SEO vs. PPC: Free Billboards in Time Square!! Where do I sign up?

I just read an article regarding SEO vs. PPC on Media Post. The article summed up what it means to appear # 1 through #6 in Google’s natural search perfectly. The quote was “Having the first spot or even the 5th or 6th in Google for your keywords is like having a huge billboard in the middle of Times Square.” Think about that for a minute. Let that sink in. Got it? Good. Lets continue. The article goes on to say “That kind of traffic is intense and the exposure is priceless! We can say the same about a great ranking on a PPC campaign, but remember one thing — you will always have to pay for it. Free clicks in sponsored search? Never.”

Let’s examine the first statement. Imagine being a major retailer and one morning you wake up to hear that posting a billboard of your most prized product in Times Square is now free and that the duration of that ad campaign could be indefinite as long as you correctly setup your billboard. Do you think Steve Jobs would pass on a opportunity to put up a massive animated billboard of his new IPhone in Times Square for free? Oh yeah and he could keep it up for as long as 2 to 3 years. Your damn right he wouldn’t. I bet you most CEO’s or CMO’s of major corporations wouldn’t either. That is exactly what a company can achieve when they do their due diligence in setting up their SEO strategy. When done right a company that attains the top results on Google for their major products or services receives priceless exposure. Google’s traffic is similar to the mass audience that strolls through Times Square except they are targeted. Now tell Steve Jobs that not only will he get his billboard up in Times Square for free and for roughly 2 to 3 years, but that the city of New York will also be replacing the thousands of visitors who come through with visitors that are in the market for a smart phone. Currently on Google there are 146 million advertisers for the keyword for “smart phone.” Imagine telling that 146 million they could have that billboard.

Let’s examine the second statement. “That kind of traffic is intense and the exposure is priceless! We can say the same about a great ranking on a PPC campaign, but remember one thing — you will always have to pay for it. Free clicks in sponsored search? Never.” Coincidently, I recently read two articles about two major retailers pulling their marketing from PPC. in Internet Retailer and in Business Week both were pulling their PPC budgets due to poor conversion. The ever increasing CPC and diminishing returns on investment has advertisers thinking twice about where they place their budgets. Making it ever more important to reexamine their strategy on SEO.

My previous 4 years in the interactive space has taught me that most internal marketing departments of companies do not have an SEO strategy. Although that’s a rather small sample size of companies I would imagine that most major retailers do not have a plan for SEO. The year of 2007 appears to be the time when E-Retailers will be forced to recognize that PPC isn’t the only search solution. For a good example of a company that didn’t consider SEO when setting up their site check out Wil’s post on Nike.

Companies who invest some of their online budget for SEO now, can reap benefits far beyond the first year. When done right a good SEO firm can get a client results to stick for at least 2 years after their contract has ended. SEO firms who try to subvert the search engines algorithms for instant results later see their rankings fall off after a big algorithm change like Google dance.

Let’s discuss one of our clients recent experiences. Upon doing a year long review, we found that the cost per visitor for PPC (The total cost divided by the total visitors) was 12.24 times higher than the cost per visitor for SEO. Our PPC click spending increased 65% from April – October with a 29% increase in visits. Meanwhile, the SEO spending did not increase while visits increased 148%.

Having seen a client have this PPC experience, and simultaneously reading the succession of articles of companies pulling PPC, we realize this is happening to a lot of folks. The question is whether or not the CPC rates are worth the return. If your company is doing PPC, maybe it is time to start thinking about where your nearest Time Square is and how you may get your free billboard.