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Should you do organic SEO or buy Google ads?

It's the squillion dollar question - do you resolutely refuse to dance with the devil which is Google ads, or do you jump in with both feet and start to party? Hint: Long-term, organic is best, but you may need ads to fill the gap.

A close up of the Google Ads logo embossed into high quality paper. The logo is a stylised capital letter A, in green, yellow and blue.

Lots of brands ask themselves the question as to whether they should be concentrating on better search engine optimisation (SEO) or running a Google ad campaign.

That’s like asking ‘should I have breakfast today or dinner?’. The chances are, you’re going to want both.

Like mealtimes, both SEO and Google ads fulfil a function - but they do so in different ways:

Why you want organic SEO

Now look, if you’ve been paying attention to these blog posts, you should know this, but one more time if you’ve just joined us (you’re very welcome!).

A photo of a small tree sapling in fresh soil. The sunlight is shining through the leaves. The background is heavily blurred by seems to suggest a forest or woodland scene. This is being used symbolically to denote organic, natural growth.

‘Organic’ SEO is almost a cultural thing. It’s a continuing process made up of a number of factors:

Understanding your customers

Having personas in mind as to who is looking for your products and services and what search terms they will use.

Knowing the keywords

If you understand the search terms, then you should have a keyword audit of what words and phrases you need to include in your content.

Having a content strategy

Having a process by which you create good quality content which demonstrates the superiority of you as a company and the quality of your products and services.

Having a platform which makes it all accessible

If Google can’t find or index your content then your SEO is screwed. So make sure you have the technical know-how, or a technical audit, which ensures your site is visible to search engines. And on a mobile-first basis too.

Rinse and repeat

Google rewards a reasonable level of publishing frequency and it rewards unique content. You have to keep creating new content…

The last point illustrates a key component: SEO is a long-term commitment which has implications for the structure of your business and the way it works. You need people in place to create content, to plan editorial calendars, to understand user needs, to research keyword and technical requirements and to tweak, iterate and alter as you go.

You may have that capacity or you may… ahem… need agency support to help you build that capacity and the aligned skills. But you also need patience. An SEO ‘campaign’ can take 3-6 months before it gets the results you are hoping for - a high level prominence on Google search results pages, preferably page one.

So you can begin that process, but you may need something more urgently…

This image shows small seedlings on top of piles of coins. There are four seedlings each perched on taller and taller piles, suggesting a histogram or bar chart where the amounts invested increase. This is symbolising the act of paying to enhance growth.

Google ads

Google ads are not a replacement for SEO, they are rather different. If you think of SEO as your position on the High Street (on the main thoroughfare, near the bus stops, lots of products in a big front window), whereas Google ads are… well… ads.

They are there specifically to drive people to specific parts of your site - maybe at times of heightened activity for the consumer (booking season for schools or tourist companies, for example) or to drive under-performing elements of your business.

Dependent on the level of competition for the search terms you are bidding on, they can be cost-effective and, at least, you pay only when a potential customer clicks on an ad.

This ad is displayed to users who type in particular keywords on the search engines, allowing you to target users interested in particular topics.

So alongside fulfilling a specific, perhaps time-limited need to boost your customer base, it can also help fill the Google Ads, therefore, can help you gain the visibility you want for important keywords, even before you have the site reputation and SEO rankings needed to see results from your organic efforts. It can fill in that 3-6 month gap while your organic work bears fruit.

Running that kind of ad campaign needs a beady eye on what’s working and what’s not - the sort of agile process which works best as a loop: trying a set of keywords, seeing which work and doubling down on those and altering the ones that work less well. Test, check, iterate.

It’s intensive work, but a good agency will have experience of running these for you and help you get the best return for your money (compared to, perhaps, your own blind testing).

If you need a quick hit of revenues to get the wheels turning again out of lockdown, then a Google Ad campaign, alongside a longer-term SEO strategy should help get those customers to your site.