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PPC vs SEO: What's the Better Channel for a SaaS

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Looking to start your SaaS marketing campaign but need help figuring out where to start? It’s tricky to know where to start, especially when it comes to PPC and SEO for SaaS companies.

Both channels have pros and cons, but PPC and SEO are ultimately necessary pillars for your SaaS marketing strategy. 

That’s not to say that one marketing channel should be prioritized over the other. 

As you’ll find in this article, I highly recommend leveraging both. 

But with that being said, you need to know how to use SEO and PPC if it’s for a SaaS. 

In this article, I’ll help show you a few things to remember before getting started with SEO and PPC for your SaaS and ultimately, what the better channel is. 

Don’t want to read the full article? I don’t blame you, here’s the TL;DR: For SaaS, both PPC and SEO have their advantages and disadvantages. SEO tends to be more effective in the long run, offering a much lower customer acquisition cost without any advertising costs, unlike PPC, which provides quicker results but at a higher cost. While SEO takes time to see results, it’s generally more cost-effective than PPC. With all that being said, a healthy marketing strategy will include both tactics. 

So Which Channel is More Effective for a SaaS? PPC or SEO?  

A study from Adobe found that referrals had the highest conversion rate across all marketing channels, with an average conversion rate of 3.74%. 

This makes sense since the user will likely trust word of mouth the most over all companies’ marketing initiatives.

However, relying solely on referrals makes it hard to keep your business sustainable. They can build an initial pipeline for you, but they won’t be the key to growth for you. 

After referrals, SEO was considered the channel with the highest conversion rate for SaaS at 2.1%, followed by Webinars (1.2%) and email marketing (1.1%).

In this case, PPC didn’t even reach the top 3. However, that’s not to say it’s a channel that should be avoided. 

A study by First Page Sage found the average SEO conversion rate for a B2B SaaS to be 2.1%, and the average PPC conversion rate was 1%. 

Even across all industries, they found SEO had an average conversion rate of 2.4%, and PPC was just 1.3%.

In most cases, SEO will be the more effective channel for your SaaS, however, that’s not to say that PPC is ineffective. 

Is PPC and SEO Worth Investing In?

SEO works for SaaS websites because it provides a unique opportunity for websites to capture potential clients at multiple touchpoints without having to pay for it. 

You still need to pay because you need to invest resources to build that content, but additional ad spend doesn’t need to be factored in. 

Because of this, SEO provides SaaS websites with the opportunity to capture traffic and potential leads at a much lower customer acquisition cost. 

And with the flexibility to capture different search queries without being limited by ad spend. There is no limit to the number of searches you can rank for as long as you have the proper SEO budget to invest in content.  

This gives SaaS websites the ability to not only capture leads but also build brand awareness. That’s why scaling SEO with quality content needs to be focused on rather than traditional SEO of only publishing a few articles per month. 

While PPC might seem like a weak channel compared to SEO, it’s still an effective marketing channel for driving leads for your SaaS. 

While your offering and pricing structure will depend on your success with PPC, it can still be used as an effective early marketing tactic to build your pipeline while your SEO is kicking in. 

It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to capture actual signups (depending on the investment for your product). 

Still, you’re more likely to capture contact information from lead magnets that you can later use to push them further along the funnel.

They won’t all turn into revenue, but it’s still a great way to capture initial leads that you can nurture and build the early foundations of your pipeline.

Limitations to PPC and SEO for a SaaS

As you can probably gather, one of the main drawbacks SaaS companies find with PPC is ad spend. 

While PPC can be a solid channel for SaaS products – either live or the MVP – it is still limited by the budget you have to spend for it. 

Your success with PPC will widely depend on your CAC and your CTV, but generally, there will be better channels, especially channels where you build your audience instead of renting them. 

And unlike inbound, once you pause your ad spend, your ad stops showing. 

Whereas with SEO, your content will continue to perform for months or even years after you publish your content. 

So while it might be a great initial marketing channel, you should likely prioritize inbound as well to set early foundations for growth and compounding results.

In most cases, PPC should never be a channel you rely solely on. 

While SEO may seem like a great marketing channel for SaaS, it still has some limitations. 

One of the most common is how long SEO takes to see results. Especially if you’re starting with a new domain, it will likely take 3-6 months to see consistent results.

Not to mention that you have to have a dedicated content team to scale content production while keeping content quality consistent. 

This will likely eat into the overall budget, but this will still produce a much lower CAC than PPC over time.

Not to mention that SEO can also be very competitive. 

Especially for certain markets, it’s not always guaranteed that your SEO will work. With PPC, you’re pretty much paying to win.

With SEO, so many factors contribute to ranking, where it’s not always as easy as keyword research > content > ranking. 

You also need to build backlinks to build authority. You need to cover all angles of your topic to build topical authority. You need to ensure your content is being discovered, crawled, indexed, and rendered by Google. You should always audit your SaaS content for SEO.

You need to focus on EEAT (experience, expertise, authority, trustworthiness). You need to internally link content, optimize for entities, optimize your headers, optimize your title tag, optimize your images, and so on. 

There’s still so much more, but you get the point; there is A LOT that goes into SEO, so when starting out, just know that there won’t be a singular lever you’ll need to pull to be able to rank.

Not to mention keyword cannibalization happens on a wide scale when you pump out tons of content. 

So, what is the limitation of SEO for a SaaS? Just how involved it is even to be able to rank on the first page. 

Which Channel is Better For Generating Quality Leads? Not Just MQLs, but Users Actually Interested in Your Product 

So, how do you know if PPC or SEO is a better marketing channel for your SaaS?

You won’t know until you test it.

But with that being said, SEO and PPC typically work very well together for SaaS companies.

This is because both channels allow you to target the same queries to take up more search real estate. The more real estate you have, the more likely someone will click on your result. 

Before you find which channel has the better ROI, you’ll likely need to run tests to discover conversion rates. 

Be sure to run SEO without PPC, as PPC can influence SEO (Ex: a user sees your sponsored result but ends up clicking on your organic result).

It will be harder to attribute this traffic to paid, but it’s worth tracking spikes if SEO and PPC run together for similar queries. 

If you pause your ads, you may see a drop in organic clicks.

Ultimately, if you want to find the better channel, it’s best to optimize them and test them out individually to find the better marketing channel for your SaaS. 

Fortunately for SEO, testing is much easier without taking on much risk.

Unfortunately for PPC, it is a much riskier channel to test on. One mistake and you can lose a lot of money. 

Why SaaS Companies Should Leverage Both PPC and SEO

SEO and PPC should absolutely be used together. 

While it’s a fine channel to separate during the initial testing phase, both channels will likely influence each other, especially if they’re targeting the same keywords.

More SERP real estate will lead to a higher likelihood of a click, either through your paid listing or your organic link.
Either way, these marketing channels complement SaaS websites very well. 

Here are a few other ways to use PPC and SEO for your SaaS marketing strategy. 

  • Both Tactics Allow You to Capture More Clicks
  • Both Tactics Help You Take Up More Real Estate on the SERPs
  • PPC and SEO Will Increase Touchpoints and Capture Conversions


Ways SaaS Companies Can Leverage Both SEO and PPC 

Now, in addition to running ads simultaneously, there are a few other strategies your SaaS can use to benefit from running paid ads and SEO. 

Using PPC and SEO Keyword Data to Boost ROI

One of the best ways to leverage PPC with SEO for your SaaS is to start with keyword research.

This means using conversion and query data from AdWords. 

From any possible data source, AdWords will have the most consistent data. 

And it’s found to be even more consistent than Google Search Console. You can ignore Ahrefs and SEMrush in this case. 

With Google AdWords, you can see specific queries and find the keywords that are converting the best.

Whatever you set your conversions to, you’ll still want to use these keywords to find the ones with the most audience intent behind them.

Meaning, the keywords that entice users to take an action. 

So, you can use your Google AdWords data to find these keywords and build content targeting them.

Remember earlier: double the visibility = more clicks. 

Not only that, you’re now ranking for keywords that are almost guaranteed to drive results for you. 

You now have the data to back up your hypothesis. 

Eventually, you can dial back your paid ads if your SEO content outperforms your PPC for those keywords, but also remember that PPC might be influencing SEO clicks, so you’ll want to monitor this carefully if you decide to scale your ad spend back. 

Find CTAs That Resonate With Your Audience

Another way you can benefit from running PPC and SEO is to find CTAs, specifically title tag CTAs, that drive clicks for your website.  If you find one CTA is performing well, you’ll want to use it for the other too.

This will likely apply most with paid since that’s your first and likely only chance to capture that click. 

Since there’s not as much optimization involved, optimizing your listing for conversions is easier than blending it with SEO.

So you’ll want to track data on the CTAs that are performing best and then leverage those for the other marketing channel. In the case of SEO, if you find a PPC CTA is performing well, you’ll want to tweak your title tag to be similar. 

It doesn’t need to be an exact match, but it should still follow a similar format to capture the same search intent. 

A/B Test Your Content’s CTAs

You’ll also want to A/B test your CTAs too. 

If your PPC taglines are performing well, you might want to consider adding them to your content to drive more conversions. 

The same goes for PPC if you find that a specific CTA in your content drives solid results.

Tracking data with PPC and SEO will go a long way for your SaaS. 

Which Marketing Channels Work Best With PPC and SEO?

Again, SEO and PPC do not need to be siloed channels. 

In 2023, digital marketing for B2B SaaS should reflect an omnichannel approach rather than a specific channel. 

That’s not to say that you should spread yourself in every direction, but you should follow a quarterly roadmap that dictates your opportunities and goals for that quarter. 

Whether it’s focusing more on Social and SEO or PPC and email, whatever it is, you realistically want to hyper-focus on 3-4 channels quarterly to avoid diluting your marketing efforts. 

The more directions you get pulled in, the less impactful your marketing strategy will be.

But to answer the question about the channels that work best for a SaaS using PPC and SEO, the answer would be social and email.

Both being inbound channels, these are great channels to use in tandem with SEO and PPC. 

They both nurture your audience and set the tone for your brand. 

Like Moz (a popular SEO SaaS), they run a newsletter highlighting specific industry trends from thought leaders. 

It’s one of the most popular newsletters in SEO, yet their subscriber count is much lower compared to Ahrefs and SEMrush. 

That may be because of who they’re targeting, which is typically beginners. 

I’ve been in the SEO industry for four years now, and my marketing tool of choice is Ahrefs and Google Search Console. 

But for someone just starting and learning the basics of SEO, Moz is a great place to start.

And with their newsletter, it’s a great way to build initial awareness around your product for users who are unaware of better products. And what makes them better products. 

It’s like those injury billboards you see across the highway. They’re not there to get leads (although some do); they’re there to build awareness.

There are so many distribution channels someone can take after an injury, but you’ll likely have a name in mind if you’ve been seeing a brand name every day for the last year. It’s almost like a form of conditioning. 

The same applies to SaaS.

The buyer’s journey isn’t a linear path; there will be plenty of avenues your customers take before they schedule a product demo or signup for your product.

So that’s why you need to focus on growth and quality across multiple channels and not just one singular marketing channel. 

SEO vs. PPC for SaaS: Picking the Channel That Works Best For You

In this case, there isn’t a better channel SaaS companies should prioritize. 

In most cases, SaaS companies should leverage both SEO and PPC to see the best ROI on their marketing initiatives.  

It’s recommended that you start with PPC to drive initial leads and once you can access more data, you can leverage that for SEO and eventually rank organically for the keywords you’re currently paying for.

Because why would you pay for visibility when you can earn it for free? Especially when you know those keywords bring in revenue for you.

Both channels, in most cases, will positively impact each other. However, the budget for PPC will typically hinder the budget for SEO, which needs to be changed in the industry.

Your CAC will be significantly different from both channels, usually favoring SEO.  

Need help setting your SEO? Follow this SEO checklist I created specifically for SaaS websites.

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