TL;DR: both, so long as they achieve their objectives.
This is actually a terrible question. However, it showed up in an AdWords search query report so someone is wondering. And if one person is wondering, well, more than one person is wondering. So, here are a few things to think about.
I deplore questions like these.
The reason that questions like this tend to make me wince is that I know the questioner wants a simple, straightforward answer. And for those without the patience to understand, the simple answer is to choose what works. But that’s not very helpful.
Arguments for SEO
Here’s a thing: you can’t avoid SEO.
If people go to Google to look you up, then “you should choose SEO.” In fact, those people have already made the decision for you.
“Choosing” not to do SEO is like choosing not to have an address or phone number. You’re just making it harder for the people who are looking for you, to find you.
Admittedly, doing “table stakes” SEO to appear prominently when people search your name is not the same as comprehensive organic search marketing that earns meaningful attention from people who aren’t looking for you specifically.
Nonetheless, completely ignoring SEO is a poor choice.
Furthermore, SEO is a long-term investment in your business. Conversely, PPC is renting attention. By definition, with PPC you pay for every single click. In legal, these clicks can cost hundreds of dollars.
With SEO, technically, the only things you need to pay for are domain registration and hosting. Of course, the main costs are in the time it takes to publish and market your pages.
But let’s face it, in competitive spaces, it takes a lot of work and know-how to create pages and then get people to link to, talk about, and share them.
Arguments for PPC
In case you don’t know, PPC (pay-per-click, paid search advertising / marketing) involves paying for advertising by the click. It’s most commonly used to refer to paid search engine advertising (i.e AdWords).
Again, if people look you up online, PPC advertising is worth considering. The obvious difference between SEO and PPC search advertising is the first “P” in PPC: Pay.
PPC = Paying search engines for ad placement.
SEO = Earning positions in search engines for which you can’t pay the search engine.
PPC campaigns, or paid search media campaigns, if you prefer, go-live almost as soon as you launch a campaign. That means that your target audience starts seeing your ads almost immediately. This is one of the biggest differences between SEO and paid search. SEO takes time. Anyone who tells you differently isn’t being completely forthright.
PPC campaigns give you much more control over your messaging. AdWords advertisers can exercise control over:
- The searches for which their ads appear.
- The ad copy or messaging of their ads.
- The URLs and sitelinks that appear in their ads.
- A bunch of other extensions and enhancements.
SEO is much more about providing signals to search engines to influence how page are shown in organic results. In other words, you have a lot less control.
PPC campaigns lend themselves to much more granular measurement and analysis. For example, Google gives you keyword data for AdWords campaigns, but does not give you this same data for SEO in Google Analytics (yes, they give some data in Search Console, but it’s simply not the same).
With PPC campaigns you can analyze which keyword, ad, and landing page combinations are generating the best results for your firm. In other words, which combinations are converting to legal fees.
With SEO, you can do some of this, but it’s a much lighter, less granular version.
Why Do Both?
We’ve found that some of our best results come from SEO and PPC campaigns working together. For example, we use PPC keyword data to inform our SEO strategy. After all, being able to build content around keywords that we know convert from paid search, helps us iterate a lot faster. Likewise, we can use our SEO strategy to harvest keyword ideas for our paid search campaigns. By identifying queries from Google Search Console for which there are a lot of relevant impressions, but for which we hold low positions, we can boost our visibility with that audience with paid search.
In any event, you should not view SEO and PPC as an either or proposition. Instead, you should identify whether they are working. As in, are they generating the types of clients you want within your target cost per client framework.
Recently, I’ve noticed more online legal marketing vendors suggesting paid search campaigns without complementary organic strategies. There are reasons for why the vendors are making this switch, but that’s the subject for another post. If you’re considering working with a digital agency, ask them about both SEO and PPC. If they’re downplaying the relative value of either, I suggest you may have to keep looking.