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How is Ranking Different When Comparing PPC vs. SEO?

How is Ranking Different When Comparing PPC vs. SEO?

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Did you know that organic search results need to pass over 200 ranking factors before Google considers showing them in the SERPs?[1] Do you also know that a website’s position in the sponsored ad section is primarily influenced by the highest bidder and partially by your Ad Rank?[2].

So the question is, “How is ranking different when comparing PPC vs. SEO? 

This post discusses everything you did to know about PPC and SEO rankings. We’ll also explore real-life case studies of two eCommerce clients who generated sales via PPC and SEO to demonstrate how rankings differ. 

Be sure to watch our SEO playlist for a comprehensive masterclass on SEO. Let’s get started.

PPC vs. SEO: How is Ranking Different in Google SERPs?

1. The Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Ranking Method 

PPC ads,  like Google Ads,  are strategically positioned at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs), typically above organic listings. Your ad’s position is determined by a bidding system, where you compete with other advertisers for the most relevant keywords. The higher your bid and the better the ad quality (Ad Score), the higher your ad will rank.

With this bidding system, you can achieve top placement on Google almost instantly, making PPC ideal for the following:

  • Launching new products or services
  • Running time-sensitive promotions
  • Targeting specific audiences with laser precision

Pro-tip:   LinkedIn Ads and Facebook Ads function differently from Google Ads. Consider skimming the provided resources before deciding which type of PPC you need.

2. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Ranking Method

Google’s complex algorithm considers numerous factors, such as website content, user experience, and backlinks, when determining organic SEO rankings. Improving your ranking involves SEO keyword research, optimizing your website for relevant keywords, and creating high-quality content.

While SEO takes longer to yield visible results, it offers several advantages:

  • Cost-effective: You don’t have to pay for every click once your website ranks organically.
  • Longevity: High SEO rankings can generate consistent traffic for months or years.
  • Increased brand authority: Ranking highly in organic search results builds trust and credibility with potential customers. 

How is PPC Different Than SEO?

There are only two ways to bring your website to the top of the first page of Google. The first is Google Ads or Pay-per-Click (PPC) for Google, and the second is Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Google Ads requires money and expertise, while SEO requires time and effort.

Here is how.

Ranking on Google is About Selecting Which Space to Target on SERPs

To understand how ranking is different when comparing PPC vs. SEO, you need to know how Google divides the page layouts for the search engine results pages (SERPs).

#1: The Paid or Sponsored Section

Google makes money by selling advertising, and the top of the SERPs is the most valuable position, with over 25% of the total web traffic[3]. Google has reserved this position for advertising, and companies bid using an auction-based system known as Google Ads (previously known as Ad Words). This allows the highest bidder to display their ad in this space.

Depending on how competitive the niche is, Google may display up to four competing adverts in this prime space[4], with the highest bidder taking the topmost position.

Here is a screenshot of sponsored ads for the search query: ‘expert software development services.’ 

Google SERPS showing sponsored/ paid search ads for “expert software development” search query

There you have the Google PPC model, which helps Google generate 77.4% ($237B) of its total revenue every year[5].

#2: The Places Section with Google My Business (GMB) Profiles

Directly below this ad space is often a map of the businesses operating in your area. Google displays the map if your search query involves a service-related keyword, such as expert software development near me. 

Seeing GMB profiles depends on your search query and whether a GMB profile has a website optimized for the keyword you searched.

With the suffix ‘near me,’ you almost always get a ‘Places’ section like this one below:

Google SERPS showing places section for “expert software development services near me” search query

#3: People Also Ask Section

The ‘People Also Ask’ section is often below this map or an organic search result if there is no places section. It typically shows 4-6 quick, frequently asked questions about your search query. Google doesn’t generate them independently; instead, this section amalgamates the top-ranking websites and a highly filtered version of your search query. 

Using our previous search query, expert software development services, you can see that the ‘People Also Ask’ section is below an organic listing after the sponsored section (and there are no GMB profiles). 

Google SERPS showing people also ask section for “expert software development services” search query

#4: The Organic Search Listings

Finally, after these 3 elements comes the list of the organic search results, usually towards the middle or the end of the search results page. These are the free listings that deliver the best quality search results. Consider the organic SERPs for the same keyword.

Google SERPS showing organic listings beneath people also ask section for “expert software development services” search query

Studies reveal that 94% of users find organic results of much more value and skip paid/sponsored sections[6]. This preference is because  Googe’s outstanding AI-powered algorithm ranks the organic results based on relevance and not by the largest marketing budget. 

How Do PPC and SEO Ranking Methods Work?

1. The SEO Ranking Method

For your website to be displayed in the organic search, it must accommodate the algorithm to rank it. In short, you will need SEO.

Google has bots called web crawlers that search the entire internet to index all the websites. These bots are essentially just lines of code, but they record essential information from the websites and then rank each according to Google’s strict criteria.

Google then displays the best results at the top of the organic search section. It takes time for Google’s algorithm to move your website higher in the SERPs’ page ranking system. While this requires ongoing effort and input, the benefit is that it has long-lasting effects.

2. The PPC Ranking Method

Conversely, PPC can deliver almost instant results. It targets specific keywords but requires money and expertise for a Google Ad campaign. Discover the keywords your potential customers would use when searching for your product or service and then bid in an auction-based pricing system. 

You can set daily/monthly budget limits and customize your landing pages for key search words to improve your conversion rate. However, your Ad disappears once you have reached your Google Ad budget limit.

It’s advisable to utilize Google Ads when starting a new business. It can help you quickly launch your business and generate cash flow. However, it’s vital to prioritize the SEO of your website for long-term success consistently.

Now we’ve answered the question, “How is ranking different when comparing PPC vs. SEO? Let’s explore which is more measurable.

Is PPC or SEO More Measurable?

Here is the simplest answer for you:

“PPC offers greater measurability with readily available metrics, but SEO measurement requires interpreting broader data and trends over time.”

MeasurabilityHighly MeasurableLess Direct
FocusClicks, ConversionsOrganic Traffic, Rankings
ExamplesImpressions, Clicks, CTR, ConversionsOrganic Traffic, Keyword Rankings, Bounce Rate, Average Time on Site

Does PPC Increase SEO Ranking?

Many clients ask us the same question: will PPC help improve our SEO ranking? It’s a great question to ask but also the trickiest to answer.

We tell them:

“No, PPC won’t directly boost your SEO ranking, but it can offer indirect benefits. Essentially, PPC can be a tool to inform and enhance your SEO strategy.”

Here’s how.

1. Increased Visibility

PPC ads place your brand at the top of search results, grabbing user attention and potentially influencing them to remember your brand for future organic searches.

2. Brand Awareness

Repeated exposure through PPC ads can build brand recognition, making users more likely to click on your organic listings later.

3. Improved CTR

Studies suggest PPC ads can increase organic click-through rates (CTR) for relevant keywords. Higher CTR can be a positive SEO signal to search engines.

4. Keyword Testing

PPC campaign data provides valuable insights into keyword performance. You can use this data to identify high-converting keywords for SEO optimization. 

Case Studies to Show How Ranking is Different When Comparing PPC vs. SEO in Real-Time

Search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising are both powerful tools for driving traffic to your website. However, when it comes to ranking on Google, they work in very different ways.

We have two case studies to make this comparison.

Case Study 1: PPC Rankings for Icy Bear Were Fast and Focused

Icy Bear Dental homepage illustration with a smiling woman’s face
Source: Icy Bear Dental

NUOPTIMA helped Icy Bear, a dental company offering teeth whitening products, achieve impressive results through PPC advertising. They were looking for a fast way to increase sales, and PPC delivered:

  • Google Ads: Icy Bears spent £12,000 on a Google Ads campaign that generated £165,000 in sales, resulting in a phenomenal 13x ROAS. This campaign also achieved a high click-through rate and a strong conversion rate.
Icy Bear Google search console metrics displayed as a line graph)

Case Study 2: SEO Rankings for Hidden Botanics Were Slower But Sustainable

Hidden Botanics homepage illustration with a scene of the marriage ceremony
Source: Hidden Botanics

NUOPTIMA also helped Hidden Botanics, a company selling sustainable dried and preserved wedding flowers, achieve significant results through SEO. Their website was underperforming despite reaching promising spots in search results. 

We identified website structure issues and implemented a comprehensive SEO strategy, including:

  • Technical website optimization to improve loading speeds and user experience
  • Content creation, including blog posts and product page descriptions optimized for relevant keywords
  • Backlink building to increase website authority

The results speak for themselves:

  • 144.92% increase in purchases
  • 139.78% increase in total revenue
  • 165.714% increase in organic traffic
Hidden Botanics organic search Google search console report showing the increase in the purchase and total revenue generated

Time, Sales, Resources, and ROI in PPC vs. SEO: A Comparison of Icy Bear and Hidden Botanics  

The case studies of Icy Bear (PPC) and Hidden Botanics (SEO) showcase the effectiveness of both strategies in achieving e-commerce success. However, they take vastly different approaches in terms of speed, resource allocation, and return on investment (ROI). 

Here’s a side-by-side comparison to highlight these key differences:

MetricHidden Botanics (SEO)Icy Bears (PPC)
Campaign Duration6 months (September 2023 – March 2024)—-
Sales Increase144.92%Total sales generated were £165,000
Resources InvestedSEO expertise, content creation, backlink building (ongoing)£12,000 ad spend (Google Ads) on PPC campaign
ROINot directly measurable for SEO, but organic traffic increased by 165.714%13x ROAS for the Google Ads campaign

The Bottom Line: How is Ranking Different When Comparing PPC to SEO?

PPC offers a fast track to the top. By strategically bidding on relevant keywords, you can place your ads at the user’s fingertips, generating instant website visibility. 

Conversely, SEO is a long-term approach to slowly crawl your way up Google’s ranking system. It requires consistent effort in creating high-quality content, optimizing your website, and building authority to outperform your competitors and eventually claim your position on the first page in SERPs.

However, managing PPC and SEO can be demanding, and the Icy Bear and Hidden Botanics case study is the best example.

Often, the most challenging part is deciding whether a PPC or an SEO strategy is right for you. Chances are you may need one or both of them.

So, how do you decide?

Data-driven SEO Agencies Can Help You Make the Right Decision

The answer is sorting, analyzing, and interpreting the data your search console, site audits, and reports tell you. As you might have guessed, this is a team’s job rather than an individual’s effort alone.

SEO experts and full-time trained PPC specialists will help you devise whichever route you want.

Feel free to explore our SEO services. Your first 30-minute marketing call is free!

Make Your Website the Top 10 in SERPs


  1.  Google’s 200 Ranking Factors: The Complete List (2024) ([1]
  2. Get your ads to show among top ads – Google Ads Help[2]
  3. Over 25% of People Click the First Google Search Result[3]
  4. SERP Features: Ads Top[4]
  5. Organic vs. Paid Search: (84 Astonishing) Statistics for 2024 ([5]
  6. 11 Legitimately Scary PPC Stats Every Advertiser Should Know (+Survival Tips)[6]

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