Is Pay Per Click Really SEO?

The people buying placements for our website have called it search engine optimization. That's not really right is it?

You are exactly right. The people buying placements for your website are not doing search engine optimization. There is a big difference between search engine optimization and paid placement. The results of both appear somewhere on the search engines, but that is where the similarities end.

There are many ways to pay the search engines your hard-earned cash. Most common is(I) bid-for-placement advertisement, where you bid to pay a certain amount every time someone clicks your link. This is straightforward: you compete with other websites for the privilege of paying the most per click. In this system, the highest bidder gets the top spot in the sponsored links section. This system is commonly referred to as pay-per-click or PPC.

Another common system is deceptively similar to bid-for-placement, but uses a flat fee structure instead: (II) Pay-for-inclusion.  Basically, you pay a fee to guarantee that your pages are included in the index, but you are not guaranteed any specific ranking. In this system, you are paying for the privilege of being included in a database, nothing more. There are three basic variations on the pay-for-inclusion system.

The next level of pay-for-inclusion is deceptively similar to bid-for-placement, but has none of the advantages. In the (IIa) pay-for-inclusion-per-click system, you pay a set-up fee to be added to the search engine index, then you pay an additional fee every time your site is visited through the system. You can pay for editor reviews and upgrades to your listing to try to get it higher in the search results, but in the end, you can’t guarantee that your site will appear in the top rankings through this system. This system is also commonly referred to as pay-per-click or PPC.

PPC is not SEO.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of guiding the development of a website so that it will naturally attract visitors by winning top ranking in the main results sections of the major search engines for selected keyword phrases.

Optimization is a process directed at improving your existing site, or it is a process which you incorporate with the development of a new site. You must upgrade the programming and content in your site in order to meet search engine specifications. Paid placement is simply the process of buying advertisement, which has nothing at all to do with how your site is built or managed. Pay-for-inclusion advertising can bring results, but only if the page that is included is optimized.

Search engine optimization includes a careful assessment of your target key words and the competition in order to gain an understanding of the sites that you will ultimately have to displace from the top of the search results. Bid-for-placement is a process of selecting the right key words based on frequency of search, cost/ROI, and relevance. Pay-for-inclusion ensures that your site will be indexed and appear somewhere on the list of thousands of matches.

Investment in real optimization provides lasting results. If you properly build and manage your site, the search engines will reward you with stable or growing rankings. Bid-for-placement requires you to dip into your pocket every time someone visits your site. And the cost of clicks continues to increase due to the competitive bidding nature of that game. Pay-for-inclusion requires that you pay annually, or that you pay per click. Either way that is cash which is not being invested in your capital asset – the website itself.

If your optimized website makes top matches for well targeted search terms, you will receive thousands more visitors than you could ever buy through paid placement. Click through rates are more than 50% for the top few matches on the main search results. You would be lucky to gain just 1% of the available traffic through any paid placement. Finally, if your paid inclusion pages are indeed optimized, and they appear high enough in the results to be seen, you still have to pay every time someone clicks your link. In other words, if the people buying placements for your website haven’t actually done anything to your site, they are not doing search engine optimization.

It is no wonder that some paid placement providers call their service “search engine optimization.” Their hope is to take advantage of misunderstandings in the marketplace in order to churn more advertising revenue through their system. Isn’t that money better spent by investing in the infrastructure of your actual website?