Google Ads vs Seo; Where Is The ROI ?

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Over the last 15 years I’ve had success with both. In this post I’ll where the focus is now for my businesses as we approach 2024. I own both offline home services business and online businesses (lead gen and drop servicing).

TLDR; I adopt a ‘paid ads first’ model for all my businesses which means Google Ads is a priority. With Google Ads you can focus on a defined and measurable outcome, and you can scale instantly. When it it working, you can get ‘more of it immediately’. Compare that with SEO in which you have no control over performance or the audience it reaches, you also cannot measure it statistically, and it does not scale.

My experience with SEO and Google ads.

My first businesses 2009/2010 were fueled by SEO with the appeal of ‘no ad spend’. In 2009 I launched an eCommerce business selling motorcycle parts that did well with SEO and then in 2010 I launched my first home service business that was largely with organic traffic. Still today in 2023 my home service business derive a substantial portion of revenue from organic Google traffic.

My first experience with Google ads came in 2011 for the motorcycle parts ecommerce business. At that time Google Ads was primitive by todays standards but also at a much lower cost. Fast forward to today and I have spent over $4,000,000 on Google Ads in the last 12 months.

Platform Risk Necessitates A Paid Ads First Model.

First let me clarify, I still practice SEO and drive revenue with it, but all of my businesses are built to be profitable with paid advertising. In fact I won’t acquire or start a business that that cannot be profitable with paid customer acquisition.

The reasoning as it is specifically related to SEO is elaborated on below, but one other point is the simple ‘platform risk’ of relying on any free customer acquisition source. Naturally ‘platforms’ have an incentive to make businesses pay to reach customers, so in time the platform will ultimately ‘cost’ money. However when you’ve planned to pay for customer acquisition you can take your model to whatever platform your customers are on…

…whereas if your business is built on free Google traffic and that goes aways (which it regularly does with updates), your business will collapse. This is the largest risk of owning a niche site which I elaborate on here.

Google Ads Is Expensive but SEO Is Usually A Waste.

I’ve often heard that metaphor that paying for ads is like renting a house, while doing SEO is like building a house. That sounds great, but here’s the reality; your house may never finish getting built, and if it does and you move in it, it can be taken away at any time.

Here’s the thing with SEO… you have to dump a bunch of time and/or money into it, and you ultimately have no idea what will happen. You may get rankings and traffic — or you may not. You may get the rankings and traffic, but it might not turn into business (I’ll elaborate on this later). And you may get traffic that earns you a ton of money but then one day a google update rolls out and your traffic goes to down to near zero.

Here’s an example of a bathroom remodeling business I know of personally that was devastated but a Google update. They were crushing it with seo. They got tons of traffic and were growing rapidly, buying new trucks and hiring employees to serve the demand from organic traffic, and then that traffic stopped…. just like that.

This business ultimately collapsed, as in bankruptcy, when the seo traffic declined by 75% over a 6 month period.

So much for owning the house. Carrying on.

SEO is Like Playing A Game With The Wizard Of OZ.

Yes I said it. No matter how many case studies you ‘study’ or how much experience you have, no one really knows the rules other than a few simple best practices around publish content that is valuable to users and have a good on page experience. And Google can change the rules (their algorithm) at any time.

For example there a case study published on semantic SEO in 2021 that was touted as real ‘standard setting’ study in the SEO community. Fast forward now 2 years later and the sites from the case study have now lost all the traffic they gained.

Even if you do everything ‘right’ by Google’s standards and create amazing content the algorithm may whack you back and you’ll never know the reason — at least with Google Ads if your ads stop running you’ll have a phone number to call.

Google Ads Have a Defined & Measurable Outcome.

With Google Ads you can set up a specific conversion event, that you define as valuable, such as a qualified leads and optimize for it. You can (and should) even let the Google ads algorithm optimize to find people that will take this action.

You can control every detail of the process. From time of day to keywords.

With SEO you can’t do that. It’s more of spray home and pray approach.

don’t know what you’re going to get (elaborated on further). It might work, it might not. WIth Google ads, you know exactly what you’re going to get. You know what keywords you’ll show up for, when you’re going to show up for it, and which pages will show up.

Instant Scale & Immediate Business With Google Ads.

With SEO, you’re waiting for things to happen, and HOPING they improve or don’t go away.

With Google ads, if you’re getting conversions all you got to do is turn up your budget to get more.

With Google Ads You Target The Right Audience. SEO Is A Crapshoot.

You could invest a ton of time/money into SEO and get a lot of traffic, but they may not be an audience of customers.

Let me share the story of one of my home service businesses. In 2012 I followed the wisdom of Marcus Sheridan, a pool company owner who is regarded as an expert on content marketing and began publishing a ton of insightful topics about ‘screen enclosures’ that was simply ‘answering questions’ people were asking to become the go-to online resource.

And it worked. My website became the industry resource. The website of my business ballooned in traffic to over 1,500 visitors per day. We were ranking top 3 for basically everything you could look up about ‘screen enclosures’.

BUT this was not good for business. Actually we had a frustrating and expensive problem on our hands.

Our website was showing up to people nationwide whereas we were just a local business serving a 3 county area of Florida. And because people viewed us a free resource, they would call in look for free help. It got to the point that over 80% of inbound calls were people simply looking for help or discussion about their problems… that’s hundreds of phone calls every week that we couldn’t monetize — yet we still had to answer and be cordial with them.

Ultimately we were forced to take a ‘call-center approach to answering the calls in which the person answering pretended to just be a receptionist and offer to have them speak with our engineering department for nominal fee. Customers also did not like this (cause hey we were free help online). We also reduced the content on our website and just used it for in sales process nurturing.

Seo Is Not Statistically Measurable.

With With ads, you can have a control & variant which are necessary to test and measure statistical significance. In SEO… you just don’t have that. Things happen, and you have no idea why.

Expressed otherwise, what you think may be the cause of something in SEO, may not be the cause at all.

Google Is Driving Users To Paid Ad Placement (away from organic results)

Over the last 10 year, we’ve witnessed a significant shift in the digital marketing landscape. Google, the ever-dominant search engine, has been gradually tilting the scales toward paid ad placements, edging organic results further down the page.

Take a look at the serps page for a roofing query.

You can clearly see the above the fold section (the part of screen that you see on first load) is all ads. If you load this on mobile, it’s 3-4 swipes before you hit organic results.

10 years ago it the glory days of SEO, this was not the case and the actual SEO results were clearly above the fold’.

With the search giant’s ongoing emphasis on monetization, the actual SEO results get pushed further and further down.

Final Words On Seo vs Google Ads

In the ever-evolving digital marketing landscape, my journey through the realms of SEO and Gogole ads has culminated in a decisive strategy as we approach the dawn of 2024. This strategy, which I refer to as the “paid ads first” model, places Google Ads and other paid traffic sources at the forefront of my marketing endeavors. The benefits of Google Ads lies in its precision, instantaneous scalability, and the empowerment it provides for defining and measuring outcomes, setting it apart from the uncertain path of SEO.

The trajectory of my own businesses has underscored the significance of this model. While SEO undoubtedly holds its merits, the challenges of SEO’s unpredictability and the ever-looming platform risks have reinforced the wisdom of prioritizing paid advertising. As we forge ahead, it’s evident that the digital marketing landscape will continue to evolve, emphasizing the importance of adaptability. Thus, the “paid ads first” model is a testament to the need for a dynamic and proactive approach in this ever-changing arena.

About the Author

I have been in the 'online business' space since 2009 when I started an eCommerce business selling motorcycle parts (sold in 2012). Since then I have owned and operated several successful online business (and had a fair share of failures), along with owning offline home services businesses. Currently my focus is online businesses that are profitable with paid traffic. As a 'self employed individual' I do not use Linkedin, but you can connect with my on my personal instagram and youtube which largely revolve around my mountain biking passion!