PPC – SEO Cagematch

I was thumbing through Website magazine the other day when I saw an article that had me floored. Someone had asked a bunch of search marketing professionals what they’d do if they were forced to choose between search engine optimization (SEO) or pay-per-click (PPC).

Even more incredibly, they had actually gotten a bunch of people to answer the question (77% opted for SEO). Poor 23% PPC (sniff).

The question makes about as much sense as asking what’s more important about a car, the steering wheel or the accelerator.

Even though I wrote the book about AdWords, I recognize that both have their place in a successful online marketing strategy. (To be fair, the Website magazine article offered interested stats and did end up with a nuanced view of the topic – I’m just picking on them to make a point.)

Let’s compare:

Organic (SEO) traffic is free and can be plentiful. AdWords traffic costs money and can be hard to come by. Score one for SEO.

Organic traffic is more credible than paid ads (at least, judging by searchers’ behavior). Score two for SEO.

Organic traffic can last a lot longer than AdWords traffic, where any idiot with a big checkbook and no understanding of ROI can outbid you and kick you off the first page. Score three for SEO.

PPC traffic used to be more predictable – your organic listings might disappear overnight like dinghies in the Bermuda Triangle when Google tweaked their algorithm, but AdWords was steady and consistent. Until summer 2006, when they started playing with Quality Score and threw the PPC world into an SEO-like tizzy. So no advantage there.

So why is AdWords so great then? Why do I view it as important as SEO? For three reasons:

1. AdWords traffic is perfect for testing and improving your website. What’s the point of getting a top listing in Google if all that traffic visits your site and pukes?

2. AdWords is the perfect medium for figuring out which keywords to optimize for once you get to SEO. You see, SEO is like a big old battleship – slow to get moving, slow to turn once it is moving. You do not want to hire an agency or spend months trading links only to discover that you’ve optimized for the wrong keywords.

3. AdWords is another leg of your business that can support your online efforts if SEO stops working. Anyone who relies exclusively on one traffic source is building a business on a one-legged stool. If that leg gives out, you’re flat on your – well, you know.

But the big money, for most people, is the vast stream of free traffic that Google will send you if you produce Google-worthy content. In my experience, in many markets free traffic will be 10x what you can get from paid. And it’s – guess what? – free :)

Trouble is, SEO changes all the time. Just when I got the hang of inbound links, the game became unrecognizable: all video, all social networking (why does 23-year-old Vanessa want to be my myspace buddy, anyway? I’m 43 and my profile is definitely not screaming “sexy and available”), all article marketing.

So I go back to school every year to make sure my own business can compete online. And so I can continue to guide my clients, once we’ve nailed AdWords, to take what we’ve learned from AdWords and apply it to the rest of their marketing.

I don’t do SEO professionally. But I do know enough to be able to recommend qualified professionals to my clients. Folks who understand the cutting-edge best practices. People who get meaningful results. Professionals who understand that PPC and SEO are not either-or, but both-and.

My school consists of buying lots of ebooks, reading lots of blogs, and masterminding with top people in the field.

Oh, and attending one seminar a year – the System Seminar, the place where each spring hundreds of serious businesspeople gather to share best practices and learn how to stay ahead of the online world from top pros.

I’m a presenter at this year’s event, in Chicago from May 30 to June 1, but for years I paid my own way as an attendee. I couldn’t afford not to go. That’s where I first heard about AdWords. About how to do SEO right. About online PR. About blogging. About article marketing. About online video. About online streaming audio. And I learned about each of these things, on average, two years before they caught on and became common practice. Imagine, a two-year head start to establish insurmountable advantages in several different areas.

This year, I’m looking forward to more of the same. I’ve been browsing the program like a chocoholic reading through the Harbor Sweets catalog. I’ve even built 3 days of empty into my schedule the following week, so I can assimilate and start to implement the things I will have learned.

I haven’t completely decided, but at this moment, I’m looking forward to attending the following breakout sessions:

Saturday May 31:

1:30pm Glenn Livingston: How to Successfully Enter New Markets

I’ve heard Glenn speak a lot, but I always pick up some new aspect of his incredible market research technology when I listen again. It’s so obvious, so elegant, and so powerful that almost no one is implementing his system. (Go figure!) Actually, it involves statistical analysis, which scares a lot of people off. Which is a really good thing if you’re one of the people it doesn’t scare off.

At the same time, my good friend Ann Convery will be teaching how to go from “Who Are You” to “My Wallet’s Out” in 30 seconds – the secret of an effective elevator speech (and AdWords headline, by the way). Ann has coached me over the past year, so I feel OK skipping her talk. (Sorry, Ann :)

And, Tim Gorman will be sharing Article Marketing Secrets. I attended his talk last year and applied his techniques with great success to a couple of markets. Tim, I promise I’ll listen when Ken makes the CDs available to attendees.

3:30pm Nancy Andrews: SEO – It’s Simpler than You Think

Cool. I like simple, and as I already said, I love SEO.

And Nancy’s a hoot. She’s the one who famously remarked that Yahoo is like an old dog and Google is like a woman. (Listen to her interview with Ken to find out what she means, and why this insight is crucial to SEO success.)

For me, that’s more important to my business than James Martell’s How to Make Money with Affiliate Programs, although I’m still flirting with “Marketing with Video on the Internet – Strategy, Tactic, Tips” with Lon Naylor.

Sunday, June 1:

10:40am Colin McDougall: Creating Cashflow Conversations

Colin’s interview with Ken McCarthy, founder of the System Seminar, was eye-opening for me. The cryptic title of his talk, I believe, refers to a simple and logical method of search engine optimization – being so interesting in your market that people actually want to go to your website and see what you’ve got to say. Imagine that – getting lots of traffic by truly deserving it!

I’ll have to pass on the other concurrent sessions, like Timothy Seward sharing his Google Analytics expertise (he helped with Chapter 15 of AdWords for Dummies, and he lives near me, so I kind of think I can pick his brain when I need Analytics guidance), or Chris Daigle and Lloyd Irvin talking about the new face of Real Estate online. And my friend Robert Middleton, laying out the anatomy of his successful online information business. And Christina Hills offering a blueprint for using email to grow profits. Sigh… so many choices, so little time.

1:30pm Undecided

I haven’t decided yet. I’m leaning toward Kim Dushinski’s Mobile Marketing: The Next Gold Rush, but I’m also fascinated by Gauher Chaudhry’s unique take on AdWords and affiliate programs. Oh, and Christian Mickelsen’s presentation about adding coaching to your business (funny thing – I’ve been a coach for a long time, but I haven’t organized any AdWords or internet marketing coaching programs at askHowie. Maybe Christian will inspire me.)

As many topics as I’ve mentioned, there are that many again that I haven’t. You can see and download the full program here.

And you can actually sample the presenters in advance; Ken interviewed each and every one of us, coaxing us to share real content and then publishing the mp3s. You can sign up to listen and to get much more complimentary pre-training.

So no matter what Google does next year (and believe me, they don’t tell me anything), I’ll be prepared to continue to market my own business and assist my clients (and maybe my future coaching students :), based on the insights I’ll receive in Chicago.

There are dozens of traffic generation and conversion strategies available online. You won’t master all of them, but even someone like me, who’s completely identified with one particular brand of PPC, makes sure that he’s got at least a few up his sleeve.

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4 Comments. Leave a comment or send a Trackback.
  1. #1 • Eric Brown said on May 31 2008:


    Thank you creating Adwords for Dummies.

    I hope the system seminar went well for you. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend this year.

    My question is:

    1. What is your opinion of Gauher Chaudhry’s system. From a marketers point of view, has Gauher truely represented a viable system for making money with CPA programs?

    2. Would you invest in the program yourself?

    3. What do you see as some of pitfalls to starting out in the CPA business?

    Again, thank you.


    Eric Brown
    Reno, Nevada

  2. #2 • Howie Jacobson said on June 3 2008:

    Eric –

    I didn’t attend Gauher’s presentation, but a colleague of mine did and was extremely impressed.

    I have the program and read through it – it’s quite well put together – but have not tried to implement the strategy.

    3. Frankly, it’s just not a business model I’m interested in for myself. I’m a writer and teacher and strategist, and Gauher was an accountant. He’s succeeded in developing and teaching a business model that will work for some folks, but not others. I like projects that end after a certain time. If you want to do CPA, you’ll need to monitor lots of data over a long period of time.

    One of the most common questions I get from beginners is, “What’s the fastest way to make money with AdWords?”

    That’s not a serious business question – that’s a pie in the sky “How do I win the lottery soon?” question.

    Your questions are sensible – “Is it legit, would you do it, what could go wrong?”

    I often say that you need to evaluate any business on 4 criteria:

    1. Is it profitable?
    2. Is it sustainable?
    3. Is it defensible?
    4. Is it a good fit for you?

    Regarding what I know about traffic brokering for leads in the CPA network, here are my answers:

    1. Can be
    2. Some form of lead generation via internet will always be in demand as long as not everyone who needs leads knows how to get them
    3. It’s complicated and there’s a lot to learn, which means it’s defensible
    4. That depends on you. For me, definitely not.


  3. #3 • Charles Cuninghame said on October 2 2008:

    Hey Howie

    Thanks for the insightful and articulate post. I’ve been mulling over this issue for some time.

    I think point 2 – using AdWords to find the best keywords to optimise for – is crucial and overlooked by most.

    I was mystery shopping a big SEO firm once and the guy asked me what keywords I would like my site to rank highly for.

    I thought to myself, “That’s what you should be advising me on!”

    The first time I optimised my site I got top rankings but chose the wrong keywords. There’s no point having #1 ranking bragging rights if the phone’s not ringing!

    So I had to do the whole process all over again.

    But I think most business owners don’t realise this. They focus on rankings rather than profits.

    That’s the flaw with SEO. Essentially you have to guess what the most profitable keywords will be for your business. And if you get it wrong, it takes ages to correct.

    I like the immediacy and instant, detailed feedback of AdWords.

    BTW I wanted to thank you for you magnificent book. I think the title “AdWords for Dummies” really undersells it.

    It’s more like a complete education on profitable online marketing in a book.

    The section on autoresponders was worth the cover price alone. I’ve found very little quality information on this anywhere else.



  4. #4 • Howie Jacobson said on October 2 2008:

    Hi Charles,

    Thanks so much for your kind words, and for sharing your experiences. It’s always more powerful for business owners to hear it from a peer than from some blowhard author :)

    Cheers right back at you!