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Reviving the PPC vs. SEO Debate: What Works Better for eCommerce?
Reviving the PPC vs. SEO Debate: What Works Better for eCommerce?

The PPC vs. SEO debate is an old one, but has become more interesting of late with the increasing complexity of Google’s search algorithms and the powerful targeting options of the evolving Adwords platform. Irrespective of which method you prefer, you cannot deny the importance of both online marketing channels in driving more leads and sales to businesses. According to a report by Jupiter Research, 81 percent of users find what they are looking for via a search engine.

Many believe that PPC is leading the way in this battle of search engine marketing, especially when it comes to eCommerce. It does in fact have an edge in terms of conversion rates as paid search results have a 1.5x higher chance to convert click-throughs from search engine result pages. However, there are 8.5x more chances for organic results to be clicked compared to paid search results.


Both PPC and SEO are popular methods to drive traffic. So why this debate between them? While SEO brings in the organic traffic via organic search results, PPC allows you to place a highly targeted ad on Google using specific keywords. Users too don’t mind clicking these ads as Google ensures that these advertisements are predominantly relevant to what they are looking for (based on the keywords in the search term).

There are a few issues with SEO. For example, it involves a set of time-taking activities to get your website ranked higher on SERP (search engine result page). Secondly, there is no guarantee with SEO. That being said, positive ROI is likely with right optimisation efforts. In fact, if done properly SEO can outperform PPC in terms of ROI. But it takes a lot of time and practice apart from skills, resources, financing and a proper strategy to get it right. You will need at least 6 months to generate positive ROI with SEO.

PPC, in contrast, ensures that your brand shows up for specific keyword search right on top position of the SERPs. It’s quick to set up and even faster in generating results, although PPC is a little slower to optimize. In most cases, PPC campaigns help you receive instantaneous results. Besides, they are not affected by algorithm changes. On the downside PPC campaigns can be expensive as you need to pay for every click, whether or not they convert. This means you will end up losing a significant amount of money if your PPC campaign fails.


There is no denying that eCommerce has always relied on PPC. And after the latest additions in AdWords in the form of aggregated Store Reviews (for Google Trusted Stores), Shopping Ads, and Ad Customisers (Sale Countdown), businesses are seeing an increasing return of investment from the effectiveness of these ads.

One PPC strategy for online stores is to bid for revenue, which means you could earn five dollars back for every dollar spent on AdWords. But to do so you need to bid for an expected revenue instead of bidding for clicks and conversions. Here is how selling with PPC works:

  • Bid on a competitive keyword
  • A user search with your keyword and AdWords displays an ad
  • The user clicks the ad and it takes him/her to your landing page
  • The user browses the site and may/may not purchase your product(s)
  • He/she checks out and you need to attribute the sub-total to the keyword

While you cannot control people’ purchase decision with your PPC campaigns, you can certainly influence their decisions. And the good news is that it almost always works for eCommerce sites as the AdWords reporting allows online retailers to identify the top performing products (i.e. keywords) to improve their sales. PPC therefore provides the knowledge, and provides insights which you need to approach SEO for your eCommerce site.


Although eCommerce websites tend to rely on PPC, this alone cannot help you rank higher than your competitors on Google’s search engine result pages. According to a study by Gabe Donnini, “the share of impressions coming from the first position is almost double that for the second position, truly illustrating the value the first spot holds.”

Another study by Optify back in 2011 found that the average CTR (click-through rate) for websites ranking number one was 36.4 percent, whereas those in the second positions had 12.5 percent click-through rate and the third positioned had just 9.5 percent CTR.

Having a strong SEO strategy is therefore essential for your clicks and sales as well as for your brand impressions. To approach SEO for your eCommerce website, begin with in depth research, including both keyword and competitor research. When it comes to keyword research you need to focus on three primary areas:

  • Identify popular keywords for homepage and individual homepage and product pages
  • Find keywords for blog topics, including long-tail keywords
  • Avoid keyword cannibalisation i.e. trying to rank multiple pages of your website for the same keyword

In addition, conduct a thorough competitor research including identifying the keywords your competitors are using, the sources from where they are getting their links (especially for content marketing), and their site architecture. Study their SEO strategy and see what you can do differently to yield better results.

One thing you must remember that “content is key” in SEO; therefore, focus on your content. This has become even more important after Panda and Penguin updates. In addition, the Pigeon update, which was rolled out on July 24, requires you to give more importance to local search as it is now tied more closely to traditional Web ranking signals than ever.

Last but on the least, your SEO efforts should also consider the new mobile-friendly update  Mobilegeddon to make your eCommerce website more mobile-friendly. After all, mobile commerce is one of the Big Bets of the eCommerce world at present. According to a 2015 comScore study, smartphones account for almost 20 percent of search activities whereas 9 percent online searchers use tablets from the same purpose.


What you need is a cohesive strategy that combines the two distinct disciplines to help you achieve the best of both worlds. For example, by using both PPC and SEO together you can understand the new keyword opportunities, identify organic keywords with a few impressions but high CTR and vice versa and target them all for your SEO efforts. In other words, test your organic keywords through PPC campaigns and fine tune your strategy accordingly. Similarly, you can use site search data (which is a part of your SEO efforts) to discover better performing PPC keywords.

The benefits of such a cohesive strategy are many. One such benefit is that it helps you combat negative PR. eCommerce brands are often subjected to negative PR; someone out there always has something bad to say about you. It is often inevitable but combining PPC and SEO efforts is a great damage control. Since it helps you dominate both organic and paid search results, you can effectively guide the conversation by controlling the PPC and SEO results for a particular term.

One great example we have seen till date was during the Gulf oil spill. After some time of this unfortunate incident, BP conducted a PPC ad campaign, linked to the term “oil spill,” which took visitors to a page that discussed BP’s cleanup efforts in details. BP ensured that whenever a user searched about oil spill, their PPC ad topped the list to tell people their side of the story.


Is there a clear winner?

Perhaps no. Combining PPC and SEO efforts is rather the way to create a winning digital marketing strategy as they are rightly called a match made in heaven. By integrating your organic and paidsearch activity you create a synergy that generates better results in dominating the search space. The secret to do so, however, lies in how you are informing your SEO/PPC strategy based on data derived from the other channel.