Local SEO or PPC, Which Should You Use?

By Tom Ledford  

Both. You cannot afford to ignore SEO (search engine optimization) if you have a local business. Yes, your efforts for keyword ranking will be weak against national, or even global competition, but there a several, well-documented methods to compensate for that. One of the most important methods is PPC or pay-per-click advertising.

You may have heard the phrase, “organic versus paid search.” Organic search results are those that occur because of how Google ranks your page. SEO certainly influences that rank. Paid search is paying to place ads on the same page as organic search results. The ads are ranked by how much you pay. Paid search is sometimes called search engine marketing or SEM.


Good SEO or search engine optimization is a requirement for local business websites. Not only should your website use proper on-page SEO techniques, but it should also follow a local SEO strategy. How many times have you searched for something using a search phrase like, “item my city my state?” Using your address in search is really no longer necessary. With location finding technologies (geolocation) like GPS on your smart phone and techniques for locating your desktop or laptop, Google will automatically assume your location with any search.

Even if you adhere to good SEO practices, your ranking against other local businesses can vary a great deal. It will always be easier to find a big fish in a little pond. The fewer businesses like yours that are within your local area, the better chance your website will rank high in search results. This will have the most impact on your PPC or pay-per-click efforts.


The most well-known PPC advertising provider is Google AdWords. Google AdWords ads are ranked by a bidding system where the customer that pays the highest for clicks on their ad for a keyword or phrase, will have their ad placed higher on search results pages. No doubt, you have seen AdWords ads. They appear on almost every search engine results page (SERP).

The bidding system for Google AdWords can seem a little complicated at first. You will either have to spend a little money to really learn how it works by trial and error, or hire someone who can help you. Of course, there are many articles and guides on the subject. There is even an AdWords certification program. If you hire an AdWords certified person to help you with your AdWords advertising campaign, you can be assured they know AdWords inside and out.

Which should you use, PPC or Local SEO?

So, back to our original question. Which should you use?  “Both” is still the correct answer, but the question should really be, “How much should I focus on each?” There is no substitute for trial and error when trying to find the answer, but we can learn where to begin by answering the “fish in a pond” questions. “Are you a big fish in a little pond?” – “A little fish in a big pond?” – “Or some other mix of fish and pond size?”

Let me give you an example. Some time ago, I developed a website for a customer that owned a hot tub dealership. As a matter of standard operating procedure, I did my best to use good on-page SEO techniques for their website. Local SEO, wasn’t much of a challenge. There were only two hot tub dealerships in town. Even though Lexington, Kentucky isn’t that small of a town, if you are in the Lexington area, and you search for “hot tubs,” the first two results you see on the search engine results page, are links to their website and the website of their only competitor in town. Not only are there only two hot tub dealers in town, my customer was the exclusive dealer in Lexington for a particularly well-known brand.

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There wasn’t much point in fighting over ranking #1 and #2. So they decided to use their remaining SEO budget for social media advertising and not for Google AdWords. When advertising on Facebook, you can target a demographic by location, much like you can with AdWords. But with Facebook ads, you can target several other demographics, like sex, age, interests and more. It made much more sense for them to give Facebook their ad spend. 

Consider another scenario. What if you are a website developer in Lexington, like me? There are around four hundred website developers in this area! I would have to be an SEO magician to get my website to rank on the first page! However, I can get the name of my company and a link to my website on the first page with Google AdWords. With a budget of only $50 per month, I was able to do just that. 


SEO and digital advertising are not an exact science. There is no single strategy that will work for every company. For a local organization, the best way to get your name or product in front of potential customers is to use both SEO and paid advertising. To find the right mix that works best for your company will take some experimenting, but you can start with some good old common sense.


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