The Difference Between SEO and Google AdWords

For anyone looking at marketing their business online, you may hear the terms ‘SEO’ and ‘AdWords’ being thrown around. But what are these, and how are they different?

What are they?

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of infusing a website with keywords and topical phrases that aim to make that website rank higher in search engines (e.g. Google, Yahoo…) by being more relevant to a ‘search term’. For example, if you’re looking for a builder in your area (let’s say you live in Dunedin, in the Otago area), you may search for such phrases as “Dunedin builder”, “Builders in Otago”, or “Construction companies Dunedin”. As you can see, there are many ways you can search for something online – different terms, different arrangements of words, different locations. Simply put, SEO tries to cover as many of these phrases as possible by incorporating these words into your website for Google to find. This could be in titles, descriptions, blogs, or any other text on your website.

Google AdWords is an online tool, hosted by Google, in which the user pays for their website to be displayed in a visible location when a relevant phrase is being searched for. The way that this is done is by Pay-per-Click (PPC), where a pre-set expenditure is allocated to each click – i.e. you pay a little bit of money to Google every time someone goes to your website through the advertisement.
Like SEO, you can optimise AdWords to make your advertisement only be displayed for searches that you can benefit from if they click on your Ad. Of course, you do not want to be spending money on people who have no interest in your product or service.

Pros & Cons of SEO and AdWords

Search Engine Optimisation
Pros Cons
  • Cheaper long-term
  • Does not appear as an advertisement
  • Compatible with Google maps
  • An SEO company would (or should) write your
    content and monitor your rankings for you.
  • Less predictable results
  • Susceptible to natural fluctuation
  • Takes time to be effective
  • Requires expert knowledge to do well
Google AdWords
Pros Cons
  • Premium placement/highly visible
  • Immediate results
  • Specific targeting
  • Easy/quick to modify
  • Expensive long-term
  • Difficult to implement properly
  • Can waste money on non-relevant visitors
  • More expensive in competitive markets

Which costs more?

SEO is a ‘slow-burning’ strategy. It is a long-term investment for gradual and consistent online exposure. If someone clicks on your website through a link on Google (not an advertisement) because they have searched for a relevant phrase, this counts as ‘organic traffic’, and costs the same regardless of whether you have 1 person visiting your site, or 1 million.

If getting a specialist SEO company to look after your site, potential costs to consider are:

  • Administration & start-up fees
  • Ongoing maintenance
  • Research & development
  • Website reconstruction

Google AdWords can hugely vary in cost, depending on how competitive the market is. A single click could cost you anywhere from 50 cents to 50 dollars, and you must decide whether the cost of each click is worth the value of someone visiting your website (Return on Investment).
For example, in an industry like ship-building, spending 50 dollars for the potential for someone to purchase a multi-million-dollar ship would be very worthwhile. However, it may not be cost effective for a hair dresser to spend the same amount for a potential client.

SEO for Beginners – Why it’s important to do it right

SEO as a concept is simple, but doing it properly is both an art and a science. It requires research, maintenance, and subtlety, as well as a background knowledge of how Google’s algorithms work.
Poorly implemented or ‘Black Hat’ (unlawful) SEO can result in punishment from Google, penalising your site by banning it or reducing its visibility. It is often a good idea for the sake of professionalism and time management to get a specialist company to oversee the SEO for your business.

Choosing SEO or AdWords – Can I do both?

Absolutely you can do both. Not every company, industry or situation is the same, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach, but if you have the budget it can be very effective to market your business using both strategies simultaneously. As SEO can take weeks, or even months to implement, it can be beneficial to use AdWords as a kind of short-term ‘boost’ to start getting traffic to your newly optimised website, and can help to get an idea of any changes you want to make to your SEO for the long term.