We’ve always promoted the online side of our retail company with a mixture of search engine optimisation and pay-per-click keyword advertising as it’s crucial people can find us when searching. I’ve got no idea if one works better than the other and so-called experts just talk up the services they sell. Is a mixture best or is it wiser to focus on one approach?

A. Christian Robinson of writes:

You’re right to invest in search marketing. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) company Greenlight estimates that UK internet users are making one billion searches per month and intelligence tracking service Hitwise reports that around 30% of all traffic to UK shopping sites in February 2005 came directly from searches.

At our experience has been that search marketing can deliver a cost-per-response far lower than direct mail or other forms of online advertising such as banners.

Both SEO (fine-tuning your website to appear in natural results) and payper- click (PPC – keyword listings with click prices determined by bidding) have pros and cons:


Pros: Long term results, cost effective, relevant to users

Cons: Slow, competitive top positions and potentially high set-up cost


Pros: Immediate results, performance based, scalable, controllable and trackable

Cons: Short term, price inflation, click wastage

Most businesses have requirements that span both SEO and PPC so you are probably right to choose a mix of the two. The most interesting aspect of your question though, is not which method is best but rather that you already use both and currently have no idea which is better.

At our golden rule is to test, measure and evaluate. Implementing search marketing is the start – we then measure the results (i.e. clickthroughs and sales) to evaluate the effectiveness of any activity.

For example 

SEO: Benchmark inbound traffic from search engines for different keywords/phrases over time; measure positions for keywords important to your business; work with companies such as Hitwise to understand how search drives traffic for your competitors

PPC: Track clickthroughs at campaign level; monitor sales conversions and calculate acquisition costs by keyword and partner

We compare the results with all our other online marketing (e.g. partnership deals, affiliate marketing, price comparison sites, etc) to prioritise our marketing budget effectively.

Arguably all online marketing is worthwhile if it provides a positive ROI – so the key is to measure the results to be able to determine your actual return.


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