The great thing about the internet is having access to information at our fingertips.  The bad thing about the internet is that anyone with an opinion can voice it with the conviction of fact.

The great SEO vs. PPC debate - which one's better? Cheaper...? Faster?

I spend half my life looking at all things dental on the web, and was recently served one of those "let me get you 30 patients in 30 days with my proprietary, secret-sauce system".

The (not-so) "secret-sauce" system was paid google ads or pay-per-click, you'll hear PPC bandied about because marketers have an unhealthy acronym obsession.

You know, the ones that appear at the top of a Google results page?   Usually four at the top and another two at the bottom and when someone clicks on your ad, you pay the search engine for the click to your website.

Screenshot taken April 2019 of top four are labelled 'Ad'

But what piqued my interest were the claims supporting the superiority of Google ads over  Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

SEO put simply is getting your website to the top of a Google search result. In contrast to PPC, when a person clicks on the organic results, you don't pay the search engine for the click. It's a different approach with the same aim - getting potential buyers to your website so they can connect with you.

A results page has ten organic spots following the paid ads at the top and the maps results.  These are the web pages deemed to be the most relevant to that searcher's query by Google's algorithm - Rankbrain.

Other organic results may also be served, for example, 'feature rich snippets', often called position zero because they appear even before the first result.

Featured snippet box - position 'zero' - is earned by providing the best answer to a particular query.

The organic results are hot online real estate because they're free, but the catch is that your content, that is, your web page has to be better than all the others vying for top spots. This is essentially the purview of SEO: crafting high-quality content that is loved by humans and search engines alike, not the dark voodoo art many think it is.

So back to the Facebook ad, the pitch was along the lines of: you need new patients, so you need Google ads. Paid ads are better than SEO because:

1. They're cheaper

2. They're faster

3. They get more clicks (as they are at the top of the page)

Now for all the folks reading along at home, let's do a quick pop quiz.

Which claim is:

(a) Correct?

(b) Unsubstantiated?

(c) Incorrect?

Because our social media feeds are rife with 'secret sauce' dental marketers and facto-fiction, I thought it time for a smackdown of simplistic claims like 'SEO BAD, PPC GOOD'. (Hope you read that in an Orwellian, Animal Farm-esque sheep bleat.)

Keep reading for the answers to the pop quiz and also why, and when, both tactics can help you grow your practice (the right way).

No time to read? Here's the TL;DR:

[insert you're welcome gif]

1. There is no evidence that PPC is cheaper than SEO. Dental has some of the highest cost-per-click ranging from $5-$20. With $100 a day budget, for example, you'd get 5-20 visitors (150-600 p/mo.).  That's approx $3000 to buy the traffic, similarly, a 2018 survey found the average monthly SEO investment to be around $2900.   This is a dangerous reductionist claim that can lead to poor decision making when it comes to the tactical mix.

2. It's true that sites higher on the results page get more clicks.  However,  only 6-10% of all clicks are on the ads. Organic results get 8-9X more clicks, so don't throw the SEO baby out with the bathwater. 

3. Paid ads work almost immediately. If you're a new practice without a database and a new website, then paid ads will quickly get you visible on Google results. SEO can take 3-12 months to build momentum.

4. Neither one will be effective without a marketing strategy and plan.  Your marketing plan will articulate how those visitors and enquiries will be followed up and converted to appointments, not to mention why they should choose you in the first place.

Do I even need to be visible on Google?

Unless you're the only game in town (unlikely), then you absolutely need to put your best foot forward online. And, the window to your [online] soul is not your eyes but your website.

Your patients are searching for service providers online.  Lawyers, accountants, electricians, hairdressers and yep, even dentists.  They're also madly googling symptoms and treatment information.  

Is your website a good representation of who you are? Or is it a total snoozefest leaving visitors - i.e. potential patients - underwhelmed and hitting the back button to check out other options?

It's surprising how many dentists still rely almost exclusively on word-of-mouth to attract new patients.  And while I don't wish to downplay its importance - happy customers are the lifeblood of any business after all.   Search has emerged, in the last decade as one of the most predictable and targeted ways to get your practice in front of those looking for dental treatment.

Below is the trend line for  "dentist" searches in Australia since 2004.

Trend line for "dentist" since 2004-Present

In 2004, miss the Yellow Pages listing deadline, and you too would be "not happy Jan". Search just wasn't a significant way for new customers to find you. Today, after word-of-mouth, it should be a substantial source of new patients.

[not happy Jan gif]

Point is, irrespective of how you drive visitors to your website: SEO, PPC or both, you can't ignore the upside of connecting with those actively on the hunt for dental services online.

Is paying for clicks cheaper than SEO?

The annoying answer is: it depends.

Are we talking short term or long term?

How competitive is paid in your geographic area?

Conversely, how competitive is SEO in your area?

Are both monetary and non-monetary benefits considered?

Let's take the example of a local practice with a target of 800 monthly website visitors across a variety of general dental, cosmetic and implant treatments.  

The 800 monthly visitor target is not arbitrary, but rather a realistic minimum for practices with an active SEO strategy, even at an entry level.

Below is an example of a real website after adding SEO to existing paid campaigns that were driving 80-90% of the visitors to the site. The number of monthly visitors grew to over 1700 once the SEO impact was realised. Incidentally, if the customer was to have paid for this incremental traffic it would've cost around $5000 p/month

Augmenting paid ads with an SEO strategy yielded an additional 1000 monthly visitors in seven months.

For argument's sake, our example practice relies on paid ads to generate website visitors.  There's no SEO and it sits on page two for most search terms likely to drive visitors.

Studies show that 90-98% of all clicks are on the first page. And while the exact findings differ between studies, there's a general consensus that a top organic spot, ideally in the top 3, is extremely valuable for your business website.

The first three organic results get 62.73% of the clicks in one study.

How much do clicks cost?

How much you pay for a click depends on a few factors.  Some of which you control, some of which you don't. These include:

1. Supply and demand: how many are bidding on that exact keyphrase: like anything, more potential buyers means a higher  price

2. Your Ad quality score: it's not always the highest bidder that wins the click.  It's a balancing act between the highest bid and relevancy of your ad copy and landing page are vis-a-vis  other bidders

3. Campaign optimisation: running PPC ads is not 'set and forget'.  The more time you spend optimising your ads sets, tweaking and testing, the less you'll pay for clicks.

Dental related terms are some of the costliest and most competitive with clicks ranging from $5-$20.  Keep in mind, however that top prices often mean high converting and therefore profitable searches.

For example "dentist" fetches between $5-$16 dollars across major Australian states. (As an aside: Perth your love of google ads is worrying me a little!)

Overview of CPC for "dentist" major cities, May 2019

To facilitate our comparison, however,  let's use the average click cost of $2.62 ($3.80 AUD)for the health sector from Wordstream's 2018 Google Adwords industry benchmarks report.

Average cost-per-click by industry 2018

Returning to our example, for 1000 monthly visitors you'd need to budget: 1000 x $3.80 = $3,800. A daily budget of around $100-$130. (conservatively).

To that, you'd need to add the fee to have someone manage the account.

Or, if you were to manage the account yourself, or have a staff member do it, calculate an hourly fee for the time.  Yes, your time is worth money, it's not "free" to do it yourself contrary to popular belief.

It's all about opportunity cost, and if you're spending 2-3 hours managing your ad campaigns a week, you're not doing something else. On the other hand, if you're managing your own ads but not allocating enough time to review performance, your campaign is likely underperforming and that too has an opportunity cost, i.e. lost sales.

So, to be on the conservative side, you allocate $1000 for expert help managing and optimising your campaigns.  

So your total now is $3,620 to drive traffic with an exclusive paid strategy.   

For that level of investment, you wouldn't be hard pressed finding a quality SEO service to drive the same level (or more) of organic traffic to your website.

So let's look at average SEO costs.

How much does SEO cost?

Unlike paid ads, It's harder to measure cost-per-click for SEO. Apart from the fact that  Google's algorithm is one of the world's most closely guarded secrets and therefore, much of the data needed to reverse engineer, this figure is obscured. There's the fact that SEO costs are mostly indirect.

You can't pay to get to the top of the search results.  However, you may need to pay for SEO services if you can't do it yourself. If you plan to manage it yourself, you'll need to price your time and that of those professionals you'll need to help you implement an SEO Strategy like a developer, graphic designer and SEO copywriter.

The price paid boils down to the age-old concept of balancing time, cost, quality like in the diagram below.

You can have two but never all three.

So if you're in a hurry to reach your goals, but want quality outcomes, expect to pay more.  If you want quality at a low price, expect it to take longer (often negating the short term savings).  If you wish for fast and cheap, then be willing to sacrifice quality.

This price/time/quality trade-off is likely to remain until such time that an AI bot replaces the brain and human labour is no longer required to deliver marketing services (that *actually* work).

The other consideration is your competitive environment.  If you're in a competitive area of well-established practices with an excellent online marketing competency, you'll need to factor a higher marketing budget to get in the game.

Think about it this way you'll need to outrun your competitors, like this clever fellow.

A recent survey of 350 SEO providers found that:

1. 80% of SEOs charge $76-$300/hour in Australia (USD)
2. 40% charging between $101-$150/hour (USD)
3. Unsurprisingly, SEO experts with years of experience command higher fees
4. The average fee for SEO is $2,819.87/month

So now, back to our comparison - is paid cheaper than SEO?

This one is squarely in the unsubstantiated camp.

Looking at the available data would suggest that monthly costs may be very similar when we compare like for like. So the cost alone shouldn't be the criteria for deciding for one over the other.  

In the second part we'll tackle the other two claims:

- Paid is faster than SEO, and
- Paid results at the top get more clicks.

Do you have a solid marketing plan, or are you stitching together an ever-increasing number activities and hoping for the best? Take advantage of your complimentary 30-minute personal consult to review your marketing and get clear on what's working and what's broken. Click this link to request your complimentary call.