You have a brand new site, you’re a small business and you have a limited budget. But you don’t want to miss out on the ever-growing areas of SEO & Paid Search. In a perfect world, we all have the resources to do it all — but unfortunately we must make choices based on limited resources.

We get asked the question all the time in reference to launching SEO and/or Paid Search: “where do I stand to make the most money for my business?”

To answer that big question you need to answer a few smaller ones:

  1. Can you narrowly define your customer and industry?
  2. What is your timeframe?
  3. How much budget per month do you have?

Can you narrowly define your customer and industry?

Knowing your customer and industry is key for many reasons, but when it comes to the decision of SEO or Paid Search you need to be honest about what you truly know and understand about them. Can you rattle off your client demographic and purchase profile? Do you know your top competitors and what marketing tactics they are using and the means by which they get there – i.e. keywords?

Here’s a test: see how long it takes you to rattle off 10 keyword phrases that describe your business and industry. If it takes you longer than 60 seconds, you fall into #2 below.

  1. If You Already Know Your Customer = go with SEO. SEO relies relevancy to your business and keywording is well, key. Being armed with a firm understanding of your competitive landscape gives you an upper hand in developing a quality SEO approach.
  2. If You Need to Know More = go with Paid Search. Paid Search gives you the ability to understand your marketing landscape much quicker, and much more granular, than SEO. Adwords campaigns will provide the statistics that give insight into your customer search habits – answering key questions like: which keywords are they using to find you, what is their engagement profile (days of the week, times of day), how are they interacting (computer, tablet, mobile) and most importantly what keywords/phrases are converting.

What is your timeframe?

It is important to understand from the start that a time commitment is needed in order to fully realize the full potential of SEO & Paid Search. From a timing perspective, I typically describe SEO as a freight train and Paid Search as a Ferrari.

SEO takes a while to get fully optimized and produces results based on how authoritative and relevant you are to your search profile. Google makes a billion per quarter because they are good at what they do and those who commit to the right way to do SEO get rewarded – but it takes time.

Just like a freight train, SEO starts moving and gains speed over time. I’s not an overnight tactic and don’t believe anyone who tells you differently. Seeing results for properly executed SEO campaign usually takes 3-6 months and requires a continuous effort to keep it going.

Paid Search is more like a get-in-and-go approach. Although you will find SEO traffic a more validated source (# of pages visited, higher avg time on site, more engaged) Paid Search is a quick way to get on Page 1. The only real barrier to how quickly you can get up and running is how quickly you can throw down your credit card (okay, it take more than that, but it’s a quick process). Paid Search gives you a nimble ability to move in and out of different targeting components and optimization opportunities almost instantly: geographics, ad messaging, keywords, devices (mobile) and much more.

How much budget per month do you have?

Although SEO & Paid Search is not in the realm of “if you have to ask how much it cost you can’t afford it,” there certainly is a monthly investment you need to commit to for a considerable amount of time.  First, consider this spend as an investment, not a cost. An investment is a commitment to a tool, tactic or approach to help you make money for your business. A cost is simply a hit to the bottom line.

Be prepared to spend a few thousand a month on SEO or Paid Search for at least 6 months. Of course this depends on many factors – specifically how competitive the market is and what geographics you are targeting.

Paid Search on the other hand is a quick way to get into the market quickly and test out budgets and bidding strategies. As quickly as you move into Paid Search you can pause or shift resources.

So where should you start:

Look more closely at SEO if you:

  • … can intimately describe your industry and competitors.
  • … can show patience in seeing results (3-6 months).
  • … can commit to a continuous monthly investment for the foreseeable future

Look more closely at Paid Search if you:

  • … need to understand your market and competitors a little better.
  • … want to get exposure on Google quickly.
  • … have a limited budget for a limited time frame (at least 6 months)

Regardless of your choice (or if you are in the fortunate position of being able to deploy both tactics), keep in mind that above all else, execution is the key.