Many webmasters struggle with how to grow their traffic- whether they should focus on optimizing natural methods such as search engine optimization (SEO) or opt for white hat paid methods such as buying pay-per-click (PPC) advertising through a program like Google’s Adwords. It can be a tricky question indeed. What it really comes down to is your specific situation including the budget you have for your site, what your goals are, and the timeline in which you want to achieve those goals.
For those looking for short-term and reliable results, PPC is definitely the quicker method of the two and one that can be a lot more stable and consistent over time especially if carried out the right way and with a big enough budget upholding it. While this is true, SEO is of course cheaper in the long run and thus can raise long-term return on investment higher. For this reason, even those who opt for the PPC method should consider using it as a shorter term bridge while the longer term SEO strategy is in place. Of course there are exceptions to this, such as marketing campaigns which have very short timelines in very competitive markets where SEO will likely take too long and may not be worth it.
For most sites though, this short timeline is not the case. SEO can really pay off in these websites to drive long-term traffic and also to support the reputation of the website as well. For one, people trust organic results much more and with each passing day are becoming more aware of ads and possibly not even clicking them. We can see this in the data when we compare clickthru rates for natural results vs. ads. People are almost twice as likely to click the organic results! There is almost no doubt that over the long run SEO will lead to greater traffic at a fraction of the cost, but there are real barriers before you get to that spot as well depending on the competitiveness of your niche.
The great thing about the Internet and search giants like Google is that there is so much search volume (and it is still growing each and every day!) that there are literally millions of potential keyphrases for any given website which are relevant and people may be using to try to find information that is on those webpages. This means that no strategy- PPC or SEO can possibly cover and do well for every single potential and relevant keyword out there. This is why even in the late stages of a website when SEO traffic is high, a case may still be made for PPC advertising to supplement the traffic gained organically. At that level it really comes down to the goals of the website as well as the costs and benefits of spending that extra money at that margin versus spending it elsewhere on a website or company. The possibilities are endless but when it comes to the SEO vs. PPC debate, there clearly isn’t a clear victor.