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The ROI Showdown: SEO Vs. Paid Ads

The ROI Showdown: SEO Vs. Paid Ads
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Everyone wants more return on their investment (ROI). But it’s not always easy to understand how to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to content strategy, marketing and advertising.

The Internet and social media are a little like the wild west. It’s hard to know what’s working and what’s not. The rules keep changing and it can sometimes feel like you’re playing a new game each day.

So, which is better for reaching new customers: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or paid ads?

Both methods have value and can be part of a successful digital marketing plan. But is one better than the other?
In some ways, this is the ultimate battle royale. In one corner, we have the undefeated champion of the digital world—SEO. In the other corner, we have the flashy newcomer—paid ads. It’s an ROI showdown for the ages!

Let’s pull back the curtain and see if one of these marketing methods comes out on top.

SEO Vs. Paid Ads — What Is The Difference?

SEO Vs. Paid Ads — What Is The Difference?

In the world of digital marketing, two strategies reign supreme: search engine optimization (SEO) and paid advertising. Both approaches have their own benefits and can bring impressive results. However, when it comes to return on investment (ROI), which strategy is best?

Let’s delve into the ROI showdown between SEO and paid ads to find out.

SEO is kind of like the wise old sage, patiently working behind the scenes to make your website shine and be found by new readers and potential customers. It’s like a master chef, carefully selecting the juiciest keywords and sprinkling them throughout your content like culinary magic.

The goal of SEO is to increase what’s called organic traffic. This is traffic that comes from people organically searching for answers as opposed to seeing an ad.

If people see your website at the top of the search results, they are more likely to click on it. And once they click on your website, they will be more likely to buy your product, subscribe to your newsletter, or do whatever it is you want them to do. This is how SEO is used to generate leads without directly paying for ad placements.

With SEO, you’re also playing the long game. A solid SEO strategy is often called “evergreen” content because it keeps producing results long after it’s initially posted. It stays fresh.

With SEO, you’re focused on building a solid foundation that will stand the test of time. It’s like planting a seed and watching it grow into a beautiful, bountiful tomato plant. Because after all, Rome wasn’t built in a day, right?
On the other hand, paid ads are like the flashy rockstar, ready to rock your world and get you instant results. It’s like a turbocharged sports car, zooming past the competition and putting your brand in the spotlight through Facebook, Instagram, Google or TikTok ads.

With paid ads, you’re paying to play, getting your message out there to the masses as fast as possible. It’s like ordering a pizza and having it magically appear at your doorstep in 30 minutes or less.

But here’s the big question: which one gives you the best return on investment? Is SEO an outdated way to reach people online? Or is it better than simply buying ads that many won’t even click on? If you’re involved in digital marketing, do you really need to hire an SEO expert?

Let’s learn even more about these two methods before we look at which one might be best.

What Is SEO?

What Is SEO?

SEO is the refining and optimizing of websites to make search engines like Google rank them high on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page).

SEO has been around since the dawn of the Internet age. Ever since there were such things as websites, software had to be used to scan (or “crawl”) these sites and figure out what was on them. Google mastered the art and science of search results and eventually became the heavyweight champion of all things “search.”

But SEO has gone through a lot of changes over the years. Google has updated its search algorithm countless times, forcing people to pivot their content to keep up with the changes.

One of the challenges that come with SEO is that it’s an ongoing process. You can’t simply set it (post it) and forget it.

Successful SEO is a never-ending process of monitoring how well your content is ranking and optimizing it more to adapt to algorithm and industry changes. This can be exhausting but it’s worth it!

SEO also takes longer to see results. After posting your first article, you’re not going to see results overnight in the same way you might with a paid advertising campaign. This is because it takes some time for search engines like Google to “index” (find) your new article and start ranking it on the SERP.

The Importance Of Keywords

Keywords are a big part of SEO. Keywords are the terms or phrases people type into the search bar that Google uses to show users relevant results.

For example, let’s say someone types in, “How do I make chocolate chip cookies?” Google would recommend content articles with that keyword in it to make sure it is relevant to the user and answers their question. People would get frustrated with Google and not use it as much if they got results back about how to make chocolate cake.

This is why keywords are so important.

And once upon a time, companies and content creators could simply do what’s called “keyword stacking.” This is where they would add the keywords they wanted to target into their article or website as many times as possible so Google would put it at the top of the search results.

This worked back in the day. But eventually, Google realized that people could game the system and easily force their content up to the top without necessarily having the best website.

Fast forward to today and Google actually lists keyword stuffing in its spam policies as a tactic people use to manipulate search engines. Google will even rank your website lower or not rank it at all if you try to use keywords unnaturally.

Google is constantly (and even kind of secretly) updating its software algorithm that runs behind the scenes for search results. Its goal is to show users the best results but it also doesn’t want to open up the rules of the game too widely because then people could again be able to cheat the system. It’s all a delicate balance.

Successful SEO takes into account factors like:

  • Quality web content
  • User engagement
  • Brand authority
  • Proper website structure
  • Link building (or backlinking)
  • Mobile-friendliness

Google also released something called “Core Web Vitals” where it now looks for other elements of your website like how fast it loads (among other metrics) to see if it should recommend it to users.

Are you starting to see why SEO can be so complicated?

But before you throw in the towel on the value of SEO and decide to just lean into paid ads, SEO is a crucial element of a successful marketing and content strategy. (More on this in a bit.)

What Are Paid Ads?

What Are Paid Ads?

Paid ads are the exact opposite of SEO. You’re not trying to write content that Google’s SEO robots will find and show to users. You’re not dealing with keywords or evergreen content that will sit up on your site for years. You’re taking a message straight to the people. Marketing directly to them with advertising copy—copy that hopefully sells and makes money for your business.

Paid ads can be purchased on any number of advertising platforms. Some of the most popular places where advertisers see the biggest ROI are Facebook, YouTube, Google, Instagram and TikTok.

Since these social media platforms are where billions of users are spending multiple hours of their day, they are the best place to reach them with your message.

Paid ads can be in the form of pay-per-click (PPC) ads, display ads or social media ads. The beauty of paid ads is that you can bring your message right to the consumer and don’t have to worry about them finding you through SEO.

Paid ads are usually used to do one of two things: (1) spread brand awareness (think billboards or Superbowl commercials) or (2) create conversions from new customers.

Paid ads also allow you to track the effectiveness of an ad and give you options to focus on ad campaigns that are more successful or are resulting in more of the business goals you want. Paid ads can be a much more surgical way to bring in new customers as opposed to SEO strategies.

But there are downsides to paid ads.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell if an ad campaign is actually effective. You might not know exactly how many people are engaging with an ad or seeing it. Just because your ad was shown to a million people doesn’t mean people were engaging with it or reading it. So there can be some faith involved even with paid ads.

Now that we understand more about SEO and paid ads, let’s see if one is better than the other. Will SEO reign supreme with its slow and steady approach? Or will paid ads steal the spotlight with its flashy and fast results?

SEO or Paid Ads—Which Is Better?

Let’s compare the ROI of these two strategies.

SEO or Paid Ads—Which Is Better


SEO has a clear advantage when it comes to cost-effectiveness.

While it requires time and effort to get started, the long-term benefits to a company are significant. Once your website starts ranking higher on SERPs, the organic traffic it generates can be a consistent source of leads without ongoing expenses.

Paid ads, on the other hand, require a continuous investment to maintain visibility and traffic.

Conversion Rates

While paid ads can deliver immediate results, the conversion rates may not always be as high as expected. Users may be skeptical of ads and may not trust them as much as organic search results.

On the other hand, SEO-generated traffic tends to have higher conversion rates since users perceive organic search results as more credible and trustworthy.


Paid ads have a limited lifespan. Once you stop investing in paid campaigns, your visibility and traffic will go down.

SEO, on the other hand, has a long-lasting impact. If you consistently optimize your website and maintain your rankings, the organic traffic will continue to flow even if you reduce your efforts in the future.

Targeting Capabilities

Paid ads provide advanced targeting options, allowing businesses to reach specific demographics, interests and locations. This level of precision can result in higher conversion rates and a better ROI.

SEO, on the other hand, relies on optimizing your website for relevant keywords and attracting organic traffic from a broader audience.

Depends On Your Goals And Budget

In the end, it comes down to your business goals, budget and your audience.

SEO and paid ads both have their own advantages and can deliver a positive ROI.

However, when considering long-term sustainability and cost-effectiveness, SEO takes the lead. It provides a steady stream of organic traffic and higher conversion rates without the need for constant financial investment.

That being said, paid ads are a valuable supplement to SEO efforts, especially for short-term campaigns or when targeting specific demographics.

Ultimately, the best approach is to do both. The real magic happens by combining SEO with paid ads. Integrate both strategies into your digital marketing efforts and you’ll be able to reach the largest audience possible. It’s all about finding the perfect balance, like a delicate dance between two partners.

Are you looking for long-term sustainability or instant gratification? Do you want to play the long game or make a splash right now? Depending on your goals, you might want to focus on one of these methods first as opposed to doing both of them. But eventually, you will want to have some kind of combination of both to see the best business results.

And if you’re looking for digital marketing support, reach out for a free quote from the Searchific team. We can use our digital marketing expertise to help you maintain a strong online presence, build brand awareness, drive traffic to your site and increase sales.