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Clash Of The Titans: Google AdWords vs. Organic SEO

seo, adwords, salty waffle, dynamic seo, odd dog media, seo firm

Tom over at Odd Dog Media put up a great breakdown of how to decide which is better for you, AdWords or Organic SEO and since…you know, we’re kinda into that sorta thing, we thought it would be helpful for all of you to take a look at as well. Which path are you taking?


Imagine you are standing on top of a mountain. You are trying to decide how to get down. On one side of you is a sheer cliff, a fast yet painful way down the mountain. On the other side is a gradual slope that, while long and arduous, will ultimately save your knees from certain peril in the long-term. The idea behind this metaphor is something businesses have to deal with every day. The question is: how do you handle your search engine marketing? The question has two answers and I am here to help you through each.

The Sheer Cliff: Adwords

Adwords allows for marketers to bid on sponsored positions for desired keywords that searchers see when they use Google.  These sponsored links are bid upon, much like an auction.  Marketers bid on how much they are willing to pay per click or per impression (consumer view).  Google relates the bid amount to the marketers “quality score” (how relevant the landing page is, how relevant the ad itself is, and the average click through rate the marketer has obtained) and the position for the ad is determined.  This makes for a very effective (yet potentially expensive) marketing campaign.

When you are looking at adwords, think of the slope as climbing a cliff.  It is taxing, requires much more immediate investment but is ultimately a fast way to the top (of Google rankings).  However, if at any point you stop putting in this investment, you will immediately plummet to the ground.  This method has many advantages and just as many disadvantages.

The advantages are as follows:

  • Quick way to the top of Google
  • Cost per Click does not charge unless someone clicks on your link
  • The higher your click-through rate, the lower your cost per click will be to obtain the same position
  • Setting daily budgets allows you to keep very good track of your marketing money
  • A powerful tool for driving large amounts of traffic quickly, great for brand awareness
  • Top notch customer targeting

While the advantages are alluring, there are many disadvantages as well:

  • Without a high conversion rate or very high average revenue per conversion, Adwords can cost much more than it brings in as you pay per click even if the customer does not convert
  • Without constant management you can rocket straight to the bottom in a matter of minutes (competition can outbid you, you can reach your quota per day, etc…)
  • Requires incessant fine-tuning of ads and keywords to maximize profit
  • It is possible to spend enormous amounts of money extremely quickly for very little in return
  • Only around 20% of all search traffic clicks on the sponsored links

The Gradual Incline: Organic SEO

Organic SEO is much more like a long incline.  It requires a lot of slow and dredging work, but in the end it is hard to lose your position.  If you stop for a bit you will remain relatively static (with a little variation).  It is also far less taxing on your energy (or in this case your marketing budget).  This one is a marathon, not a sprint.


  • Long lasting flavor (it is an investment for the future)
  • Once you get to or near the top you can scale back your efforts and it won’t destroy your rankings
  • 80% of search traffic heads straight for the organic results
  • No cost per click means that you are paying nothing outside of your SEO investment for each conversion
  • You wont have a “crazy day” where your ad spending goes through the roof
  • Google Local has made it easier to appeal to users in your area with organic SEO


  • It is a long process requiring a large amount of drudgery work
  • It is really difficult to oust the top rankers for the highly competitive keywords if they are well entrenched
  • It is a lot more complicated than just writing an ad and landing page then bidding
  • It can change really quickly if someone comes out with a killer piece of content (like this blog) that goes viral (not quite yet) but this is rare.  However if it does happen it can be a major setback for your SEO
  • Some top level ranking sites can prove an insurmountable challenge in any reasonable time-span

So what is right for me?

The answer to this question really depends on your goal.  If you are looking to drive large amounts of traffic to your site in a short period, adwords is probably the way to go.  In that same vein if you are looking to make a long term investment and have the time to wait around for things to grow then go with organic (it is the better long run choice).

Generally speaking, we believe that the best way to conduct SEM is to make your goals clear.  We believe that if you have the money to spend, Adwords can be great.  However it is not a good long run plan.  What is good is to synergize the two.  A few examples of this are: using your Adwords keywords as research for what you want to target with an organic campaign; use the Adwords ads to build brand awareness and gain links (thus boosting your organic rankings).  These are certainly not all the tricks you can pull with the power of web synergy but it is a good start.

Anyway, there you have it, a glorious compilation of how to answer the age old question: Adwords or Organic SEO?