Which is cheaper for your dental practice: SEO or PPC?

Ariana Rosado

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 even if it isn't so.

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

I spend half my life looking at all things marketing 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 google ads or pay-per-click, you'll hear PPC bandied about because marketers have an unhealthy acronym obsession.

But what really got my interest was the advertiser's claim that paid clicks are better than Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) because they're the first results you see.  

Sounds fairly reasonable, right?

Yes, but not so fast. Keep reading, there's more to this story!

What's Pay-Per-Click?

Usually, it's the top four results on a web page result and another two at the bottom. When you click on those, the advertiser pays Google for that click.  

It's an auction system.  The advertiser with the highest bid (and best page) wins one of the top spots. And, truthfully, it's an extremely effective way to get visitors to your website and grow your business.

Typically four paid ads appear at the to of a search results page, another two at the bottom of the page.

What's SEO then?

Put simply it's about getting your website to the top of a Google search result without entering the auction system.  

The top 10 positions after the paid ads are organic search results and to get there, you need SEO. These web pages are judged to be the most relevant to that searcher's query by Google's algorithm - Rankbrain.

In contrast to PPC, when a person clicks to your website from the organic positions, you don't pay the search engine for the click. 

It's a different approach with the same aim - getting buyers on the hunt for your services to your website so they can connect with you.

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

Another key area on the page is the 'local pack' or 'snack pack' results. This is the section with a google map and up to three business in that local area that meet the search criteria. Getting in the 'local pack' is all about optimising your local dental SEO strategy, which we cover in our local SEO article.

It's hot online real estate because you don't have to pay for the click, but the catch is that your content, that is, your web page has to be better than all the others vying for top spots. And this, my friends, is where SEO magic happens.

SEO, done right is about crafting high-quality content that is loved by humans and search engines, not the dodgy voodoo art some think it is.

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

→ They're cheaper

→ They're faster

→ 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 social media feeds are rife with dental marketing 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 crux of it.

→ There's 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 deciding how to divide your marketing budget.

→ Sites higher on the results page, indeed 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.

→ Paid ads work almost immediately. If you're a new practice with a new website, then paid ads will quickly get you visible on Google. SEO can take 3-12 months to build momentum. But unlike paid traffic, it doesn't stop the moment you stop buying the clicks.

→ Neither one will work without a marketing strategy and plan.  Your marketing plan articulates 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.  Remember getting visitors to your site is only the first battle...

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 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 - disappointed and hitting the back button to your competitor's website?

It's surprising how many dentists 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 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.

Search trend for dentist since 2004

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

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?

Let's take the example of a local practice with a target of 1000 monthly website visitors across a variety of general dental, cosmetic and implant treatments.  

The 1000 target is not arbitrary, but rather a realistic minimum for practices with an active SEO strategy, even at an entry-level.

Here's an example of a real website after adding SEO to 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 in clicks.

The impact of adding SEO to a paid google ad strategy

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 an agreement that a top organic spot, ideally in the top 3, is precious for your business website.

The first three organic results got 67.73% of the clicks, according to one study.

So 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. Including:

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

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 versus other bidders

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 expensive and competitive, ranging from $5-$20.

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!)

Cost-per-click in major Australian capital cities, May 2019.

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

Back 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, add the fee to have a professional 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, contrary to popular belief a DIY approach is not "free".

It's about opportunity cost, and if you're spending 2-3 hours managing your ad campaigns a week, you're not doing something else.

Also, the search engines love it when small business owners manage their own paid campaigns, in fact they actively encourage it.  Why? Because they know you're busy, you won't have time to optimise the campaign to lower the cost per click.  Great for them, bad for you as you pay more for clicks. 

So, to be on the conservative side, you allocate $700 for expert help managing and optimising your campaigns.  Bringing your total to $3,620 to drive that level of traffic to your website.   

So let's look at average SEO costs to round off this comparison.

And How much does SEO cost?

In this case, you won't be buying clicks, but chances are that you'll need to bring on an expert to help you sort out your SEO strategy.

A recent survey of 350 SEO providers found that:

→ 80% of SEOs charge $76-$300/hour in Australia (USD)

→ 40% charging between $101-$150/hour (USD)

→ SEO experts with years of experience charge more (no surprises there)

→ The average price for SEO is $2,819.87/month 

If you plan to DIY your SEO, cost your time and that of other professionals, including an SEO copywriter (unless you fancy writing epic blog posts every weekend!). Also, you'll need to budget for a developer and digital designer to help with your website.  This all adds up. And pretty quickly.

The price you'll pay for those professionals to help you boils down to the age-old concept: time, cost, quality like in the diagram below.

The value creation dilemma: choose two options but you can't have all three.

If you have big goals and want them fast and want quality,  expect to pay more.  

If you want quality at a low price, expect it to take longer (mostly negating the short term savings).  

If you wish for fast and cheap, then be willing to sacrifice quality—Hint: this option is never a long term winner, its cheapens your brand leaving you to compete like any commodity - on price.

The other consideration is your competitive environment.  If you're in a area of practices that have consistently invested in marketing, you'll need to budget more to get in the game.

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

If you recall the budget to bring 1000 visitors to your website with pay-per-click was around $3600, the average SEO spend about $2800.  

The data doesn't - even though averages obscure the detail - suggest that one isn't more expensive than the other. Instead, they're comparable.

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

Myth is busted!

Cost is comparative, and a sound marketing plan will consider both options taking into account your competitive environment and growth goals.

Like our gorgeous El Paso girl - "Porque no los dos?"

Often it's marketing agencies that drive an unnecessary wedge between the two tactics.  Those that focus on one activity, like PPC, will push for this and vice versa instead of assessing what's best for your business.

If your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail

Instead of taking the silo approach, look for a dental marketing partner that solves problems holistically.  No different to providing dental care, right?  Not every missing tooth is a dental implant.

Truth is, both SEO and PPC can work together synergistically to grow your dental practice. They each have pros and cons and different applications, it's your marketer's job to figure out the right combination of each for you.

If you're put off by SEO because of cost, don't be.  It's an effective way to grow your practice and could form an integral part of your overall marketing strategy.

Do you have a marketing plan, or are you stitching together an ever-increasing number activities and hoping for the best?

It doesn't have to feel that way. Book your free 30-minute consult with us get clear on what mix of activities will get your practice unstuck.