Search Engine Marketing for Online Retail: SEO or PPC?

Every online retailer lures visitors to the website in different ways. Some send targeted emails and encourage subscribers to check new arrivals or bestsellers. Others activate social media marketing and raise brand awareness with the help of influencers and live broadcasts.

Of course, traffic alone doesn’t guarantee sales. You need to optimize the online store or even opt for a headless commerce structure to prepare the website for growing user demands; however, the website’s position in search is crucial.

It ensures people will see your company before your competitors’ and boosts the chances of conversions. But there are two paths you can take to increase website visibility: search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC). These two “rivals” aim at the same goal. They let the source appear higher on a search engine result page (SERP). The difference lies in whether you need to pay for the visitors or not. So which strategy is better for eCommerce? Read this article to find out.

Defining SEM vs. SEO vs. PPC

Before determining the best strategy for boosting an online store’s position, you need to know the difference among SEO, PPC and SEM. Most purchases start with looking for a product in search. Users then type in their requests in Google or Bing and explore the results. 

Online search has a significant purchase intent as people look for products deliberately. Compare it to social media ads and posts. People access these channels to communicate and entertain themselves rather than buy, so ads may not lead to sales.

The inserted requests contain specific phrases. These are keywords for a search engine to return pages with these words. For example, let it be “olive dress”. Robots comprehend you’re looking for a store, not a blog post about these clothes. So you’ll see several blocks: at the top of the page, on the right, at the bottom and the center.

The logic behind search engines is that the most relevant pages appear in the highest positions, so you need to ensure this place for your business. That’s where we need to define SEM, SEO and PPC.

What Is SEM and How Does It Correlate With PPC and SEO?

SEM is search engine marketing, uniting paid methods to get to the top results in search. The term is used to describe both organic and paid strategies.

PPC or pay-per-click means you have to pay for every click the link gets from the search. Search engines place the website above, below, or to the right of organic results and mark the link as “ad” to distinguish it from “free” pages.

Marketers determine keywords for the page or product and offer a maximum price for clicking on them. They select a location to show the ad to a specific audience.

They also compile the ad, which may take several forms. They can be text-based or more visual with rating, price, phone numbers and more. It enables consumers to evaluate the ad without clicking on the link to whether it meets their needs.

search engine marketing

The benefit of PPC (or SEM) is more control over how and when to display ads. You showcase the offer to motivated prospects and increase the chances of conversions. It’s one of the most powerful ways to increase traffic to a website without much effort.

What Is SEO?

SEO is search engine optimization, a more in-depth way of getting noticed on Google, Bing and Yahoo. It’s a term for technical, on-site, content and off-page optimization, including:

speeding up the website
• making it mobile-friendly
• removing error pages and duplicate content
• implementing HTTPS for website security
• taking care of internal linking
• acquiring backlinks from other resource

One of the most obvious SEO pros is that it entails improving the website. It’s about acquiring visitors by working on usability and shopping experience, which brings more conversions, satisfaction and repeat sales.

SEO also requires keyword research to make the website relevant to users. They need to click on the link and get answers to their questions. In this case, the page will have positive metrics, such as a low bounce rate, longer time spent on the page and others. Good website metrics also positively impact the position as Google (and others) get signals of the website’s trustworthiness and ability to satisfy visitors.

This marketing strategy often contrasts with PPC as a free method of getting page views, as organic clicks don’t cost you anything. But you still need to invest a lot of time and money before the website reaches the top results.

You can also extend organic links as rich snippets. The result will have a rating, the number of reviews, price, availability information, etc.

rich snippets

Should You Choose SEO or PPC for Online Retail?

SEO and PPC aren’t interchangeable solutions to ensure website visibility. Here are their similarities:

  • They involve keyword research to drive quality traffic.
  • You need to define the audience to cater to their needs.
  • They aim to boost the website in SERPs.

However, there are several reasons to consider when choosing between SEO or PPC:

1. How Soon You’ll See the Results

SEO works for the long-term perspective. You might only see the first return on investment and your efforts after six months or longer.

PPC takes effect as soon as Google approves your ad and bids. You can find the website in a separate section, which gives it more prominence than SEO. It helps promote time-sensitive deals, events and websites without much history of being on the web.

2. The Ability To Guarantee Long-Term Success

PPC doesn’t let you accumulate value over time compared to SEO. SEO is about building authority and generating high-quality content. Thanks to its reputation, it drives visitors to the store, meaning the website dominates the market. However, high website positions are hard to achieve, which explains why many users prefer organic results over ads.

As for PPC, the traffic stops once you cease to pay for the bids. So it’s more about outperforming competitors at a certain period.

3. How Long the Website Exists

Another pitfall is that it’s not so easy for new sites to break into the top of the search results. It happens because of the Google Sandbox filter. So, it becomes almost impossible to be at the top of SERP in highly competitive spheres for emerging businesses.

There are various SEO tricks to see the results faster, such as:

taking advantage of an expired domain
• creating a PBN network
• cheating on behavioral factors

But many of these methods refer to gray or black hat SEO; we wouldn’t advise taking such risks. It’s more reasonable to opt for PPC, provided the budget allows it.

4. Ease of Testing the Campaigns

Testing is always necessary for paid advertising. And it’s easier to split-test the PPC ad than the organic result. You can revise the ad copy, prospect’s demographic data, keywords, etc. It enables you to experiment with different groups and narrow the search to the most relevant consumers.

You can even pick the page where the person will get to, ensuring they see the information to their interest. Thus, PPC gives you more freedom. For example, you can tweak the amount you’re ready to pay for the ad or stop the campaign if it’s a heavy burden on the budget. Additionally, you have control over the placement of the ad.

SEO lacks that level of flexibility. So while you still need to test various tricks to get the website to the top, it will take time to display the improvements.

5. The Amount of Marketing Insights

PPC ads provide more information on the keywords the website is targeting. The reason is that it’s free from privacy restrictions connected to SEO. Since 2011, Google doesn’t show keyword information in its Analytics to guarantee more privacy. A a result, you don’t know which organic keywords drive the most traffic to the store. Most of them have Keyword (Not Provided) label. 

That’s where PPC can enhance your SEO. You can find the most converting phrases, their search volume and cost and incorporate them in SEO efforts to rank for more enticing phrases.

Why an Online Store Needs Both SEO and PPC

An online store needs both strategies in place to maximize the advantages SEO and PPC offer. Of course, PPC requires more monetary investment. But it allows for immediate promotion and lets you gain valuable data on converting keywords.

You can utilize them and supercharge your SEO approach to guarantee more relevant visitors click on the link. At the same time, you can take information on visitors who didn’t purchase anything and implement this data in remarketing campaigns. 

SEO ensures the website will be perceived as a trustworthy resource. It attracts numerous buyers up until you decide to close the store. PPC appears in a separate section before organic results, increasing the chances users go to your website.

SEO allows you to focus on long-tail and low-competition keywords. on the other hand, PPC performs best for high-competition keywords where it’s hard to reach the highest positions in search.

So why not use them together? It will let you take time to meet strict SEO standards and gain traffic from PPC after the ad goes live.

To Sum Up

Does an eCommerce company need SEO or PPC? It depends on the goals and how soon you want to reap the benefits.

The bottom line is that it certainly won’t hurt to give your website proper SEO attention because it involves getting organic traffic. However, when investing in SEO, you should consider whether you are ready to wait. If not, start with PPC advertising. If configured correctly, paid search will help you sell products and services quickly and at a minimal cost.

The best strategy is to combine both options. An integrated approach provides you with immediate PPC benefits, while SEO ensures traffic won’t disappear once you stop paying.

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