I’m a thrifty individual. I always try to find the best for the least. I’m also very aware that cheap things might cost you time and money in the long-run. I know that I can rank on the first page of Google by putting the time and effort in (SEO). I’m also aware that I can pay a little cash and find myself on the first page within a day (SEM/PPC).

What option is best?


My journey was simple.

  • Learn to code websites (HTML)
  • Design and Style Websites (CSS)
  • Add features and interactive elements to websites (JavaScript/PHP)
  • ……ummm….what’s bullet point four?

After watching tons and tons of video tutorials on the topics, I realized that having a website is fun and all – but you need visitors.

I started jumping into marketing blogs and tutorials. They tackled topics like customer personas, using analytics, marketing channels, and growth hacking. They also touched on search engine optimization.

Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization is a science. There are so many little things you can do to help get your website ranked by the search engines. Since organic traffic from search engines make up a huge chunk of your customers, the better you are at optimizing – the more eyeballs you get to your product.

Google (and others) want to promote the most relevant content based on your search. The better they provide you with good pages, the more likely you will use them in the future. If you search for “Ohio Valley SEO services” and the first result is Zontini’s Pizza, you might head over to Bing.

Searching on Google for SEO Services and getting Pizza results
Thankfully I know how to use Photoshop and make these results come true.

The best and worst part of SEO is that there is an algorithm that determines rank. We don’t know the algorithm – which means we can’t reverse engineer and manipulate it. We have guidelines to use and by doing this, the most relevant content wins.

If you are competitive and smart – you can win.

Search Engine Marketing

There is a cheat code. You can buy your spot on the top. Search engines will display your page based on the keywords you buy. Instead of ranking on page 7, you can join the big boy table for a little cash.

Is this cheating? Yes and no.

No one considers buying a television advertisement cheating. Sure, having an organic news story would be better and cheaper publicity, but that’s not so easy – is it? Search Engine Marketing is the same as buying a television commercial. You skip over all of the relevant organic articles, but you are also labeled as ‘paid’ or ‘sponsored’.

Probably the most interesting aspect of SEM is the pay-per-click model. Pay Per Click (PPC) means you don’t get charged unless someone actually clicks on the link. How great would it be if you only had to pay for your radio spot if someone called directly after hearing your ad?

The cheat code for ranking is PPC. Nintendo game, controller, and Konami Code
Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A. Rank #1 with a little cash.

Since you won’t be the only person buying those keywords, you have to place a dollar amount on how much a click is worth to you. This becomes an auction for clicks. Highest bidder* wins and shows up on the search engine results page (SERP).

Although you can buy your way to the top, search engines also have a ranking factor. Each page you are listing is graded and when combined with your bid, they give you a cumulative score. *Sometimes the highest bidder actually gets beat out by someone with less money but a way better (optimized) page. So SEO still should be considered if you want to keep costs down.


For the longest time (and still a high frequency) I preach SEO. When you put in the time, you will receive long term benefits. The guy who stops eating junk food and commits to a lifestyle change is usually more fit than the guy who took one month prescription of weight loss pills. SEO is hard, but it pays off.

Just recently I realized that you may need a boost. When you are just launching a website, you don’t have years worth of content and backlinks. If you need a boost, buying ads on Google or Bing might be the best advertising method. It might cost you money but could give you instant rewards.

Both Cost Money

Chances are you aren’t a web designer, writer, or content producer. That means you probably have to hire someone to do the updates and possibly create the material for your website. Without adding new content to your website, you will have a hard time owning the ranks. This means you need to pay someone.

Paying Writers, Web Designers, and Webmasters

The Ohio Valley isn’t known for having a ton of creatives just lying around. I went almost ten years before I landed a “creative” position. Odds are you will have to do some work finding freelancers and have to do some trial and error to make sure they don’t flake out on you.

Stock Photos of the nicest looking writers, web designers, and webmasters.
These guys look like they really know what they are doing!


I’ve seen writers cost anywhere from $25 an article to $150 for three hours. Writing for the web is different than writing for news or for a book. Make sure they understand this before you set up a deal.

Web Designers

If you are in Pittsburgh or Columbus, prepare to fork out $100+ per hour. In the Ohio Valley, you can probably find someone for $25 an hour. Web designers have varying skill levels and depending on what you are asking, they will probably price differently.


Webmasters can be a ton of things. It’s a generic title given to someone who updates your website. If you are really clueless when it comes to computers, you might just need someone who can put the ‘picture there’ (pointing to the spot on the monitor). Maybe you have a CMS or easy backend editor, you can find someone pretty cheap. If you need design work – SEE WEB DESIGNER.

Google Ads and PPC Budget

If you don’t want to pay an actual person and want to deep dive into Search Engine Marketing, get searching for the best tutorials and jump right in. Google Ads is not super difficult but can be complicated. Anyone can set up an account and move through the wizard, but knowing what words to buy and how to list them can be tricky.

PPC on Google Ads Screenshot
Not a bad deal for PPC keywords. Maybe I’ll set up a campaign.

Without some basic research on the front end, you will probably waste some money. If you do some trial and error, after a few months you will figure out how much you should spend per click. Hopefully, you like numbers. The reports can help you determine what’s working and what’s a waste.

Each category and keyword is different – so you will have to play around and see what works.

Healthy Mix of PPC and Organic

You can’t 100% ignore SEO. How well you optimize your pages impact the price on your bids (PPC). If you are in a competitive field, you may never land on the first page without the help of advertising. It’s probably smart to devote a budget to both SEO and SEM.

Pay someone to develop content for your site. Specific articles or topics your customers are searching for. If that person can also update the website and understands how to optimize, you found a winner. If not, find yourself someone who does understand. Not all web designers focus on SEO, so ask questions before you hire.

There are several digital marketing companies that can also help set up and run PPC campaigns for you. Often they can provide you with keyword research and tell you how much you should spend to get the results needed. If you team them up with your writer/webmaster, you can strategize for what keywords you should buy and what keywords you should develop content for.

How Much Should I Spend on PPC Campaigns?

Here is where you get frustrated because I say “it all depends”. I won’t frustrate you too bad though because I will give you some numbers.

A good SEO guy/girl would probably charge a few hundred to a thousand dollars per month. This usually includes updating the site, optimizing images, tracking keyword movement, and more. (the cost of a good billboard)

SEM campaigns can range from $100 to $5000. You are buying clicks so you determine your rate. Some keywords are very broad and you will get tons of searches and others are very broad. I probably couldn’t spend $500 if I bought Wheeling “Best Web Design Company in Ohio Valley”. There are not enough people searching for that term. On the other hand, “personal injury attorney” might be gone in a few days. (Whatever you are buying in YellowPages, PPC might be a better use of that budget)

Above the fold side by side of Google results for Attorney and Web Design
Notice all results above the fold for Personal Injury Attorney are PPC ads. The Web Design phrase are all local results – no ads.

Do I Need to Rank?

I’m the first one to say that your business can be successful without help from the internet. I went three years getting work through networking. Granted, I was super lucky and matched up with the right people. Maybe this is your situation.

If people are searching for your category online and you aren’t showing up, no doubt about it, you are leaving money on the table. If you are too busy to get more work, let’s talk when things slow down. Better yet, you might want to talk now. Supply and demand. The more business, the more flexibility you have with choosing customers. Start thinking about ranking now – it’s a long term game.

People are searching, they are clicking, and then they are paying. Let’s figure out how you can be on the receiving end.