PPC vs Natural Search – A Cost Comparison Case Study

The attraction of Pay Per Click (PPC) online advertising is undeniable. Each click costs virtually nothing, you only pay for the clicks you get, and you set your own daily budget so you know exactly how much you’re going to spend. Most importantly, your listing appears instantly.

On the other hand, a high ranking in the natural search results seems unobtainable. There’s a perception that hundreds of thousands of other businesses are competing for your keywords, and that makes it seem like a real rat-race. And it also seems like such a big mountain to climb; it’s true that it can take months to reach the first page for your target keywords. To make matters worse, thousands of opportunistic (and some very dodgy) ‘SEO companies’ have emerged, looking to make a quick and big buck out of market naivety. So to CEOs, BDMs, marketing managers, webmasters, and business owners, the road to natural search ranking seems expensive, risky, and beset with traffic.

But does this mean you should forget natural search?

Definitely not!

Firstly, most user studies to date have found that people pay more attention to natural search results because they’re more relevant. That’s the foundation of the success of companies like Google and Yahoo (and the reason they keep their indexing rules a secret).

What’s more, it’s important to put things in perspective. Hundreds of thousands of other businesses may be competing for your keywords, but in most cases, they’re at least as confused and disheartened as you. So the sooner you figure out the real story, the sooner you’ll have the jump on them.

And yes, it can take a while to reach the top, but because your competition is – for the most part – traveling blind, your early progress will normally be quite quick. In fact, for most businesses, it’s not until you reach the top few pages that your progress will slow.

And again yes, there ARE some dodgy SEO companies out there. But there are also some very good ones. (Go to WebProNews.com and sign up to a forum if you want to find out who they are.) So long as you know the basics of SEO you won’t be taken for a ride. (See SEO for CEOs for a rundown of SEO basics in layperson’s terms.)

But let’s talk bottom line…

Is it more expensive to obtain a high ranking?

Certainly not! In comparison with other forms of advertising – even PPC in the long run – reaching the top of the rankings is NOT expensive. The following case study explains why.


For the past year, I’ve been working hard on the natural search results for my copywriting business, Divine Write. For my primary keyword, I’m now on page 1 of Google.com (out of approximately 900,000 search results). I’ve done this simply by writing helpful articles and submitting them for publication on the Internet. Luckily for me, I’m an SEO copywriter, so writing articles is all in a day’s work. But had I paid an SEO copywriter to write my articles for me, I’d have spent approximately USD$5,000.

Over the same period, I spent approximately USD$3,000 on Google AdWords (my ads appeared towards the top of the paid listings).

Now I hear what you’re saying; my natural search campaign definitely cost more in the first year than my AdWords campaign. But now that I’ve reached the top of Google.com, I’ve paused all my AdWords ads, so I’m not paying anything. If I hadn’t chased the natural search results, I’d have continued paying for AdWords, spending at least another USD$3,000 next year on AdWords, and another USD$3,000 the year after that, and so on.

Of course, I have to retain my high ranking. If I was paying someone to write my articles, that would involve an investment of approximately USD$1,000 per year (a saving of 67% each year).

So it breaks down like this:

Google AdWords investment: 2 yrs = $6,000, 3 yrs = $9,000, 4 yrs = $12,000, 5 yrs = $15,000

Natural search investment: 2 yrs = $6,000, 3 yrs = $7,000, 4 yrs = $8,000, 5 yrs = $9,000


Obviously the competition for keywords in the copywriting field isn’t as fierce as in a lot of other industries, so the actual dollar investment discussed in this case study may not apply directly to your business. The important thing to understand is that – over time – a high ranking in the natural search results can actually cost less than a high position in the (arguably less effective) paid listings.

Also, these figures are based on me submitting articles to various article banks on the Internet myself. (This is a routine task requiring little skill. You should be able to purchase a list of 50 or more article submit sites from your SEO copywriter or consultant for as little as USD$99.)