SEO vs Google Ads

SEO vs Google Ads

Are you looking to grow your business but not sure whether SEO vs Google Ads is the best option? There’s a lot of misconceptions around these digital marketing strategies and the mechanics behind each.

In this post we break down both sides of search marketing – looking at how to win organic traffic with SEO and scale profitability with Google Ads

What is SEO

SEO is an acronym for ‘Search Engine Optimization’ and refers to techniques and methods to increase your website visibility and rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs), without paying for advertisements or clicks.

SEO is a complex and nuanced practice. Google doesn’t reveal the inner workings of it’s search ranking algorithm, so SEO practitioners have to employ testing and trial and error to move up the organic search rankings. 

Some of the main tactics that form part of an SEO strategy are:

Keyword Optimization:

  • SEO begins with keyword research to identify the terms and phrases users are likely to search for.
  • When researching keywords – ideally you want to target ‘high-intent’ searches the generate leads or revenue for your business vs. ‘informational’ terms that are purely for those seeking information. Generally, these high-intent keywords are more competitive, and harder to rank for.
  • On-Page SEO:
    • Once keywords are chosen, it’s important to optimize web page content, meta tags, and headers so search engines understand the relevance of the content and reward the corresponding pages with rankings for those keywords.
    • This technique also involves optimizing individual web pages for search engines by focusing on content, HTML tags, and URL structures.
  • Quality Content Creation:
    • High-quality, relevant content is key to winning in SEO. Content is king, and search engines reward websites for producing high quality, original content.
    • Create regular updates and expand content with informative articles, blog posts, and other signals to search engines that the site is a valuable source of information.
  • Link Building:
    • Acquiring high-quality backlinks from reputable websites improves a site’s authority and trustworthiness in the eyes of search engines.
    • In essence, if Google sees that a site has a bunch of quality links pointing to it, it will reward it with higher rankings. The more relevant the linking domains are (industry, niche etc.) the better.
    • Building a network of inbound links is a crucial off-page SEO strategy that contributes to higher rankings.
  • Mobile Optimization:
    • It’s 2023 (almost 2024!) – people are searching with mobile devices. Google recognizes this and ranks site accordingly. By optimizing websites for a seamless mobile experience your website can rank higher in the SERPs.
    • TLDR; Mobile-friendly websites not only cater to a broader audience but also align with search engine algorithms that prioritize mobile responsiveness.
  • Technical SEO:
    • This is the nitty gritty stuff. Technical SEO involves optimizing website infrastructure and code for better crawlability and indexation by search engines.
    • The key goals here are to ensure fast loading times, fix any broken links, and creating a sitemap that contributes to a well-optimized site.
  • User Experience (UX):
    • SEO is not just about keywords and website; it also prioritizes the user experience. 
    • Websites with intuitive navigation, clear calls-to-action, and engaging content are more likely to retain visitors and receive positive signals from search engines. This is an increasingly important ranking signal for Google.

What is Google Ads

Google Ads (formerly known as Google AdWords) is an ad platform developed by Google. It’s incredibly powerful, with over 80% of Google’s $150 billion revenue generated by Google Ads. It’s a type of PPC (pay-per-click) advertising, where advertisers pay each time that their ad is clicked.

Google Ads enables businesses of any size to create and serve ads on the Google Search Network (when you ‘Google’ things), Display Network (banner ads on websites), YouTube, and partner websites.

The primary objective of Google Ads is to help businesses reach their target audience and drive relevant traffic to their websites and get this traffic to convert into a sale or  other conversion action such as submitting a lead form.

Some of the key levers that form part of a Google Ads strategy are:

  • Keyword Targeting:
    • Google Ads allows advertisers to bid on specific keywords relevant to their products or services. Ads are triggered when users search for those keywords, ensuring that the content is presented to a relevant and potentially interested audience.
    • Similar to an SEO program, effective Google Ads campaigns start with in-depth keyword research. The goal is to find high-intent keywords that will bring in traffic from prospects who are actively looking to buy. 
  • Selecting Ad Formats & Campaign Types:
    • Google offers various ad formats, including text ads, display ads, video ads, and shopping ads, providing flexibility for advertisers to choose the most suitable format for their goals.
    • Different campaign types offer different choices of ads, so advertisers should think carefully about the medium and delivery method they should use to best reach new customers.
  • Bid Strategies:
    • Advertisers participate in an auction system where they bid for ad placement. The bid, combined with factors like ad quality and relevance, determines the ad’s position on the search results page or other display locations.
    • Choosing and experimenting with bid strategies is crucial to optimize campaigns and outperform your competitors.
  • Targeting Options:
    • Google Ads offers a bunch of targeting factors such as location, demographics, interests, and device types. Advertisers can tailor their campaigns to reach specific segments of their target audience.
  • Budget Control:
    • Budget should be allocated carefully to campaigns to control their spending and ensure a positive ROI.
    • This flexibility ensures that businesses can allocate resources according to high ROI products or services, and that budget caps aren’t exceeded.
  • Ad Extensions:
    • Ad extensions are a Google Ads feature that increase ad visibility by providing additional information such as website links, phone numbers, and location extensions.
    • Ad extensions contribute to better clickthrough rates and quality scores, which overall can lower your cost per click and corresponding cost per lead/sale.
  • Conversion Tracking:
    • Conversion tracking helps in understanding which ads and keywords lead to desired outcomes, such as purchases or form submissions.
    • Google provides a bunch of tools for tracking user actions on the website, allowing advertisers to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns.

Benefits of SEO

Higher Organic Rankings

Increased Visibility:

  • SEO helps to elevate your website’s position on search engine results pages (SERPs), making it more likely to be seen by users, regardless of if you’re spending on advertising or not.
  • Higher rankings enhance the credibility and trustworthiness of your site in the eyes of search engine users.

Credibility and Trust:

  • Websites that appear prominently in organic search results are often perceived as more authoritative and trustworthy. If you’re in the top 3 spots, users assume it’s for a good reason.
  • Achieving top positions reinforces your brand’s reliability and competence.

Increased Quality Traffic

Targeted Audience Reach:

  • Good SEO targets specific keywords relevant to your business, attracting users actively searching for products or information related to your industry. By optimizing for high-intent terms you can attract traffic that’s actively in-market and ready to buy.
  • A well thought-out SEO strategy and keyword seelction results in a higher likelihood of converting website visitors into customers.

Enhanced User Experience:

  • SEO also involves optimizing your website for better usability and navigation. UX tools can help you with this.
  • A positive user experience not only improves SEO but also encourages visitors to explore your site further and engage with your content. Better UX also means more conversions for the same level traffic.

Can be Cost-Effective

Organic Traffic:

  • Unlike paid advertising, SEO focuses on obtaining organic traffic, reducing the need for continuous ad spend.
  • While SEO requires (often significant) upfront investment, the long-term benefits often surpass the ongoing costs associated with paid advertising. Once SEO begins to snowball the results compound quickly.

ROI and Sustainability:

  • Over time, the return on investment (ROI) from SEO efforts tends to increase, as the cumulative impact of improved rankings and increased visibility becomes more pronounced.
  • SEO is a sustainable strategy that continues to deliver value even after the initial optimization phases. However fresh content and backlinks need to be created in order to maintain competitiveness over time.

Improved Brand Awareness & Online Presence

Brand Recognition:

  • Higher search engine rankings contribute to increased brand exposure.
  • Users are more likely to trust and remember brands that consistently appear at the top of search results.

Long-Term Results & Scalable Strategy

Sustainable Growth:

  • SEO is a long-term strategy that builds a strong foundation for sustainable online growth.
  • While it can take time to see results (6-18 months, by some estimates), the enduring impact often outlasts the immediate gains from short-term marketing tactics.


  • As your business expands, SEO strategies can be scaled to accommodate new products, services, or target markets.
  • The scalability of SEO makes it adaptable to evolving priorities and goals of your business. The only downside is that it takes months to see results, whereas ads can be turned on to see results in days.

Benefits of Google Ads

Increased Visibility & Targeted Reach

Immediate Exposure:

  • Google Ads allows your ads to be displayed prominently on search engine results pages (SERPs) as soon as your campaign is live. This can be done in a matter of days.
  • Instant visibility ensures that your business reaches a high-intent searchers quickly. These are people who are actively looking for services and likely to convert.

Targeted Advertising:

  • Precise targeting options, including keyword terms, demographics, location, and interests, enable you to tailor your ads to a specific audience. Retargeting also opens up creative ways to advertise to people who have interacted with your business.
  • This targeted approach ensures that your message reaches the most relevant and potentially interested users.

Optimization for Conversion

Focused on Conversions:

  • Google Ads is designed to drive specific actions, such as website visits, form submissions, or product purchases. While some campaigns can be designed for awareness, most are focused on lower-funnel ‘purchase’ or ‘lead gen’ events.
  • By optimizing your ads for conversions, you can maximize the effectiveness of your advertising budget and achieve tangible results. This way you can easily track what revenue your ad investment yields.

Adaptability and Testing:

  • Google Ads provides tools for A/B testing and analyzing ad performance.
  • Continuous optimization based on real-time data allows you to refine your approach and improve ad returns over time.

Faster Results & Instant Traffic Increase

Quick Implementation:

  • Unlike the gradual nature of SEO, Google Ads campaigns can be set up and launched rapidly. In a matter of days to weeks, depending on the campaign complexity.
  • This quick implementation means that you can start driving traffic to your website and landing new sales almost immediately.

Instant Traffic Boost:

  • Ads appearing at the top of SERPs capture attention and generate immediate clicks. Many searchers don’t even realize that they are clicking on ads.
  • Google Ads provides a rapid influx of traffic, making it an effective strategy for time-sensitive promotions or product launches.

Ability to Reach New Audiences Quickly

Market Expansion:

  • Google Ads allows you to extend your reach to new audiences by targeting users who may not have discovered your business through organic search.
  • This capability is particularly valuable for businesses looking to expand into new markets or demographics. For example, an American-focused business could expand their reach into Australia instantly by simply tweaking a few location targeting settings.

Adaptability to Trends:

  • Adapting to changing trends and audience behavior is easier with Google Ads. With reams of data, making decisions on the fly is much easier than the ‘wait and see’ mechanics of SEO.
  • Google Ads enables quick adjustments to target emerging markets and capitalize on current consumer interests. Spinning up test campaigns to validate new ideas is quick and easy.

Differences Between SEO and Google Ads

Channel Mechanics & Strategies

Organic vs. Paid:

  • SEO focuses on optimizing a website to achieve higher organic rankings in search engine results.
  • Google Ads, on the other hand, is a paid advertising platform where businesses bid for ad placement on various Google properties.

Visibility Approach:

  • SEO builds visibility gradually over time through content optimization, backlink building, and technical enhancements.
  • Google Ads provides instant visibility by placing ads at the top of search results, allowing businesses to jump to the forefront of users’ attention.

Does SEO or Google Ads get a better ROI?

Long-Term vs. Short-Term Impact:

  • SEO is often considered a long-term strategy with cumulative benefits over time.
  • Google Ads can deliver immediate results, making it suitable for short-term campaigns and quick returns.

Cost Considerations:

  • While SEO requires ongoing efforts, the costs associated with organic traffic are generally lower over the long term, and the dividends pay handsomely as your success compounds.
  • Google Ads requires immediate spend for ad placement, and the ROI depends on factors like campaign optimization and ad relevance. That being said, once it’s profitable it’s very easy to scale quickly. Making it a great lever for growing your business, fast.

Time to Results

Speed of Implementation:

  • SEO results take time to take hold due to the gradual nature of organic ranking improvements. You’re reliant on Google’s algorithm which is a black box.
  • Google Ads provides quick results, allowing businesses to see immediate changes in traffic and visibility.

Sustainability vs. Rapid Impact:

  • SEO offers sustained benefits with a lasting impact, providing a solid foundation for organic growth. However it does require inputs and attention, it isn’t a ‘set and forget’ channel.
  • Google Ads offers rapid impact and is particularly effective for time-sensitive promotions, events, or product launches.


The choice between SEO vs Google Ads isn’t an either/or but rather a strategic decision. Both play distinct roles, offering unique advantages to businesses.

SEO operates like a steady engine, gradually boosting organic visibility and building a robust online presence. It’s the long-term investment that pays dividends over time, akin to compound interest for your digital assets.

On the flip side, Google Ads serves as an instant boost, providing immediate visibility through paid advertising. It’s the accelerator pedal when you need immediate results or want to highlight specific promotions. It’s also easy to scale once you have a formula that works.

Rather than an “either-or” scenario, the key lies in finding a harmonious blend. Integrating both SEO and Google Ads is a comprehensive approach to digital strategy that addresses both immediate needs and long-term growth.

So, whether you’re optimizing for the marathon or sprinting for quick wins, the digital landscape rewards those who understand how to synchronize the strengths of SEO and Google Ads. It’s not a rivalry; it’s a symphony of digital marketing strategies, each playing its part in the grand composition of online success.

Interested in getting help with your digital marketing strategy? Get in touch for a free consultation.