Paid digital media—in this case, PPC—and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) are frequently used together in a well-rounded Search Engine Marketing (SEM) strategy, where PPC does the majority of the work upfront to generate immediate traffic or leads, and SEO is working to build a strong organic presence. This works great when you can do both. But when you have a smaller marketing budget, you might want to focus the largest portion on on- and off-page SEO, especially when you’re considering the long-term effects and lasting value. About 68% of online experiences begin with a search engine, so it makes sense to allocate digital marketing dollars to an SEO strategy, to keep your campaign sustainable and cost-effective.

Digital advertising spending in the United States was expected to grow by 19% in 2020, eventually reaching $129.34 billion according to eMarketer—although that figure will likely see some shift due to COVID-19 and the challenges it poses. Digital marketing is useful to a certain extent, but just how useful is it when you want your marketing dollar to be as effective as possible? Paid media campaigns are great for short-term growth and immediate benefits, but the moment you pull the plug on your pay-per-click campaigns, the leads stop. SEO, on the other hand, is the gift that keeps on giving: you incrementally invest, and it continues to build momentum and garner quality interaction. This is why SEO should be prioritized over paid media campaigns when facing a limited budget.

1. SEO is cost-effective

Though SEO takes longer to reap the benefits of your investment, it is a more cost-effective long-term play. Once a strategy is implemented correctly, SEO gains credibility the longer it is up, and results tend to snowball. Rather than continually investing in a PPC campaign time and time again, you just need to maintain a frequent schedule of content publishing and make updates, which usually cost less money. Search engine optimization does require an initial investment, but a thorough audit and well-planned strategy are most certainly needed to uncover any immediate shortcomings and make sure your efforts are headed in the right direction.

Google consistently adjusts the algorithms that determine how some websites are given more visibility than others, so experts are necessary to ensure that you are ranking as well as you should. However, this won’t end up costing as much as running consistent paid advertising campaigns throughout your company’s lifetime. While a specialist is recommended, you can attempt to learn the basics of SEO on your own. This technical SEO checklist is a starting point for improving your search engine rankings if you are just starting out and want to see if SEO will be worth the investment long term.

2. SEO has longevity

Paid media campaigns tend to get great results right away, but the moment the campaign ends, you won’t get a single click. Because of this, PPC isn’t reflective of actual company growth and outreach. With search engine optimization, you can see long-term results within six months, and significant growth within the first year, but the difference is that once you reallocate your budget elsewhere, those SEO gains don’t disappear, as paid media campaigns do. Though there is maintenance such as monitoring Google’s core updates and refreshing content, once your optimizations are established, it is yours to keep—if you can keep your efforts steady and consistent. If paid media campaigns are like refurbishing a room in your house, SEO is the solid foundation that keeps the entire house together and standing.

3. SEO is sustainable

Especially for startups and small businesses, paid media may not be a good long term solution for maintaining results. Depending on your industry and the number of competitors bidding against your keywords, PPC costs can skyrocket, leading to a higher-than-normal cost-per-acquisition. This can be a low-ROI strategy that can prohibit growth.

Americans are also becoming more and more aware of how to filter out advertisements, as they see 4,000 to 10,000 a day, according to Forbes, so naturally, “ad blindness”—when it comes to paid media campaigns—is increasing. If you want a sustainable plan to elevate your online presence and increase awareness of your brand, search engine optimization is key to an inbound marketing strategy. Compared to an organic social media strategy, SEO can deliver traffic to your website from consumers who have more intent to adopt a product or service.

4. Users prefer organic links

MarketingSherpa completed a survey that found that 70% of the links users click on are organic, and only 25% of the links clicked on are paid. That’s because people trust organic links over paid ads and might avoid clicking on ads whenever possible. Consumers want to find their links on their own, not what someone paid to show up. Organic results can actually receive 15 times the CTR (click-through rate) of paid search results because consumers generally favor organic links.

5. SEO is scalable

Another great aspect of SEO is that you can adjust your efforts as your business grows or hits a rough period. If you decide you want to jump into SEO using your own basic strategy before hiring an expert, you’ll still have some foundation for them to work with when they come aboard. The more you do with SEO, the more the visibility of your website should improve, but it can grow or take a backseat when necessary for your budget, unlike paid media campaigns, which are all in or out.

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