The current global COVID-19 outbreak continues to impact almost all aspects of our lives. Social distancing, lockdowns and shelter in place orders have kept people at home, changing how they socialize and conduct business. And the sad reality is there is a good chance that these changes will become our new normal for longer than expected.

Businesses are feeling the pinch and are looking for ways to cut costs and easily increase revenue wherever possible.

In the digital marketing space, many business owners and marketers see cutting SEO resources to feed paid channels, such as Adwords and Facebook, as the easiest (and therefore the best) way to extend their marketing budgets.

However, now is the time to continue your long-term strategy to maximize SEO benefits during an economic downturn. So just what are the benefits of sticking in SEO in favor of PPC?

Just remember the 5 Cs:

  • Cost

  • Consistency

  • Continuous

  • Credibility

  • Competition

Cost Advantages of SEO

The most obvious benefit of SEO over PPC is cost. You aren’t paying for every click that comes to your website. In fact, after your initial start-up costs (content, optimization, promotion, etc.), every visitor that comes to your website and every conversion is free for your business.

Even if the initial cost of an SEO campaign is more than what you’re spending in Google Ads today, your long-term spending will actually be lower with SEO than with PPC.

Here’s a screenshot of Google Analytics data for a website showing it’s traffic by source. Note that it’s showing both "organic" (SEO) and “cpc” (paid Google Ads) traffic:

Google Analytics data for website traffic by source

Not only is this site’s SEO traffic driving significantly more revenue for the business, that revenue is essentially pure profit. For the Google Ads traffic, you have to subtract the cost per click of those 9,747 visitors.

We’ll assume this business is spending on the low end of average Google Ads CPC (about a dollar, or in this case a Euro), meaning that traffic cost 9,747 Euros. Putting the profit for that campaign at a mere 453 Euros and an ROI of 4.5%.

Not bad, but not as good as the organic channel.

Consistency Advantages

Choosing PPC over SEO is very tempting for businesses because you can see an immediate impact: to get more traffic you "simply" have to spend more. But that misses the big benefit of maintaining consistent traffic with SEO. Once your website is able to appear at the top of the search results for an important keyword, you can count on that keyword to drive (roughly) the same amount of traffic that performs in (roughly) the same way.

With SEO, rely on a generally stable source of traffic and revenue. In fact, depending on your industry, sticking with SEO during a down economy can result in more traffic as your audience starts searching more products, services and information online.

PPC campaigns, while fast and can show immediate results, can vary widely in costs.

At a time when companies focus more and more on short term results and quick "wins", the competition for keywords will grow more intense. That will lead directly to higher Google Ad bids and costs per clicks.

So even though you have the control to maintain a top position by simply increasing your bid, sticking with that strategy will result in unpredictable costs and, therefore, variable ROI.

SEO, on the other hand, doesn’t vary much in cost (especially once you’ve implemented a campaign) and will maintain a consistent performance.

Continual Advantages

Organic (as in non-paid) search engine traffic has the advantage of being a continual source of traffic for your website. By "continual" we mean that the flow of visitors to your website isn’t going to suddenly shut off when you stop paying or after a certain set amount of time.

Want to see what we mean in action?

Here’s the traffic for a paid campaign’s landing page:

Traffic graph for a paid campaign's landing page

As you can see, there’s a nice peak of traffic when the campaign goes live, but then the budget runs out and it goes down to almost no visitors. So even if those 100-plus visitors had a strong conversion rate (between 2% and 3%), the revenue dried up as soon as the website’s owners stopped paying Google for the clicks.

Compare this to a page that receives organic traffic only (so no Google Ads campaigns send users to this page):

Organic traffic graph without Google Ads campaigns

There was nothing much done for this page for nearly a month and visitors continued landing on the page in a predictable way. (Note: The website in the example above is for a business-to-business company and naturally dips over the weekend and then picks up again on Monday.)

So as long as search volume for that page’s keywords stays relatively stable and the business maintains its SEO strategy execution, the company can count on a continuing source of traffic to the page.

When you combine this advantage with SEO’s consistency, the advantage of sticking SEO over PPC really becomes apparent.

Credibility Advantages

As our partner Jason Barnard pointed out in our intro to Brand SERPs, people see Google’s search result rankings as recommendations from Google regarding the quality, authority and trustworthiness of a page’s content. Therefore, appearing at the top of organic search results is an instant credibility boost for your brand.

In fact, using SEO to build your company’s reputation and brand awareness is critical even in the best economic conditions. There are 3 main reasons:

1. Ad blindness.

People are pretty used to ads appearing throughout the web and as a result they simply ignore them. So paying to appear at the top of Google’s search results won’t necessarily result in more people seeing your site; they’ll simply scan past it until they see results that aren’t marked as ads:

Google Search Results Page with Ad results

2. Zero-click searches:

As Google devotes more space in search results to SERP features, more and more users are seeing the information they want without clicking through to a page from Google. These results are known as "zero-click searches" and they have been increasing in frequency each year. Since more and more people are getting the information they want directly in the search results, simply getting your name at the top will show your audience that they can trust you as a company.

3. Google is (nearly) universally trusted.

This ties into the concept of zero-click searches, but how often have you used Google to settle a debate with a friend? How often do you answer questions with the phrase "According to Google…". Simply put, people take what Google tells them at face value. Having Google show your website as an organic search result is a huge advantage over appearing on the page as a paid placement.

While brand awareness and credibility are more long-term goals that aren’t necessarily tied directly to revenue, they are still critical to build and maintain (especially true during economic downturns).

As people reduce their spending (panic buying notwithstanding), they will rely more and more on Google-trusted companies and websites. You don’t gain that trust by running Google Ads campaigns.

Competitive Advantages

Every business has competition (unless you are the most specialized, niche company in the world), so there’s a very important thing to keep in mind: every time you improve your site’s search rankings you’re pushing a competitor down the page.

So the better you do SEO-wise, the more awareness, traffic, sales and revenue you can take from your competitors.

You can’t necessarily get this benefit from paid ads. As we mentioned above, people recognize the ads as paid. So there’s not really a credibility boost.

Secondly, SEO is a zero-sum game. Google only shows a limited number of organic results for a keyword (and that number goes down all the time). So you doing better by definition means your rivals are doing worse. (This may sound cutthroat, but it’s also reality.)

WIth PPC, however, if Google sees a lot of advertisers bidding on a keyword, or if people are bidding a lot of money per click, they can always choose to show another ad in the results. So you could wind up sharing digital real estate with your competitors instead of taking it over from them.

Sticking with SEO in Challenging Times

Investing in search engine optimization offers a whole host of advantages over spending your marketing budget on paid advertising. And while PPC may seem better in the short term, something that feels critical when business isn’t exactly booming, abandoning SEO is often a "penny wise and pound foolish" situation.

The results of which could actually make you less likely to survive the current, or any future, economic recession.