As click costs rise, many companies who are already investing in active pay per click marketing campaigns are looking toward hiring a search engine optimization company to supplement their marketing portfolio in order to increase their exposure and reduce their advertising spend. In some cases, frustrated by click fraud and increasing click costs, marketers are using search engine optimization to completely replace pay per click marketing. However, these companies will often try to evaluate search engine optimization using the same methodology that they had used for pay per click – by figuring out the cost per click.

In almost every case, a campaign created by a reputable search engine optimization company will eventually garner lower per-click costs than pay per click marketing for any industry. Yet using cost per click to compare the effectiveness of these two separate disciplines is comparing apples to, well, anything other than apples. The crucial difference between these two approaches is that pay per click marketing is more of an advertising investment, while search engine optimization is more appropriately likened to an investment in infrastructure. While both have their merits in terms of increasing a company’s online exposure, it is important to understand the differences in the respective investments and to determine why cost per click is not a fair indicator of the performance of a search engine optimization company.

Pay Per Click Marketing

Advertising investments of all kinds, from billboards to print ads to television spots to pay per click marketing, all share a common trait. They exist in the public eye for as long as a company is willing to pay for them. Stop paying, and they disappear. True, a print ad may continue to exist for a while after it runs (until the newspaper or magazine gets recycled, at least), and a television spot may get attention if it wins any awards (or winds up on YouTube). But a pay per click marketing campaign will simply vanish as soon as the budget is cut. This means that when a company reduces its advertising spend in this arena, it loses all of its exposure immediately.

What does this really mean? Well, for one, it means that figuring out the average per-click costs of a pay per click marketing campaign makes sense because everything happens in real time. A pay per click campaign will begin nearly instantly after a company signs up and pays, and it will vanish just as quickly when the company ceases payment. In other words, there is a clear delineation of when a campaign begins and when it ends.

This delineation is important, because it excludes many other potential factors that muddy the waters when you try to apply this same ROI analysis to a campaign created by a search engine optimization company.

Search Engine Optimization

As said previously, utilizing a search engine optimization company can be likened to making an investment in the infrastructure of a business rather than an investment in advertising. This is because with search engine optimization, there is no clear delineation of where the benefit from the campaign ends. If a business stops paying its search engine optimization company at any point after the campaign has been launched (presuming they have hired a decent search engine optimization company), there will continue to be results from that campaign for an extended period of time – usually many months or even years.

Of course, it is not recommended that any business actually quit an ongoing SEO campaign because a good search engine optimization company will always be expanding and honing that campaign over time to make it more successful over the long term. However, budgets get revisited and revised. Decision makers can change. And if the budget for SEO does get cut, a business will continue to see results for long after. How, then, can you determine value on a per-click basis? The simple answer is that you can’t.

It should be noted that while maintaining ongoing results after payments have ceased is a big upside to search engine optimization, the inverse downside is that an effective campaign put in place by a search engine optimization company can take some time to implement, and the results may not appear for weeks or months. A search engine optimization campaign takes patience, effort, and, most of all, time. If a business needs its marketing campaign to be up and running immediately, pay per click marketing is going to be a better short-term choice.


It is important to recognize the innate differences in pay per click campaigns and search engine optimization when trying to quantify results. A pay per click marketing campaign can have a definitive beginning and end, which makes cost per click a good way of determining ROI. Yet the results gained from hiring a search engine optimization company, although an SEO campaign can take much longer to implement, will outlast the results from a pay per click campaign if a business ever needs to cut spending. And this is where the notion of analyzing the effectiveness of a search engine optimization campaign on a cost per click basis breaks down.

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