Inbound Marketing vs Paid Ads vs SEO

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inbound-versusInbound marketing, SEO, paid ads… which is actually going to get you results?

There are so many marketing terms and methods floating around the internet now, making it difficult to know which ones to adopt.

Maybe you have a friend who swears by Google ads, despite the fact that you’re hearing great things about this whole ‘inbound marketing revolution’ – and then there’s your direct competitor, who seems to be an SEO wizard.

Trying to decide who’s right can be the source of many headaches, especially with so many contradictory articles online. It’s easy to see why you’re confused about where to turn.

Over my many years as a marketer, I’ve tried all three and know exactly how they work. But here’s the thing; who said any of them have to be mutually exclusive?

Below, I’m going to talk more in-depth about each one, and the best way to use each of them to your full advantage as part of a more holistic approach.


Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) these days basically equates to everything search engine-related, and is by no means dead. In fact, I’d say there’s definitely still a place for it in your marketing campaign today.

However, if you’re looking at SEO as a singular solution, without embracing content marketing, social media marketing, analytics and more, it’s probably true that you’re limiting the results you can expect to achieve from your efforts.

Just think, if you’re concentrating all your time and energy into getting more and more people to your website, without changing anything about the way your website actually converts, you’re probably not going to get that many new customers.

In order to see the real results, you need to successfully incorporate SEO into part of a wider, more holistic strategy, such as inbound marketing. Which brings me onto my next point.

Inbound marketing

I want to start this section by setting the record straight about inbound marketing. It’s not just another marketing trick you can adopt for a few months to get fast results, before abandoning again – it’s an entire methodology that requires your company to actually change its culture.

You won’t get fast results, either – in fact, when done right it can take anywhere between 5 and 18 months to really take effect, depending on your buying cycle. The good part? The results (when you finally see them) can be very powerful.

This is because inbound focuses on shortening your buyer journey by answering all the questions and pain points your prospects have along the way, allowing them to make a better, more informed decision, faster.

A good inbound marketing campaign will encompass a variety of different elements, including content marketing, social media marketing, analytics, marketing automation software and yes, SEO.

Paid ads

Paid ads, or PPC (Pay Per Click) involves paying Google (or as the case may be, LinkedIn,Facebook or a number of other places) to place an ad in a prime spot. You set your budget, and the length of the campaign, and proceed to watch your money slowly disappear into the ether every time someone clicks on your ad.

The idea is that the bigger the budget, the more traffic you’ll drive to your website. You can also be pretty precise with the people you attract, by using very specific target keywords and making sure they end up in the right place on your website – such as a landing page that’s sure to convert (do you see inbound already creeping in?).

Or, you could just do what some companies do and give a very generalised keyword, direct them to the homepage, and then wonder where all the money’s gone. Especially if you don’t keep one eye on managing your budget.

Although outperformed by inbound (which costs a lot less) at almost every turn, paid ads also have their place. For instance, it can be a particularly good strategy to continue using PPC in the early, barren months of your inbound marketing campaign. It can give you the little boost you need while you wait for your inbound campaign to really take off.


With so many marketing terms around, it can be tough deciding which one is right for your business. I’ve tried all three, and there’s no reason any of them need to be mutually exclusive. In fact, you can easily adopt SEO and paid ads together as part of a more holistic approach, such as inbound marketing – which actually encompasses many different elements.

Relying singularly on SEO could mean you’re limiting the results from your marketing efforts, but can still be particularly effective when used as part of a wider strategy. Paid ads may be outperformed by inbound, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still use them in the first few (often difficult) months of your campaign to give you a bit more of a boost.

Have you had any success with these techniques?

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