While googling something the other day a paid advert plunged through my eyeballs and lodged in my temporal lobe, where it sat smashing a twenty pound hammer into my frontal lobe, which sent waves of agonising spasms down my spinal cord and made my big toe throb.
Here’s the ad…
It made some bold, brash and—to be quite frank—preposterous allegations.
We’ll take a look at two claims specifically in the ad:
- SEO is DEAD
- Maybe Not, But PPC is Better
Let’s look at the definitions for SEO and PPC so we’re all on the same page.
SEO (search engine optimisation)
Here’s Google’s definition of search engine optimisation (from their SEO Starter Guide):
SEO – Search engine optimization: the process of making your site better for search engines.
That’s a great definition. We can trust it.
PPC (pay-per-click) advertising
Here’s a definition of PPC by Wikipedia…
Pay-per-click (PPC), also known as cost per click (CPC), is an internet advertising model used to drive traffic to websites, in which an advertiser pays a publisher (typically a search engine, website owner, or a network of websites) when the ad is clicked.
That’s a decent definition. We’ll run with that.
Now that we’ve established that
- SEO is the process of improving your site to better rank in search engines and
- PPC (advertising) is a system that lets you advertise on someone else’s platform,
let’s field some pertinent questions around whether SEO is dead and PPC is better.
But before we do that, let’s take a closer look at what SEO entails.
The elements of SEO
Although SEO seems complex and many claim to have a higher knowledge of it, it’s not a mystical subject.
If you stick to Google’s guidelines (as laid out in their SEO Starter Guide) and consistently apply their principles, your website should enjoy a significant increase in traffic.
Let’s look at some of the elements that make up SEO.
Remember, the reason we’re looking at the elements of SEO is to determine whether it’s dead, and whether PPC is better. Keep that in the back of your mind.
A little aside…
Google will be first to tell you that your goal is to make your website great for humans.
Therefore, SEO shouldn’t be your focus, HVO (Human Visitor Optimisation) should.
Google considers a top quality, user-friendly website worthy of a higher ranking.
Back to the elements of SEO.
SEO is broken into two main parts:
- Onsite SEO.
- Offsite SEO.
I don’t focus on off-site SEO much. You’ll see why, later.
Onsite SEO involves the following elements.
URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator (AKA web address) and includes a protocol and your domain name, followed by a trailing slash and whatever comes after.
It’s one of the first things a visitor sees about your website. They might see it as a listing on a search engine results page or on another website, or even in a print ad somewhere.
Sometimes they might not see the URL immediately before they click through from another site, especially if the URL is cloaked or the link text is different from the URL.
Here’s an example of a URL (this page)…
It consists of three things:
- The protocol (in this case, https)
- The hostname (in this case, baymarketingco.com)
- A file name (in this case, seo-dead)
A URL could be friendly, or it could be a jumbled mess.
The above URL is friendly; it’s a URL that’s easy to understand. A non-friendly URL is something like YouTube’s URL structure.
Look at the following URL:
It’s uuuug-ly, but it doesn’t matter.
A YouTube video brimming with usefulness doesn’t need a friendly URL. YouTube has plenty of powerful things going for it, so the lack of friendly URLs doesn’t matter.
Friendly URLs, however, make it easy for you to share something with clients or prospects.
Let’s say a client phones you for directions to your shop. You could explain to them how to get to your shop, or give them your address.
But if you have a location page on your website, you could share that over the phone. On that page they’ll see your address or a Google map they can use to navigate to your shop.
Now, if you weren’t using friendly URLs, the URL for the page containing this information might look something like myshop.com/ff6ufh3wqwe432 or myshop.com/index.php?location.
You’d need to explain that to them over the phone. That’s not optimised. It’s much easier to explain myshop.com/location, don’t you think?
The same goes for any other page. Yourwebsite.com/contact is much easier to repeat and remember than yourwebsite.com/index.php?contact.
Imagine you’re on Facebook on your mobile phone and you want to share your website’s contact page with page followers or friends. Mobile phones being restrictive in many cases, you’re in no mood to open a browser, visit your website, navigate to the contact page, copy the URL, reopen the Facebook app and paste the URL.
But because your website’s URLs are friendly, you can easily remember the contact page URL and simply type it into Facebook.
So even though friendly URLs aren’t an absolute must, they make it easier for humans to share and remember.
Besides, setting up friendly URLs for most purposes is as easy as blinking. In the case of my web design package it’s part of the setup. It’s not SEO magic.
The page title is hardly visible when you’re on the page in question. It sits right at the top in the title bar.
Here’s the top of my Chrome browser with a bunch of open tabs displaying partial titles…
These titles are really at their most visible in search result pages and on social media platforms, not when you’re on the web page.
Let’s look at some examples…
In search result pages
The below screenshot came up in Google when I searched, how to upgrade blackview bv8000 pro.
The title stands out above the URL.
By the way, that screenshot shows the search result for an article I wrote for one of my own sites, Mini Big Thing. By using basic SEO principles I was able to outperform even Blackview for a query they should have taken top spot for.
I’ve done similar things in other niches. By focusing on quality and producing articles people love you can outrank formidable competition.
For the purpose of seeing what the title looks like on Facebook, I shared that article URL to my Facebook newsfeed. The title is clearly visible in the screenshot below.
Similar to Facebook, the title stands out when the article is shared to Twitter.
Remember: it’s a great idea to use keywords you’d like to be found for in your page titles.
Headlines / Headings
These are sometimes called titles, but the proper naming would probably be headline for the topmost part and subheadings for those that follow.
Ogilvy said that the headline comprises 80 cents of a dollar spent on advertising. That’s how important your headline is. If everything on your web page is perfect but your headline doesn’t deliver, you’ve lost.
WordPress, the system I use for building websites with, automatically creates a page title from your headline. They refer to the headline as a title.
You can change this. You can make the title of your web page different from your headline, but it’s not necessary.
Like with titles, it’s a great idea to use keywords in your headlines. Read on to learn more about keywords.
This is the bulk of the article and contains images and/or videos and/or text.
The text is referred to as copy.
There are three similar entries for copy in Merriam-Webster (copy. (2019). In: Merriam-Webster. [online] Available at: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/copy [Accessed 29 Aug. 2019].):
- matter to be set especially for printing
- something considered printable or newsworthy
- text especially of an advertisement
John E Kennedy, one of the most successful copywriters of all time, coined the phrase, “salesmanship in print”, referring to advertising. The job of a copywriter is strongly connected to being a salesman-in-print.
Wikipedia calls copywriting the following:
Copywriting is the act, or occupation of writing text for the purpose of advertising or other forms of marketing.
The definition leans towards text found in ads, but is used more widely than that.
Copy usually makes up the bulk of the body of a web page. That’s not always the case. Sometimes a web page contains more images or videos than copy, but often text outweighs other elements.
If everything else on your page sucks (save the title), good copy can save you.
I’ve seen web pages with terrible layouts, horrible fonts and undersized images make thousands of dollars in sales because of great headlines and excellent copy.
Good copy convinces people to part with their money. I’m simplifying marketing, but good copy is insanely important to making more sales.
I know people keep saying, “no one reads anymore.” That’s a lie.
Provided a person doesn’t have a handicap keeping them from reading, they’ll devour something that makes a big fat promise and seems like it can deliver on that promise.
I’m a proponent of long-form copy. The longer your articles, provided it’s top quality, the better they should perform in search engines.
I often post articles with a word count upwards of 1,500 words. They work well. And they seem to keep working well for a long time.
If you need copy for your website, check out my content creation service.
It stands to reason that, if I want this article to be found for keywords like SEO, PPC and search engine optimisation, I need to use those terms in the article.
Although the term, search engine optimisation, is a collection of words, not a single word, in the online marketing sphere the word keyword is used for referring even to collections of keywords. I don’t like it, but that seems to be the industry standard.
There’s plenty of speculation as to how advanced Google is at ranking content on synonyms, but it’s better to not leave your ranking to chance and include the keywords you consider important.
But I wouldn’t bother including Americanised spelling if I’m trying to rank in South Africa.
For instance, I think it’s superfluous to add the term, search engine optimization. I think Google is smart enough to figure out optimisation and optimization are one and the same.
Even though search engines can’t “read” images (even if they contain text (although, there have been improvements in this regard)) you can optimise your images.
To optimise images so search engines can “read” them, simply add descriptive alt text inside the image’s HTML tag.
Let’s take two examples. The first one does not contain an alt attribute; the second one does.
I kept the alt attribute in the second image tag short because the system I use to display code in my blog posts break the layout if it’s too long, but an alt attribute must be as long and descriptive as necessary.
For instance, the alt attribute in the second tag doesn’t explain whether there’s an upward or downward curve.
So a better alt attribute would be, Graph showing an upward trend in natural website traffic from coastal towns over the last six months, due to SEO improvements.
If you’re struggling to figure out an alt image for one of your images, think of how you’d describe what’s in the photo to a blind person.
Of course, the alt attribute must be in line with what the image is actually showing. Don’t try to outsmart search engines.
Your images must not be too large. Oversized images slow down your web page, which is another aspect Google considers when ranking your site.
With a website package from me though, your images are automatically shrunk. Even if you upload an image of more than 5MB in size, your website will automatically shrink it.
Also, I employ an off-site image host with CDN to ensure that images don’t clog up your system.
The meta description is not visible on the page. It’s hidden inside the <head> tag in the HTML used to display the web page with.
However, the meta description compliment’s the web page’s title in search listings.
Check the screenshot below to see where Google uses the meta description.
If you don’t have a meta description for your page, Google (or Facebook, or any other site you share to) might use text found in the body of your page to populate a description.
Google started ignoring meta keywords some million or so years ago, so I can’t see any other respectable search engine using it. They’re not necessary. Ignore them.
Internal links are links you build between your website pages. For instance, in this article, closer to the top, I link to my web design package page. That’s called an internal link.
It’s a great way to show people what you consider most important on your website.
There’s one big element where it concerns offsite SEO, and that’s inbound links, or backlinks.
Inbound links are links from other websites to yours.
Although receiving a ton of good quality backlinks is great, Google seems to have evolved to a place where they recognise good quality web pages without the help of backlinks.
That means you can focus on creating great content, as opposed to trying to build a backlink profile.
(I can imagine this claim might cause major backlash in some online marketing communities, but I stand by it.)
There are other SEO issues, like content structure (to name one), but I’d only discuss that with my clients. Besides, if you use the above pieces you’ll build a beautiful SEO structure and your site should do well.
Is SEO valuable?
SEO is valuable because, if used correctly, it helps human visitors make the most of your website. You’re giving them a great experience.
From a search engine perspective, you’re helping search engines understand the structure of your website and each page on your website.
Your page titles, meta descriptions, headlines, subheadings, body copy, images, videos, internal links and content structure all work together to give humans and search engines a charming experience.
Of course, for SEO to work, you need a website. And the more pages you add to that website, the better your SEO should become and the better your website should perform.
Is PPC valuable?
PPC is valuable for driving immediate traffic.
PPC is also fantastic for driving traffic to a website Google and human visitors wouldn’t otherwise touch with a six-foot pole. In other words, if you have a mangy, useless website, use PPC to drive traffic.
Or if your website is brand new and you need traffic now and can’t wait for your site to start ranking naturally, use PPC.
Or perhaps you don’t have time to write great articles, or can’t afford to hire someone to write you articles. PPC is valuable in such a scenario too.
But beware of a few things if you decide to keep feeding PPC.
The first thing is, the moment you stop spending on PPC, your traffic disappears like common sense flees from a drunk university student.
The second is, you don’t have control over PPC pricing. For instance, if you’re competing in a popular niche on Google Ads, you’ll pay through your ears for PPC. And you never know when a competitor with a bigger budget comes along and starts outbidding you every chance they get.
Using PPC only is a dangerous long-term online marketing tactic. It could faithfully drive traffic for years and one day spin around and rip your efforts apart.
Does SEO work without PPC?
A website that’s well optimised doesn’t require PPC to work well.
It might take a while to start ranking, but if you consistently add great content (hint: make it better than your competition) you’ll see your website performing well in search engines.
Does PPC work without SEO?
PPC can produce magnificent results.
Your website can suck to Mars and back, but if you pour enough money into PPC, you can drive all the traffic in the world to it.
But we need to define what it means for something to “work”.
If PPC drives traffic to your website, it’s working. It’s producing a result. Traffic is a result.
Does that result mean anything?
Alas, like the ubiquitous Facebook like, a mere website visit doesn’t mean anything in and of itself.
For PPC to work well, it needs to be combined with a GREAT landing page. That landing page can consist of a number of things and be set up in a number of ways, but it’s needed for PPC to bring you sales or leads.
Can SEO and PPC work together?
They can, yes, but it’s not necessary.
When you create a PPC campaign, you don’t require certain SEO elements. You’re paying to have your website listed at the top of Google (or in someone’s Facebook feed). The SEO elements used to help a page rank naturally, like a title, meta description and headline, are optional to a page you’re linking to from a PPC campaign.
Technically, everything is optional.
Your page’s content needn’t be valuable. You can make a complete mess of your page (or present visitors with a blank page!) and PPC would still drive traffic. As long as you’re paying you can get traffic.
SEO is not dead.
And to be honest, I’m wondering whether those who make this claim in their ad, even know what SEO is. Perhaps they’re referring to blogging. They’d be wrong either way.
Ironically, their spurious ad spurred me on to write this lengthy article, which’ll probably drive traffic for a long time to come and help my website rank even better. The beautiful thing is, I can use PPC to market this page too, should I ever feel like driving more traffic. On the other hand, if the company who runs this ad switches off their PPC, they’ll have to employ techniques involving SEO to drive traffic.
PPC is a great way to get people to your website immediately, but once you switch off PPC, there goes your traffic.
Cost is a real concern when it comes to PPC. You can’t control how much your competition is willing to spend to beat you to the top of Google.
A well constructed, search engine optimised website where GOOD content is consistently added will start showing fruit in less than a year and be FAR better for long-term natural, or “free”, traffic.
If you want long-term success, write plenty of excellent articles and post them to your website regularly. And make sure your SEO is sorted.
If you want traffic NOW and you want LOTS of traffic and you’re money’s boss, use paid advertising, or PPC.
Combine SEO and PPC
From the conclusion you should infer that combining SEO with PPC is a good way to do things. Start with an SEOd website, use PPC to drive immediate traffic and add content to bring in long-term free traffic.
A good blog post lasts 2 years. Imagine you have a website with a 100 great articles. You’ll be receiving free traffic for a long time.
And if you do use PPC, make sure your campaign is put together by a professional who sets up a proper landing page with great copy and a call to action.
I can help with that, but I first and foremost focus on building you a great, optimised website. Then I look at how to increase your traffic, should you have an immediate need.
May your website perpetually outrank the competition!