What’s the difference between Google Ads and SEO? Is one better than the other? Should we use both?

Recently, Josh Moore, Chief Marketing Fanatic at online marketing agency, Duoplus, discussed the difference between Google Ads and SEO and how companies should use them in their digital marketing.

Whenever I present digital marketing seminars to business owners and marketing managers, I get a series of questions about Google Ads and SEO, like the ones above.  I am also often asked, do people really click on ads? Does paying for ads help my organic rankings? And more. These are all important questions for business owners and marketing managers to understand.  So, let’s dive in.

What’s the difference between Google Ads and SEO?

When you search for anything on Google, you’re likely to see both ads and organic results on the search results page.

Normally the first four results and the last three results are ads. They look just like the other search results shown on the page, except there is small text saying “Ad” just in front of the website address. That’s the main difference in the appearance. In between these two lots of ads Google will show the “organic” results.  These are the websites that Google thinks are the best match for what you searched for.

To have your company appear in the ads section, you need to pay for Google Ads. Google charges you every time someone clicks on one of your ads.

To have your website appear high in the organic results, you need to convince Google that your site is the most useful site for the phrase that was searched.  The process of doing this is called SEO, which stands for “Search Engine Optimisation“.

Is One Better Than the Other?

Google Ads and SEO both fall under the category of “Search Engine Marketing” (also known as “SEM”) – because both of them they help you get in front of your target market when they’re using search engines to look for your product or services. One is not necessarily better than the other – they are both very useful for marketing but are different.

For example, you can get results from Google Ads very fast.  Once the campaign is built and turned on, your ads can start showing up in the top spots within minutes.  SEO however, takes much longer.  Depending on the level of competition for the keywords you want to rank for, and depending on how well your site is currently ranking, it can take months of SEO work to get onto page one of Google’s search results, and longer still to be competing for the top spots in the organic results.


Another difference is the cost.  When running Google Ads you pay every time someone clicks on your ad.  This could range from $1.50 per click in a low competition area, up to $12 per click or even $50 per click for some of the highly competitive industries such as insurance, loans and other financial services!

But if your site has great SEO and is ranking well in the organic rankings, you don’t pay anything when people click on your link.  That’s hugely useful. However, remember, this “free traffic” still takes investment, because you’ll need to pay an SEO agency or an internal expert to do ongoing work to get your site ranking well.

The range of searches you can show up for is different between Google Ads and SEO too. With Google Ads you can choose to have your ads show for as many search queries (keywords) as are relevant for your business.  There could be hundreds of different keywords that are relevant to your business, and your ads can show for all of these straight away.  With SEO however, it takes enormous effort to get ranked for each keyword.  So while your ads might be showing for hundreds of different keywords, you’re likely to have a list of only 5 – 30 keywords that you are actively working on improving organic rankings for with SEO.

Do people really click on those ads?

They sure do! In 2020 Google earned $147 billion from people clicking on ads!  In fact, even with Google having the Android operating system, Google Play store, GSuite apps, Google Cloud, and many other parts of its business, 83% of Google’s revenue in 2019 came from ads.  This includes YouTube ads and display (image) ads, but the vast majority came from ads on search results pages.

Does paying for ads help my organic rankings?

No, paying for Google Ads helps your ads show in the ad slots on the search results page, but it will not affect the organic ranking of your website at all.

Google knows that for it to retain the dominant position as the world’s number one search engine, it needs to provide the best, most useful results whenever people search.  Because of this, they do not let advertising spend affect the organic results they are providing to users.

Should we use both?

Yes. That’s the best answer for most businesses. If there is enough volume of searches for your products or services, then running both Google Ads and SEO is generally a good plan.

Some people like to scroll past the ads to the organic results, so it is very beneficial to have strong organic rankings.  But many people do click on the ads, as you can see from Google’s revenue figures, so you want to be seen there too.

Plus, even if your website is ranking in the top spots for a number of keywords, there will be many more search queries that are relevant and your site won’t be in the top spots.  Running ads means you can show up for those searches too. If you’re only doing SEO and not running ads you’re likely to miss out on many people seeing your site. And vice versa.

If your budget doesn’t stretch far enough to do both right now, then depending on the nature of your business, your budget and your industry, you might start off with Google Ads and then add on SEO later.  Or it might make sense to do SEO first and Google Ads at a later date. The ideal approach though is to be doing both.

About Duoplus 

Duoplus is a Hamilton Based digital marketing agency with International Reach. From our offices based in Hamilton, NZ, we run local, national and international campaigns for our clients utilising SEO, Google ads, and Facebook marketing.

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