting.  He wouldn't share this data for obvious reasons, but mentioned the 'cliff drop' from #1 which might get 49% clickthrough to #2 (20% if you're lucky) and lower.  Great stuff

Great question about whether we're approaching a time where there are so many PPC and universal (Google property) listings on page 1 that your organic #1 ranking is on page 2.  Dave said we're going this way and when it happens Google will die. Fully agree with this and I think Google is going down a slippery slope with their SERP landgrab.

And that's that.  I thought this session was going to be a bit 'blah' but the quality of the speakers shone through and especially in the Q&A there was some great discussion - all fodder for future  blog posts if/when I get time! Quick break and then on to the International SEO session...