SEO vs. AdWords: Which is Best for Your Business?

SEO vs. AdWords: Which is Best for Your Business?
  • What is the best option for a small business: SEO or Google AdWords?
  • AdWords gets you instant result, as long as you pay up, but SEO gives you long-term gain.
  • You need to consider your limited time, resources and return on investment when choosing which channels to focus on.
  • Read on to learn about SEO vs AdWords and which will get better results for your business.

In recent years there has been a rising debate over which is better, search engine optimisation (SEO) or Google AdWords (pay-per-click advertising). It is a confusing topic and there are several articles discussing each point of view.

Opinions range from ‘SEO is dead’, to the ‘stop wasting your money on AdWords’. It should be no surprise that if you dig a little deeper you will find most of these articles are written by companies that sell SEO or AdWords management services that align with their views.

The question shouldn’t be which is better, it should be which will work better for your business. In this article, we will discuss the difference between SEO and AdWords, the pros and cons of each and how to determine which is more suitable for your business.

What is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)?

For those that don’t know search engine optimisation (SEO) is the practice of improving a website's organic (non-paid) ranking in search engines with the goal of increasing website traffic from potential customers. This is achieved by implementing the practice that is favoured by a search engine ranking algorithm.

In simple terms, SEO is the practice of of getting your website to the top of a search engine so more customers can find your business.

What is Google AdWords?

Google AdWords is Google's advertising platform which allows businesses to pay to display their website at the top of the search engine results page. With Google AdWords advertisers pay a certain amount of money each time someone clicks to visit a website.

SEO vs AdWords - Whats best for your business

What are the Advantages of SEO?

Let's delve into some of the advantages of SEO.

A high-ranking website provides a flow of continuous traffic

If you’re ranking well in the search engine results page your website will receive a solid flow of traffic from potential customers. Below is a screenshot of the average monthly searches in Google for a range of businesses in Sydney. It's safe to say the business that is ranking for these search phrases would receive a lot of enquiries from Google alone.

SEO vs AdWords - Whats best for your business

SEO gives you exposure to potential customers

A huge benefit of SEO is getting your business in front of active buyers that are ready to contact you. Consider the search phrases in the image above, these are queries that potential customers are likely to search.

SEO has a far higher click-through rate than AdWords

Studies show that organic search results have a far higher click-through rate than paid advertising. The first five websites in the organic search results page account for approximately 67.60% of all clicks compare to about 15% of users who click on paid advertising.

Doesn’t cost anything to do

SEO doesn’t cost anything if you work on it yourself, so if you’re on a tight budget and willing to put the work in, your business can reap huge rewards.

A chance of finding untapped opportunities

It’s not uncommon to find that only one or two of your competitors are implementing an SEO strategy. If this is the case for your business it will not take a lot of work to get your website to the top of the search engine results page for your desired keywords.

What are the Disadvantages of SEO?

There are also some disadvantages of SEO.

SEO can be time-consuming

Implementing an SEO strategy can be quite time-consuming. If you’re new to SEO there is a lot of trial and error involved as well as researching new strategies and staying up to date with Google algorithm changes.

No guarantee of ranking

In addition to the time-consuming nature of SEO, there is also no guarantee your website will rank. You must remember that your competitors might be paying an agency to handle their SEO which will make it a lot harder to get to the top position in search engines. If you compete with large companies with big marketing budgets it can be difficult to get in the top five places.

It’s not instant

Improving your website's rank in the organic search results isn’t a quick process. You can’t simply work on it for a day and expect your website to be ranked by the end of the week. It can take up to three months to really start noticing your ranking improving.

Decrease click-through rate if you’re not in the top five

There is a significant decrease in the number of people that will visit your website based on your position. Getting into the top five places in the organic search engine results page will help you get a healthy amount of traffic, anything below that may not be worth your efforts. In hindsight, if you get into the top three places, it will be well worth your effort.

What are the Advantages of Google AdWords??

Let's look at the advantages of Google AdWords.

Can get on the first page in 24 hours

The great thing about Google AdWords is you can generally have your Ads displaying in less than twenty-four hours. This is practically advantageous for companies that aren’t ranking well in organic search results and new businesses that are looking to attract customers quickly.

Only pay if someone clicks your website

One of the best things about Google AdWords is you only pay if someone clicks to visit your website. This means you’re only paying to advertise to people that are genuinely interested in your product or service. And with the ability to set daily limits it is great for business owners that are on a budget.

Choose the keywords you want your ad to display for

Google AdWords allows you to choose the keywords and phrases you want your advertisement to display for. This allows advertisers to target the search phrases potential customers are making. Google also offers a tool called Google keyword planner which helps you find the average monthly search volumes of keywords to assist in your targeting efforts.

Chance of getting lucky

There’s always a chance that none of your competitors are using Google AdWords. If this is the case it could be very cheap to get your business displaying for your desired keywords.

What are the Disadvantages of Google AdWords?

There are also some disadvantages of Google AdWords.

Cost per click can be extremely expensive

If there are a lot of businesses competing for the same keywords, AdWords can be very expensive. Industries such as Law, Accounting, Dental and Insurance have been known to have a high cost per a click.

The AdWords platform is hard to learn

If you plan on managing your AdWords campaign yourself it can be very time consuming to learn. Google offers an easy to use platform for those who aren’t tech-savvy called AdWords Express. However, AdWords express doesn’t have the key feature of AdWords that helps with targeting and optimising your campaign.

Lower click-through rate

It should be noted that on average between 5 -15% of searches result in people clicking on paid advertising. In addition to this, your ad will be competing against three other businesses.

Which is best for your business?

When choosing what’s right for your business there are a number of factors you must consider. With any marketing activity it is always important to remember the concept of opportunity costs; that being, for every dollar you spend on one marketing activity that’s money you can’t spend on another, so you want to ensure whatever you do has the highest return on investment.

Find Monthly Search Volumes

The first thing you will need to do is find out how many people are searching for the products and services your business offers. You can research this by using Google keyword planner which allows you to find the average monthly search volumes of certain keywords.

In addition to researching search volumes, keyword planner will provide suggestions for keywords that your potential customers are making.

As a guide, the higher the search volume, the more inclined you should be to use SEO over AdWords. You don’t want to go to a huge effort to get your website ranking organically for keywords people rarely search.

Cost-per-click price

The cost per click will also determine whether or not you should use AdWords or SEO. If the suggested cost per click is relatively low (anything under $6 a click) AdWords is probably a good option for your business.

On the other hand, if the suggested cost per click is very high, SEO might be your best option. This is particularly relevant for local businesses. For example, a Lawyer that operates in Newcastle Australia might want to rank for the keywords ‘Lawyers Newcastle’, the cost per click on these AdWords might be $20 per click due to the high competition from another Law firm around the country bidding on these keywords.

This Law Firm would be better off using SEO as it would be easier to rank for because they are only competing against Law firms in Newcastle in the organic search results.


SEO is considered more of a long-term strategy, whereas AdWords can provide instant results. If you are looking to start generating inquiries quickly, AdWords is probably the way to go. AdWords is particularly good for new business owners as it can attract customers quickly.

SEO, however, is better for established businesses looking to grow. Considering the organic search results get a higher percentage of clicks than AdWords, if you can wait a few months for your website to climb through the ranks, the delayed benefits will well be worth the wait.

Final Thoughts

Over the years there has been an increase in consumers using Google to find and research products and services. This has increased the need for business owners to get their websites found in search engines. If implemented correctly both SEO and Google AdWords can help your business start generating leads online. It is important to research your options thoroughly before you implement to ensure you get the best results on the campaign.

Editor's Update 04/08/2020:

There are various things to weigh up when it comes to choosing whether to invest the time and money into SEO, AdWords or both. As we can see in the discussion above, AdWords generally gives you quick results as long as you pump in some cash, while SEO is a more cost-effective technique if you're willing to invest more time and wait for better long term results.

However, if you want to hire an SEO specialist to ensure you get the results you're looking for, there are of course some costs involved. Let's take a look.

How much does SEO cost?

Depending on how you approach your SEO, SEO prices can range from $0 to $2,000 per month.

Anyone can do SEO for their business with some research, practice and some tools (many of which are free or very cheap). If you do your own SEO, it's important to know the fundamentals so that what you're doing is effective. 

How much does an SEO agency charge?

If you hire an SEO agency, expert or specialist, you can expect to pay between $500 to $2,000 per month on a retainer basis. If you hire on an hourly basis. the average hourly rate for an SEO specialist in Australia is $75 to $200.

How much does AdWords cost?

For small businesses in Australia who want to see a good return on investment (ROI) from their AdWords campaigns, the average monthly spend is between $1,000 (on a small AdWords budget) to $15,000. the average cost per click is $7 to $10 for businesses in Australia. 

How much does an AdWords agency charge?

If you hire an AdWords agency to manage your campaigns, you can expect to pay between 15-30% of your total AdWords spend.

Daniel Hanna

Owner at

I'm the founder of a Website Design & Digital Marketing Agency called Rhythm Design & Marketing. I have more than 8 years experience helping businesses grow. I have a strong passion for business and marketing. My specialities are website design, SEO, Google AdWords and Facebook marketing.