Tuesday, February 12, 2013

SEO or Pay-Per-Click. Which Route Should I Take?

In initiating their online marketing programs, clients often ask us whether they should focus on optimizing their web site (SEO) or engage in paid advertising (PPC).

The answer is simple.

It depends.

It depends on any of a number of factors, the four most important being the nature of the target market, what it is you’re promoting, the level of competition and the short vs. long-term goals of the firm. Notice I didn’t say money, because how much you spend on an SEO or PPC effort is really a function of the other three variables. Pay-per-click may require out-of-pocket dollars while an SEO effort may not.  But the amount of time required to develop an effective SEO campaign may be unfeasible for the firm to implement, in which case it is either hiring an in-house professional or an outside provider. And of course, this then becomes an out-of-pocket expense as well.

So I repeat, in determining whether to go down the SEO or PPC paths, it really depends.

In that it can be launched immediately, if you are looking for quick hits, then PPC is a much better way to proceed. Set your budget, determine your key words, write your ads and off you go. On the other hand, SEO takes time. It will take lots of man-hours to develop content rich web site pages hyperlinked to hundreds of other sites, and it will take even longer for the major search engines to recognize this and reward you with high directory rankings. In fact, in developing web sites, we often suggest that our clients begin with a PPC effort until that time when the full effect of an SEO campaign is beginning to be realized.

PPC may be a better way to proceed if you are looking for fast clicks-throughs. But if you’re looking for quality leads, then you might wish to skew your efforts towards SEO.  This is because high placement on the organic listing of the directories are generally thought to have more credibility than the paid-for ads that usually appear at the uppermost and right side of the directory pages.  Think of it as being akin to the difference between traditional advertising and public relations.  In public relations, when you get an article placed in a newspaper or magazine, you are in effect being vetted by an objective third party entity such as an editor or producer. But you have no control over when or where your article will appear (or if it even will).  In contrast, with a print or broadcast ad, while you’re guaranteed of being seen, your target market understands that the communication is being paid for by you and thus carries less credibility.

The nature of the practice and its target market are also key variables to consider.  For practice areas that target the general public, PPC may make more sense as the prospect is often an unsophisticated shopper who may or may not understand specific questions or ask or credentials to review. A carefully crafted ad may entice this individual drawn to being hit over the head with visions of successful outcomes (think your typical personal injury commercials). Law practices targeting the business community on the other hand, may be dealing with more sophisticated prospects looking for very specific types of law firm features.  Here, an SEO effort may be preferable, unless of course the firm has challenging competitors more solidly entrenched among the higher rankings, in which case, an alternative PPC initiative may be considered.

The fact that there is no clear-cut answer to the question of SEO vs. PPC, underscores that even in the online world, marketing is as much art as it is science.

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