Arse, Bollocks and Bull. PPC and SEO!!


There are plenty of snake old salesmen within our business, along with dozens (hundreds?) of charlatans but one man who has consistently stood head and shoulders above many within the industry is Mike Grehan.

He is the author of the 2nd best book on search there is (Sorry Mike, I prefer Aaron's) and has taken multiple businesses to exit. He knows search. He knows it bloody well indeed, and there are few that know it better.

But sometimes even the best people in the industry make calls I don't agree with. This time it's Mike :)

Mike has done a piece for the ClickZ Network entitled SEOs Going PPC

Although I agree with the title I don't agree with a lot of the content although he has some aspects 110% correct IMO.

Professional marketers have a great understanding of segmenting and targeting. Now that search engines are reaching the stage where they can begin to provide more precise audience intelligence, they're becoming much more interested in search.

Mike, you better believe it. Audience intelligence is an excitingly massive development in paid search, but it's in organic search too.

I've said many times that I sincerely believe the SEO only shop will become a rapidly diminishing corner of this industry sector.

Now this is a point I disagree with. As search gets more and more complex it will need more and more specialist skillsets. It may be that those skills are within a full media company but history has shown that, that so far that hasn't been the case and I doubt it will change. Full service agencies generally don't have the best organic search specialists but do put together teams containing a great balance of skills across many of the marketing, project and man management disciplines.

Clients want ROI from optimisation efforts, not just rankings.

Tooo right they do, but that isn't new and any business that simply wanted a ranking for rankings sake was either after simple recognition in the industry / consumer base (brand building) or only had one specific product to sell.

One more small thing Mike. You're a bloody talented British journo. Please use the British spelling :P

Within the article Mike speaks about a training day he undertook with Barry of Make Me Top, another guy within the industry who I have a lot of time for. Barry used to be all about organic search, but his public face moved more into PPC a few years ago promoting his excellent bid management software.

Mike says of Barry

Barry agrees that, what I call "textbook SEO", for mom and pops in particular, simply isn't working like it used to. He doesn't believe it's dead yet, but it hasn't got long to go as search engines make more use of end user data on the organic side and authority sites rule.

Textbook SEO as you call it Mike, or foundation SEO as I call it, does work but not on it's own. It sets (as the name I give it alludes to) the foundations for future work to stand tall and proud upon but whereas in the past foundation SEO can deliver rewards on its own, it is simply not enough nowadays. Search has evolved, competitors have joined our marketplace and algos have become more complex.

Mike then quotes Barry directly:

"SEOs are going to have to embrace marketing and make themselves much more aware of paid advertising as it reaches new levels of sophistication," Barry added.

With the greatest of respect to both Mike and Barry, that's utter bollocks. Good SEOs are already aware and undertaking paid advertising campaigns, when the ROI is justified and the market allows it. The title of the piece inferred that SEOs are moving to PPC, which may well be the case but only for the SEOs that either have seen a financially worthwhile opportunity or aren't good enough to play in the organic SERPs.

The truth (IMHO) is that as PPC becomes more complex more and more PPC companies will need true SEO skills. For established media companies that operated on the basis that a %age of their clients spend would be theirs via kickbacks and understood the basic auction system (as Barry put it) ...

"didn't require an awful lot of skill.."

still aim to operate in the PPC market when invisible, unknown variables such as landing page scores are in place truly expect to win their clients great ROI without the same skills that great organic search specialists have are either kidding themselves and/or their clients.

I agree with Barry, PPC was an industry that didn't used to need a lot of skill to win and win big. What was needed was budget!

Budget alone will simply not cut the mustard anymore, if you want an efficient and positively maximised ROI. You need the same skills as an SEO, the ability to understand unseen factors and analyse them to deliver a true and functioning system that delivers measurable ROI. If you operate in New PPC without this knowledge you are simply throwing cash down the drain. Only those with the understanding of organic search can operate effectively in paid search, so contrary to the impetus of Mike's article that SEOs should be moving to PPC, the truth is that it is PPC marketers that should be employing SEOs!

In the meantime the people that will be making a killing are those SEOs that start to play in PPC. And the big media companies? They'll continue to spend their client's money for a minimal ROI, with the clients' moving between agency to agency to ensure that the aggregated spend delivers the kickbacks that used to be available.


I hate ppc.

PPC is growing bigger than SEO. I hate it with an unambiguous passion.

I think the reason behind it is that there is little uncontrollable risk in PPC. Aside from click-fraud (which can easily be worked into the equation), all of the factors involved in PPC can be controlled relatively easily. On the contrary, the work of an SEO is messy, cannot take into account potential competition, does not give instantaneous results, and requires a good deal of "trust me, this is going to pay off in a few months" kind of talks.

While I wholeheartedly believe in the end, the ROI on a good SEO campaign is much greater than any PPC campaign, I can't say that it is as easy a sell.

Investment Risk

That's exactly right. With PPC you can measure dollars in and dollars out, at least of you have skilled PPC managers. SEO is a totally different deal, no skilled SEO will guaranty results because he or she knows that there are a lot of variables which need to be lined up and there is also the competition.

When done right the ROI for SEO is infinitely higher than PPC, but you can't map that easily in the sales process. Also worth noting, much of what happens in an SEO comparing is dependent on the customer's willingness to adapt. Some clients resist every recommendation along the way and then are disappointed when they do not show tremendous gains.

there is little

there is little uncontrollable risk in PPC

Not if you are a new entrant to SEM, with a virgin site, a virginal brand and no previous "status" to back you up.

In those instances you need to think like an SEO to get the true rewards that are available via PPC

You can still begin...

You can still begin tweaking investments to increase ROI on a visitor-by-visitor basis. If you are limited to white-hat techniques, you must risk on a handful of keywords, hoping they will remain relevant and valuable with no data as to whether or not these keywords convert. You also have to cross your finger that, a couple grand into the project, a major competitor drops in with a much larger budget (and significant brand power) and destroys your chances for securing top rankings.

There is a lot less risk in PPC, IMHO. Although, as I said before, it is like Renting your traffic instead of Owning your traffic. Sure, there is more risk in buying a house, but in the long run - it is definitely worth it.


I suppose I think of SEO as more of an art, PPC as more of a science.

In terms of justifying ROI, PPC spend rises near enough in direct proportion to the volume of traffic received. SEO spend need not, necessarily. Plus, of course, conversion rates may differ between organic and paid search.

The truth (IMHO) is that as

The truth (IMHO) is that as PPC becomes more complex more and more PPC companies will need true SEO skills. For established media companies that operated on the basis that a %age of their clients spend would be theirs via kickbacks and understood the basic auction system (as Barry put it) ...

Thanks Jason. Good stuff.

More talk about PPC killing SEO is just another sign of the need to justufy the high costs (profits) the PPC people are taking from their clients. As long as there is an option (SEO) the clients will continue to see if it can reduce their PPC costs.

I agree PPC is getting more sophisticated, but that just means more of the client's money is paying for skilled PPC labor and management tools, with less dedicated to marketing. That's the opposite of SEO, and so the opposite of spend optimization.

Consider the source. A PPC tools vendor and a PPC company sales rep, no?

Risk is relative

there is little uncontrollable risk in PPC

Again, I think the risks merely differ from SEO. To stand a chance in competitive markets - finance is the obvious PPC example - you might well bid an order of magnitude over what you want to spend. And once in a while, you'll end up paying *a lot* more than you wanted to.

if your new

then you are going to get done unless you get lucky picking a good SEO or PPC setup. Simply using a PPC tool and PPC sales rep is all to familiar for many people who have sampled what PPC could hold for them just as a SEO salesman armed with an SEO package is. A good PPC setup should at least give you an ROI that should stay consistent which leaves the issue of cashflow. The real question for most is which camp provides a better chance of finding someone who is actually going to get you an ROI? For the experts I think both are well worth the investment. For the rest I think there is a good market for a bs detector.

Yes, I get it: rock is dead.

Yes, I get it: rock is dead. :)

But while we're at it, let's take a look at an inevitability:

> Search has evolved, competitors have joined our marketplace

... and PPC bidding will become more and more expensive. Yet we don't hear the PPC supporters talking about how PPC may not be such a great promotional method for "mom and pops".

Interesting, isn't it? ;)

Great thread title!

Thanks JasonD. With a title like that I expected this to be yet another TW bashing of something or other, but it's a good read!

Well said Jason

PPC is just part of the overall SEM package.

Every SEOs target is to have as many as possible of the above the fold links leading to his own sites - if you aren't doing both PPC and SEO someone else will be.

However if you look at both SEO and PPC in terms of them being an optimisation opportunity then PPC has to be the easiest to attack.

PPC Auctions can be addictive

I totally agree with JasonD that "..the truth is that it is PPC marketers that should be employing SEOs!"

Top ranking on Google isn't just who bid the most money anymore, and hasn't been for a while. Conversions of some kind are what lead to ROI whether it is PPC or SEO.

However, as Wikipedia says in "Online auction business model" ( ) referring mainly to an eBay type auction, its strength is due partly to "Intensity of social interactions. The social interactions involved in the bidding process are very similar to gambling. The bidders wait in anticipation hoping they will "win" (eBay calls the successful bidder the "winner"). Much like gambling addiction, many bidders bid primarily to "play the game" (or out compete their rivals) rather than to obtain products or services (or obtain a respectable ROI)."

That "addiction mentality", click fraud, and increasingly higher PPC prices for competitive keywords is why I dislike PPC. I eagerly await the developing Google CPA model, as I have always believed that it is best for buyers and sellers of search marketing, as well as end-users. Russvirante got right when he said: "While I wholeheartedly believe in the end, the ROI on a good SEO campaign is much greater than any PPC campaign, I can't say that it is as easy a sell." If more SEO compesation were based on a CPA model, I believe it would be easier to sell than PPC.

There is no such thing as an 'SEO' only

There is no such thing as an 'SEO' only without throwing in the General Marketing into the mix.

I want you guys to think about it.. and really think about it.

Here we go, you build your site, you do your 301 redirect from the non-www to the www.. you use tons and tons of quality text based content, you use a discriptive text based navigation, you use search engine friendly urls, you add RSS feeds for your content, you make sure you have all unique and discriptive metas and title tags, you make sure that you have discriptive ALT tags for all the proper images, all your internal links are discriptive, you outbound link to only quality and authority sites, you create your Google and Yahoo Sitemap (if you want to call that Yahoo thing a sitemap).

You have built yourself perhaps the best site in the industry, filled with proper and good content, and pretty well SEO'ed ... but where is the traffic? you just spent a long time building this great site, but nothing is showing up in the search engines.

What went wrong?

No inbound links, no real marketing of the site.

... no real marketing of the site..

See the point is you must do more than just what is listed above, after you are done SEOing the site.. you need to promote it.. you need Press Releases, you need to start calling journalists, you need to start contacting bloggers in the industry to try to convice them to write a story about you.

The point is, you need to do more than just what you did on that site.

It's been like this for years now... there hasn't been a thing called an 'SEO' only firm in 1/2 a decade, if not longer.

LMAO --> Bullshit, Totally around the wrong way...

Excellent post JasonD!

PPC is just one service, SEO is the whole shebang. PPC scammers need to learn SEO properly (as in meta SEO). All this call for SEO's needing to learn PPC has to stop. I really think they must not have developed their SEO skills far past 2003. Would someone please educate them how to rank a site in todays search environment, the costs involved and ROI over time. Why would you need PPC? hell buy a site, launch 2, just don't burn your dollars with Google et al. What happens when your ad get's turned off and your compeditors have driven the bid price up too high to compete (time to hire a SEO perhaps??).

A good SEO will never need nor rely on PPC, except for launches, KW research and a few other things. It's not hard to do (yes all of it) and certainly far easier than learning SEO and proper web development.

My clients are all educated as to the evils of PPC and all much prefer to invest in SEO. But they are long term thinking people that understand marketing and have had a lot of moulding and knowledge about search built into their thinking.

Sorry but if guys with as much voice as Mike are still spouting the death to pure SEO drivel, I really wonder how much they really know about the market they work and play in.

Maybe it's just the clients they choose and what level of service they really can provide?

I'll side with the Mike &

I'll side with the Mike & Barry excerpts quoted above, but with a caveat. That being that I think they are right when talking about the bigger-$$$ accounts, not SMEs. Companies who have been successful in using other media are frustrated by having to go through the seo bottleneck. They just want "placement" as in placement inside the front cover of Business Week or Fortune --not, we can get somewhere in the top 10 by Christmas ...that's not this Christmas, though.

it is like Renting your traffic instead of Owning your traffic

Russ, Though I understand where you are comming from... the traffic is actually owned by Google, Yahoo and Live.

Because in order to get traffic from being ranked high in the search engines, the person had to visit the search engines first.

The point I am making is that we really don't 'own' the SEO / SEM or any type of Google, Yahoo or Live traffic.

They own it, and provide it to us.

Sometimes us SEO's forget who really owns it.

great read!

great analysis, and back up to your points. I'll have to agree with Jill too... the title first had me rollin' my eyes, but it definitely is a great read. Even better that I can actually put a voice to the words... after listening to the StrikePoint podcast from last week :)

Spot on, RC

they are right when talking about the bigger-$$$ accounts, not SMEs. Companies who have been successful in using other media are frustrated by having to go through the seo bottleneck.

That's the whole point, really: making risks and expendable resources calculable. And being able to work from precisely targetable demographics (well, hopefully - on closer inspection they're usually not that great, really) - which foundation or textbook SEO simply can't compare with in any scalable manner.

Of course, with PPC bids skyrocketing, more often than not SMEs will be pushed out of the market unless they go for the bottom feeder track.

Also, do read Mike's piece before claiming that he's propagating the "death of SEO" - that's sensationalist nonsense and certainly doesn't do his article (or him personally, for that matter) justice.

Plus, having done both, I can only confirm this point of his:

I believe more SEOs should read more marketing books than Apache Server manuals.

Let's face it - like it or not, it's becoming more and more a suits' world out there in search ...

Why Branding Trumps SEO

The point I am making is that we really don't 'own' the SEO / SEM or any type of Google, Yahoo or Live traffic.

They own it, and provide it to us.

Excellent point. You've won when visitors love your brand so much they type, or bookmark it, or use it as their home page. All of what we do should ultimately lead to those goals.

The truth is ...

IMO the truth is you need BOTH SEO and PPC. Let me give you a specific example to make the point. Let's say my wife and I talk about buying a fish aquarium but have never had a pet or fish. I go to Google and type in --pet store with fish near Portland Oregon-- The truth of the matter is that it is going to be very difficult for a company like Petco to come up for the 1000's of different products it sells in all the cities/metro areas it serves in the Organic Listings. But with PPC they can and all the while branding themselves more. If they can somehow come up in both oraganic and PPC areas within certain searches they're in real control. Both are important. When analyzing what's more important SEO or PPC the correct answer is both.

Also, 99% of the time when your doing a search it is not with the intention to buy something and therefore you tend not to click on the PPC ads because they're selling something. Simple enough. However, when you ARE looking to buy something (example above) you suddently find the PPC ads are worth clicking because you're looking for a business and not just information. Therefore if your intention is to sell something online (not just drive visitors to your website) then the holy grail is both SEO and PPC.

SEO will not go away and neither will PPC ... they both have there place and ultimately work better in conjunction with each other. One facet of our industry cannot knock another one (SEO vs. PPC). They need each other and each has different strengths and weaknesses.

PPC is pants

In terms of real world worth, (bricks and mortar - not exploiting arbitrage which is a narrow field only a few can do well in by skimming of millions of keywords), despite the fact we have dedicated in house staff for PPC, bidding on every possible keyword permutation, it provides us with a tiny % of our online sales. Perhaps 5%. Brand provides perhaps another 10% and the rest, a huge 85% comes from SEO.

Scary but true.

Scary but true

A very good observation, Sly: puts the hyped expectations surrounding PPC into proper perspective, bless you.

After all, it's not as if every type of business will really be served by PPC. We've had our bash at it more than once via various venues, both major and second tier and across several years. Results/ROI? Zilch, no matter how fine tuned our keywords and bids were. Conclusion? Simply no good for our kind of clientele.

Other industries will (and actually do) differ, but in many ways not immediately obvious to the uninformed. E.g. most online gambling and adult content sites these days will make the bulk of their turnover via affiliates who in turn may resort to lots of traffic building strategies patently unrelated to either PPC or classic SEO as we know it.

True, in most cases, propagating a one-for-all solution is quite off the mark - but the all-for-one (e.g. PPC plus SEO) strategy won't work for every online business, either.

There's a lot more to consider here, and while I'm inclined to agree that most if not all ad agencies are quite clueless from scratch to this very day when it comes to search marketing, we as practitioners of the art shouldn't knock their savvy too lightly, either, inasfar as it concerns alternate ways of understanding and capturing markets.

Nice to see it caused comment!

Just one further comment from me in that I was trying to express the fact that as search engines try to skew their results in order to enhance the demographic targeting for PPC clients this is beginning to have an effect on organic result produced. As such, my belief (like Mike) is that SEOs should take a look at what is being done in the PPC arena not as a replacement to SEO but as an influence on how SEOs will need to adapt to these changes by the SEs in the future. I certainly don't advocate PPC becoming a total replacement for SEO (I still make a nice chunk from my own affiliate sites via SEO)!

My firm belief is that SEOs are absolutely the right people to run comprehensive SEM campaigns - good SEOs know more about keyword research, defining ROI targets etc. than 95% of the standard media agencies out there. However, as the "laser" approach of PPC targeting becomes more and more refined, it is inevitable that clients will start to expect their "natural" listings to also target defined market segments. This is why studying marketing rather than technical manuals is becoming more important for SEOs overall (IMO).

Good comments by all.

As an aside, after being behind the scenes watching who gets the most benefit out of using tools such as mine for a couple of years - I have to say that Mom and Pop organisations probably gain the least overall in ROI terms from PPC and should place their emphasis on SEO (where possible). For big campaigns/companies, however, the things that some agencies/marketing departments are now doing in managing ROI targets via PPC campaigns are sometimes breathtaking (both in complexity of the rules used and in the $$$ results achieved)!

Mom and Pops

I think mom/pop brick and mortars that are willing to spend $500 in a combo of good SEO and PPC do very well and leapfrog most of their local competitors in a heart beat. I'd rather see mom/pops decrease their yellowpages or newspaper ads and make up the difference w/ a good SEO/PPC plan (obviosly outsourced).

I wrote another post that addresses if you're selling online/e-commerce. This is how I have done it and overall it brings in much more sales and success. PPC+SEO+++++many other things.... see copy of post below:
"Just like in the offline world you need to place your products where people shop. Although people do use search engines to look for products and SEM is effective your best bet is to go 'where people shop'.

If your selling products online you will move the largest volume by utilizing a compliment of Yahoo Shopping + ebay + amazon + overstock + froogle + bizrate + pricegrabber + + nextag + + + + + + + +

When using shopping sites (just like in the real world shopping malls or department stores like Wal-Mart) plus SEM you'll score big. If you use shopping sites to promote your product or online store you'll quickly see that SEM will amount to a very small overall contributor."

Survey says...

PPC is a numbers game, you gotta spend money to get visibility (and to make money), whereas, SEO is an investment. In 6 months, you can be paying the same amount of money daily or you can be all over the search engines for many keyword phrases and it doesn't matter what time of the day someone is searching.

All in all, users are still going to click paid results and organic results... in a perfect world I'd rather pay less for SEO than more for PPC ... you will get much more of a return in the future(seo), not just a temporary listing(ppc). PPC has that comfortable ring of traditional marketing, maybe its easier to grasp in concept for business owners. Here is my money, put up my ad. But if they can look past the short sightedness, there could be much more in store for the website.

But obviously, it does come down to the client's business plan and goals. Some businesses are not about waiting for visibility, they need instant marketing.

Remember the days

when nobody ever got fired for purchasing IBM hardware even though their competitors' stuff might be way more advanced and cheaper, too?

This is rather similar: Because big corporations simply don't work on the same lines as SMEs, it's an entirely different set of parameters they have to accomodate. E.g. accountability, verifiability, blameability - take your pick.

True, on the surface PPC seems to comply much better with traditional marketing strategies - tied up with increasingly sophisticated demographics and laser pointed consumer targeting as it may be now, it's nevertheless a concept that's fairly easy to grasp. (Though practical implementation actually does require lots of first hand expertise if you don't want to risk spiraling your budget to oblivion.)

But what, from a mom and pop setup's view may seem like "shortsightedness", will typically be viewed in an entirely different light within the confines of the big boys' corporate identity and branding policies, commission and board room culture, individual career considerations, hierarchy stringencies, systemic (endemic?) pressures, share holder value and even fundamentally different marketing philosophies primarily biased, perhaps, towards capturing market shares and long term positioning rather than going for more immediate profit.

But at the end of the day, it's all about getting more money out of a business than you're pumping into it, right? Wrong!
Or, more precisely: that perceived bottom line may be located in an entirely different area for an SME than it is for a large corporate entity.

So as an SEO you'll be well advised to thoroughly analyze this part of the equation and gauge clients' specific requirements before rolling out a search marketing campaign.

Well rounded

Just like any industry, if you stand still you're going to be left behind. While there will be plenty of work for an SEO only consultant in the near term, he/she better partner up with people who have other necessary Internet Marketing skills or they will slowy fade away.


"blameability" .. i love that word. rofl.

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