Lee Odden

The Lame PPC and SEO Debate

In yesterday’s interview with Andy Beal, I made reference to comments in a DM News article that cited SEO as on the way out and that SEO is “simple”, positioning PPC as “better” etc. Andy’s response, which I think was not entirely without a sense of humor, invited an interesting response from Richard Ball.

You don’t have to look far to find commentary about PPC vs SEO, some good humor and lively debate.

In a recent article on ClickZ, “Think Organic, Act Paid” Kevin Lee, whom I know and respect as a marketer, talks about how he thinks PPC results will eventually become more relevant than organic results. (Good luck with that) He also makes this interesting comment, “SEO spammers don’t care if they manage to get a high position for keywords and keywords phrases that are less than perfectly relevant…”. I was actually surprised to see the only reference made about SEOs was in combination with the word “spammer”. His position is pretty clear.

I agree with Richard Ball that the genisis of this thread of commentary is an effort to gain attention for the purpose of self promotion than one that offers any real insight. It doesn’t really serve client interests to bash one tactic over another when both are powerful marketing tools. And like any other tool, there is a right time and place for them. I’ve always believed that a tool is only as good as the expertise of its user.

Consumer confidence in search results sways heavily towards organic, yet there is a huge disparity in search marketing budget allocations with the bias towards PPC. Many corporate marketers are waking up to this and finding more dollars for SEO. At some level, it’s logical that Dave and Kevin would take a negative stance towards SEO because it competes for client marketing budgets with their PPC-centric business.

Is it really worth spending a ton of time debating that SEO is not rocket science and that PPC is simple? I think not because these are not accurate characterizations. SEO and PPC initiatives can be as simple or as difficult as the situation warrants. It’s different nearly every time.

While getting PPC and SEO to work together can be challenging, the results of a cooperative strategy can far exceed of any tactic on its own.

As some online marketers are taking sides, others will continue to perfect their ability to use the right mix of tactics (PPC, SEO, Social Media, Viral, PR, Advertising) to do a better job at getting clients results. Watching this meme evolve is good for a laugh though, all the way to the bank.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. I respect Kevin as a marketer too – but he and Dave P’s comments both REEK of the “attack hook”. SEO’s are a like sewing circle, and they know we’ll talk about (and link) to them. It’s a shame they have to resort to being haters to attract business, but to each their own.

    Kevin is a very sharp guy, but I lost some respect for him when I saw him defend Dave’s actions at the SEMPO meeting, and this doesn’t help any further. SEO and PPC are complimentary to each other, and good marketers know it. It’s a pretty low blow to show such little respect for industry cohorts that often help to extol the virtues of PPC.

    >because a high SEO position delivers clicks for free,

    Two words – puff piece.

  2. It takes less than an hour for anyone to understand SEO, since there are only three things you really need to do:

    1) Make the site spider-friendly (mod_rewrite, Webmaster Tools Preferred Domain, external CSS/Javascript, urls-with-dashes not_underscores_orwordsruntogether.
    2) Build a “good site.”
    3) Increase your site’s visibility.

    Simple, right?

    Then it must be damn easy to outrank imdb.com for the term “paris hilton.”

    ORLY? To outrank imdb.com, you would probably have to match whatever quality / quantity their 7,083,389 IBLs add up to. Assuming your site somehow attracts an average of 1,000 organic links a day, you’d still need 7083.389 days to catch up to imdb. That’s a tredmill lasting 19 years.

    To outrank imdb via Google Adwords, all you have to have is money.

    SEO is easy to understand, but takes time and hard work to pull off. Compared to SEO, PPC is a no-brainer. Seriously, any idiot can run a PPC campaign.

  3. Avatar Igor M. (BizMord Blog) says

    I still don’t know why there are blog posts with titles such as “SEO vs PPC” or “Which one’s better”.

    The only time when marketers would bash one or another tactic is when they are failing at it. If you can’t achieve results with SEO, you put it down and praise PPC.

    Lee, I think you said it best … “…use the right mix of tactics (PPC, SEO, Social Media, Viral, PR, Advertising)”

    Whenever I compared these tactics on my blog, I would simply do analysis of each one and their strength and weaknesses. As I said above. We bash things we know littler about or are unsuccessful in.

  4. Yee gods, has the SMA-NA taken a stance on all this? They usually take the “higher road” in all search marketing controversies compared to SEMPO.

    I still like the analogy of all this to “Tupac SEO vs. Notorious Did-it” (East Coast vs. West Coast): http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/celebrity/shakur_BIG/2a.html

    The good news is that neither side will get killed, but the bad news is that both could get injured.

  5. Whatever happened to SMA NA? You never hear about them anymore.

  6. Avatar Richard Brewer says

    If I may…SEO & PPC do serve a purpose. Yes it can be frustrating and often times I compare the irony to a drug therapist who moonlights as a drug dealer.

    However, our company has come to terms with what each entity can offer us and more importantly our expectations are in sync with those offerrings.

    Educate yourselves on how they both can work together and you will find a common ground. People get too caught up in numbers and strategy and forget about the simple things. The Internet is for people not machines.

  7. Great article.. no self promotion.. Advertising/PR/SEO/PPC….

    as an SEO professional we use PPC until we have the top listing in the organics.. then we remove the PPC or further use it to enhance our branding on a specified term..

    Obviously, (in my opinion at least), organizations like SEMPO and companies like Did-it.com have a lack of ethics..

    I’ve never heard of SMA-NA but if they stay away from the biases of their board of directors and try to promote ethical, professional SEO.. sign me up..

  8. I agree with that what you say about PPC and SEO can be just as easy and just as hard to do depending on the circumstance and that it’s not all a piece of cake, but I’m sure can be a certain times.

  9. Avatar Utah SEO says

    Great article! I agree the debates are all over about PPC vs SEO. However, I definitely feel that they are tools to accomplish different measures.


  1. A Fight About PPC And SEO - Internet Insider Report says:

    […] One such SEO provider, Greg Boser, took issue with Pasternack’s article but kept quiet… that is until another article appeared at ClickZ saying essentially the same thing as Pasternack’s work. Kevin Lee, also of Did-It.com and SEMPO, wrote the second article. In his writing, Lee indirectly compared search optimizers to spammers while saying they took a scatter-shot approach to improving rankings. However, in Lee’s defense, it’s never clear whether he is talking about those who spam search engines or the SEO industry in general. However, Lee Odden and Greg Boser took Lee’s statement the way it was probably intended and they let their feelings be known. Odden’s response was posted a couple of days ago and in it, he indicates such articles are merely self-promotion ploys in an effort to get people to notice the initial writer’s brand: […]

  2. Scotland SEO Blog » Blog Archive » Some Fight Are Just Plain Silly says:

    […] However, Lee Odden and Greg Boser took Lee’s statement the way it was probably intended and they let their feelings be known. Odden’s response was posted a couple of days ago and in it, he indicates such articles are merely self-promotion ploys in an effort to get people to notice the initial writer’s brand: […]

  3. Tropical SEO » Are Your Sites Defensible? says:

    […] I obviously don’t want another SEO vs. CPC discussion here, but Brian Provost is on to something with defensible traffic. If you ever have to go raise money from investors, one of the first questions they will ask you is going to be about the defensibility of your revenue/brand/traffic/etc. In the Lead Generation world, companies like Adteractive and Quinstreet generate a lot of leads from arbitraging search, email, and tapping into affiliates. But none of that is really defensible. If you want to endure in the Widget Market, you have to treat it like war. You can