B2B Articles - May 10, 2022

What the Running World Can Teach Us About “SEO vs. Paid Search”

By Chantel Hall, Marketing Content Specialist

Runners have a wide variety of goals depending on their chosen event and training methods, but most are seeking to improve their endurance, speed, or both. Many runners incorporate both distance training and sprinting into their training plans because they have different benefits and help runners meet both their distance and speed goals. 

Paid search and search engine optimization (SEO) campaigns are very similar in some ways: they have similar goals — making your website visible to your target audience and generating leads —  but they provide distinct benefits and help marketers reach their goals in unique ways. When used concurrently by marketers, they create a strong search engine presence that generates high-quality leads.

Marketers shouldn’t view search engine marketing (SEM) as “SEO vs. paid search” — instead, they should use SEO and paid search together to reach short- and long-term goals and optimize their strategies). 

The world of running can teach us a few lessons about how these two forms of SEM are different, what they have in common, and how to utilize them in tandem to reach your SEM goals. 

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The sprint: paid search

Paid search is the practice of placing ads at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs). Paid search is also called Pay Per Click (PPC) because companies typically only pay for the clicks their ads receive. PPC requires less buildout time than an SEO campaign and, like a running sprint, you see the results of a PPC campaign quickly. 

The main drawback of PPC campaigns is that they’re paid campaigns and cost money upfront. So, while they’re a strong short-term strategy, PPC campaigns should be well-planned and implemented carefully.

The shorter feedback loop inherent to paid search allows marketers to test keywords, ad copy, and audience segmentation and see whether they need to adjust their approach. Like a sprinter who can feel the immediate effects of a new pair of shoes or a different nutrition plan, a marketer can quickly see whether the keywords, messaging, and audience segmentation they’ve chosen are creating the outcomes they’re looking for.

Another benefit of PPC is that it’s more accessible for teams who have limited time or content expertise and allows them to see the benefits of paid search while they’re working on standing up an SEO plan. However, PPC is a valuable tool for any marketing team focusing on SEM to generate traffic and leads. As part of a larger SEM strategy, it provides concrete data that is critical for planning long-term campaigns.

The marathon: SEO

SEO involves optimizing your website and creating content so that your website shows up as close to the top of the page as possible when a user searches relevant keywords. SEO requires a bigger time investment and a commitment to publishing new content and maintaining a search-engine-friendly website. Like training for a marathon, it takes longer to see the results of your efforts, but in the end, they pay off in the form of high-quality leads and website traffic that the marketing department does not have to spend part of their budget on.

Another similarity between running a marathon and executing an SEO campaign is that both build on themselves over time. A runner doesn’t go for a few runs and expect to be marathon-ready, and marketers can’t publish a few blogs and expect to see their search engine rankings skyrocket. A sustained SEO effort and strategy over time are required to boost your rankings, increase domain authority, and encourage links from other websites.

There is one area where SEO is a clear winner in the SEO vs. paid search debate: SEO generates higher quality leads than paid campaigns do. This is likely because leads discovering your website through organic search are using keywords that exactly match the keywords you’ve optimized for, whereas PPC campaigns often display your ads in results for keywords that aren’t an exact match for the lead’s search term. The higher quality leads produced by SEO mean it shouldn’t be ignored in favor of short-term (and more costly) PPC campaigns.

How they work together

Distance runners often use speed training or sprints to improve their performance over long distances, and paid search can be used in the same way to support SEO campaigns. Lessons learned from short-term PPC campaigns can be used to improve long-term SEO strategy. The quick returns on PPC campaigns can be used to test potential changes in SEO strategy and make decisions before putting too much time and effort into new keywords or audience segments.

PPC campaigns can also be used to test the landing pages, content offers, and pillar pages central to SEO strategy. If they perform poorly in a PPC campaign, marketers can make adjustments and re-test messaging to ensure they’re not building their SEO strategy around landing pages that don’t convert or content offers that generate mostly unqualified leads.

The agility of paid campaigns and the high-quality leads generated by SEO make them an ideal pairing in SEM. Together, they provide a more holistic view of how your strategy is performing, equip you with short- and long-term solutions, and create a steadier flow of qualified leads.


Databox, SEO vs. PPC: Which Channel Generates More Sales?, January 9, 2022

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