A common question that every entrepreneur has regarding driving visitors to his or her website is whether they should use search-engine optimization or pay-per-click advertising. These are two of the most effective traffic sources and each has pros and cons that need to be considered.

SEO (search engine optimization) is “The process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine,” according to The Oxford Dictionary. These search results are often referred to as “organic results,” meaning they are the natural (unpaid) results that the search engine displays.

Related: How Local SEO Works and Why It Matters for Small Businesses

Pros

  • Credibility and exposure: Holding a top organic (unpaid) search result not only provides a lot of exposure but it is also often viewed as being more credible by some consumers as it was not paid for.
  • ROI potential: Unpaid search results will generally receive more clicks than paid ads. With more visibility comes more clicks, conversions, revenue and ultimately a solid return on investment.
  • Visibility across multiple search engines: High quality SEO can reward you with visibility on multiple search engines, such as Google, Yahoo and Bing (as well as many others).

Cons

  • Results are not instant: SEO can take several months to produce, although when done correctly it can result in consistent high-quality traffic and a nice ROI.
  • Competition: Some industries and keywords have very stiff competition and you might be trying to fight a difficult uphill battle against companies with very deep pockets and resources. Nobody starts a SEO campaign or hires a firm with the intention of going after the number-18 position -- everyone wants that coveted number-one spot.
  • Vulnerable to updates: An search engine algorithm update or a new algorithm release can really disrupt the search results, dropping rankings and causing months of work and money to be flushed down the toilet.

PPC (pay-per-click) Marketing is “a business model whereby a company that has placed an advertisement on a website pays a sum of money to the host website when a user clicks on to the advertisement,” according to Oxford. PPC is also often referred to as paid search marketing.

Related: 9 Mistakes Killing the Success of Your Pay-Per-Click Advertising

Pros

  • Instant traffic: You can have ads on the top of search results almost immediately after setting up a campaign.
  • Complete control: You are in full control of your ad copy, the keywords that will trigger your ad and the destination webpage that the visitor is sent to once they click your ad.
  • No updates to worry about: Your paid search ads are not affected like the natural (unpaid) results are when search engines refresh or roll out new algorithm updates.
  • Brand domination: Pay-per-click ads allow you to occupy more space in the search results when your website appears both in the natural results and the paid results.
  • Targeting options: You can target your ideal customers by selecting the geographical locations your ads will be shown in, and some platforms also allow you to target age and gender.

Cons

  • Expense: PPC can be very costly if the campaign is not set up properly, and it can result in a depleted budget with little to nothing to show from it.
  • Requires extensive testing: Pay-per-click advertising requires a lot of learning and real world experience, hence the reason many companies turn to digital marketing agencies to handle their pay-per-click management.
  • Needs constant optimizing: This is not a “set-it-and-forget-it” solution, as pay-per-click campaigns require constant optimizing and testing to keep the ads performing well.

PPC can produce immediate results at a premium cost, and if you are willing to spend the money you can dominate the top paid search results. SEO can deliver a solid ROI, although algorithm updates can crash the party at any time.

Still wondering whether SEO or PPC is the right choice for your business? A combination of both can really work well together, but it really comes down to your available budget and goals.

Related: Turn Your Website Into a Lead-Generating Machine