I start by answering the question with an easily digestible analogy. Imagine SEO = walking and PPC = driving. Which is best, well they both are in different circumstances. Similarly, SEO and PPC (paid search) are great for different goals. One thing is for sure, if you can have both PPC and SEO as part of your overall digital strategy, you most likely will be best served by having both.
SEO is great for long term thinking
The general rule of SEO when it is done properly and in conjunction with methodical and persistent content marketing, is that you will get more return for less effort over time.
It is worth emphasising SEO when done properly, as fast results short-termism, may return apparent quick results. These will all but kill your site in a few months to a couple of years at the most.
I’ve ranked my own blog and quite a few other client sites, since 2012/13 on a long term thinking strategy which basically consists of focusing on content and what you can control, instead of inflating and spamming poor irrelevant pages, with lots of artificial links.
These required quite a bit of effort in year one but still return a steady flow of visitors and clients, not as much as spammers paradise, ranking for just about any related and even unrelated keyword in year one, then not be seen anymore after that.
SEO in 2016 cannot target keywords precisely
Anyone telling you otherwise is simply talking about what SEO used to be circa 2013. Of course, this practice is still going on, but any such results are all but short lived. From Panda to Penguin, to keyword data removal in Google analytics. Google has worked hard at persuading the industry that precise keywords targeting is no longer “legal”.
Until 2012/13 you could just more or less willy-nilly, go around the web and build your own links of pretty much any sort, et. voila, SEO.
<a href=”www.somesite.com/”>my keyword</a>
The above would be an example, where “my keyword”, called the anchor text, would be one vote from this post to www.somesite.com on “my keyword”.
This actually still works, not as fast as with PPC of course and usually very short lived.
The old short term thinking way of optimising a page for a single keyword, such as “some service London”, and then build links from other sites with the same anchor text <a href=”www.somesite.com/”>some service London</a>, is dead!
The long-term thinking way. The site often writes on the “some service” subject and actually answers some potential questions users might have and adds value, not only will that particular page be more relevant to the topic in question and rank for “some service” as for topical variants of the keyword. This will also improve the overall site quality.
PPC is good for immediate results
PPC is great for short term and immediate results. You can have traffic from it in a matter of hours or even minutes.
As long as the ad follows the guidelines you’ll be having fresh new visitors in no time. Of course unlike SEO, where you do not and cannot pay Google to be listed as such. With PPC, what you pay is what you get, if you run a campaign on £100 or £1000, at say £5 per click, you will get 20 and 200 visitors respectively. That is it if you want more traffic, more money is needed.
Paid Search enables precise keyword targeting
On the other hand, you can target precise keywords. If you throw enough money at them, you can not only rank in minutes for “some service London”. You can be at the top position for that keyword in minutes.
Although, this is probably not the best goal to have, as the top position is not necessarily the most cost effective. Nor the one that returns more conversions and the right type of visitors. Often this will become cheaper at lower positions as there will be less waste of clicks from irrelevant visitors.
PPC and SEO are both better than each other
To conclude PPC is better than SEO and the opposite is also true, depending on the goals and needs of your business, if you can afford both, they both serve different goals and the results and data from PPC can inform and improve SEO and vice versa.
How much or how little of each one and when depends on your strategy and business goals.