Who Wins The Marketing Race – SEO, PPC, Social Media, Inbound, or Content?

The Race SEO, Inbound, PPC, & Content Marketing

The Race: SEO, Inbound, PPC, Social Media & Content Marketing

SEO vs. PPC vs. Social Media vs. Inbound vs. Content – Who Wins The Race?

The Online Marketing Race:

Before you can have a race you need to determine the course and mark the finish line.  In the case of marketing we need to ask what the goal of the race is?  Is the goal short term revenue?  Then its a sprint.  If the goal is long term growth, then maybe its a marathon.

Everyone has a horse in the race.  Some people are betting on Social Media.  Others say Inbound is king.  People who focus on Pay Per Click believe their horse is the quickest off the mark and most likely to finish first.  Still others insist that Content and SEO are the only way to go.

Are you willing to bet everything on one horse and take your chances?  We decided to take a look at all of these marketing methods and analyze the speed with which they take effect and the likely long term implications of each method.

Most people won’t read a two thousand word explanation and just want a quick answer.  The unsatisfying short answer is it depends on the race.  If the race is a sprint and then Pay Per Click wins hands down.  It is the only way you can turn marketing on and off almost immediately.  If the race is middle distance or a marathon then SEO, Social Media, Content, and Inbound start to gain advantages.

All methods can be effective within about 6-9 months if done correctly and consistently.  This is an important caveat.  When you are developing and implementing any type of marketing campaign realize that they all take time and effort to be effective.  There is NO method that will work over the long haul if you just make a one time quick effort and then expect to achieve lasting results.  Every method, even PPC, which can result in quick traffic, will likely be unprofitable if you do not take the time to develop and manage it well.

Marketing PPC SEO Content Inbound Social Media Speed

Marketing Methods Compared by Speed to Effectiveness

According to experts there are advantages and disadvantages to each method.  Many of the methods require greater time and effort to build.  Often these methods produce the greatest results long term.  There is no absolute one correct method for almost any business.  The best we can do is look at the opportunities available and try to determine which methods are most effective for the results we are trying to achieve within a given timeframe.

Following you will see a description and some analysis of each method and the approximate time frame within which various experts expect to see results.  Your results will vary.  Our goal is to give you a framework you can use to plan and build your marketing campaigns.

We are now at the starting line.  You need to decide for yourself what the finish line is and plan your race appropriately.

I.  We begin with our first competitor:

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

Search engine optimization is what most people think of first when they think of online marketing.  It is the process used to affect a websites visibility in search engine organic rankings.  This is often accomplished in a variety of ways including keyword analysis, content and meta tag editing, backlink development, etc.  The goal that drives SEO is improving how a site appears in organic search results.  One of the biggest challenges one faces with SEO is trying to match one’s efforts to how various search engines actually index and rank websites.  SEO is also considered by many to be the foundation of any online marketing program.  Other factors that can dramatically impact the effectiveness of SEO efforts include competition for high demand keywords and geography.  It may be relatively easy to rank well for a niche keyword or geographic result.  However, it may be almost impossible to rank well for a very competitive term worldwide.  The length of time it takes to accomplish a successful SEO campaign is directly affected by these and other factors.

This article excerpt gives a good overview of the issues related to the time involved for success with SEO:


Search Engine Watch

Search Engine Watch

How Long Should It Take for SEO to Show Results? By Chris Boggs, June 12, 2009

“When dealing with a brand new domain, it will likely be difficult to gain the necessary “trust” for rankings for broad competitive terms for at least three months, but often closer to six to nine months. This isn’t always as clear cut — if you have and continue to put out useful content, and if you’re fortunate to benefit immediately from authoritative and consistent links (or are willing to cheat), you could see results sooner.”

II.  We now move to competitor number two:

Social Media Marketing

Social Media Marketing has been the rage for a number of years now.  What started out as a way for friends and family to connect has become a major target of opportunity for marketers.  Social media is a way of connecting information to consumers in a way that encourages them to share this information with others.  Effectively it is a scalable way to promote word of mouth marketing.   Social media is ongoing and can be a very time consuming process.  Its not something you can set up and expect to see continued results without additional effort.  The amount of time and effort applied to social media directly affects the speed of results.

This article excerpt is the result of a number of interviews with social media marketing experts and gives a good idea of the time and work involved:


How Fast Is Social Media?

How Fast Is Social Media?

How Long Before A Social Media Campaign Shows Results?  By Tom Martin, January 17, 2012

“Everyone polled felt that the question was difficult to answer because the answer was dependent on the output of the company. If the company was “doing it right” then six months was a fair average. So what did they mean by doing it right?”

Competitors number 3 – Content Marketing, and 4 – Inbound Marketing are often confused.  We will start with a little discussion about how the two are different:

What is the Difference Between Content Marketing and Inbound Marketing?

One reason the two are often confused is because there are so many areas where they overlap.  The following two article excerpts give an overview of the perspectives from each side:

Content Perspective


Content Marketing: Inbound Isn't Enough

Content Marketing: Inbound Isn’t Enough

The 7 Business Goals of Content Marketing: Inbound Marketing Isn’t Enough By JOE PULIZZI, published NOVEMBER 11, 2011

“Content marketing must include strategic planning, content creation, distribution, and metrics for multiple stages of the buying cycle to multiple customer personas. In my view, that means a complete content marketing strategy would incorporate inbound marketing principles, but it would also take a more holistic approach to meeting a business’s overall marketing goals.”

 Inbound Perspective

The Difference Between Content Marketing and Inbound Marketing  by Michael Lieberman, on Thu, Mar 28, 2013


Difference Between Content and Inbound Marketing

Difference Between Content and Inbound Marketing

“Inbound marketing is a broad, high level, descriptive term for marketing tactics that, instead of pushing interruptive messages OUT to clients, engage prospects and pull them IN to your business. The goal of this approach is to help prospects get to know, like and trust your company—building comfort until the moment they’re ready to hire you.

Content marketing is a part (an important part) of inbound marketing the same way your website, email marketing, lead nurturing, video marketing, search engine optimization and other tactics are part of an integrated Marketing Machine.

Content is such a big part of inbound marketing that we believe you wouldn’t be able to execute an inbound marketing program without content marketing. On the other hand, you could have content marketing as part of a traditional outbound marketing program.”

III. Back to our discussion about the race.  Here is competitor number three: 

Content Marketing

Content marketing is providing information to consumers that they are interested in to promote customer acquisition.  If you were trying to acquire customers who wanted to buy tires you might create content related to the pros and cons of different types of tires and the reasons someone might buy a particular type of tire.  The idea behind content marketing is that if you provide good, relevant information to people looking for information on that topic you will attract their attention and engagement and have the opportunity to turn them into customers.  Today a large part of content marketing is done through blog posting.

The following discusses the amount of time and effort required to be successful at content marketing:


How Long Does It Take for Content Marketing to Work? 

By Arnie Kuenn, April 8th, 2013

“How long will it take? To answer the question that’s being asked, this is looking at, if you look average those 15 blog posts per month, how many months will it take until your inbound leads start to really take off? If you look here, I know it might not be easy to see, but right between that six and nine month mark, things start to really zoom. This is the quantity of leads that are being generated from that content that you’re producing.”

IV. And now competitor number four.

Inbound Marketing

The idea behind inbound marketing is that a company should attract customers to itself and seek to develop relationships with the customer that will eventually result in the customer buying from the company.  Inbound marketing begins with attracting customers interest and earning the customers trust which will hopefully result in the customer choosing to do business with the company.

Following is an excerpt from an article that discusses inbound marketing and the time it takes to improve results:

93% of Companies Using Inbound Marketing Increase Lead Generation [New ROI Data] by Ryan Ghods, February 26, 2013

How Long Does Inbound Marketing Take?

How Long Does Inbound Marketing Take?

“Companies today demand quick results from their investments, and here we see inbound marketing responding fast. All but only 1.79% of companies saw results within their first 12 months of utilizing inbound marketing methodologies.”


V. Our final competitor number five. 

PPC (Pay Per Click)

Pay Per Click advertising is the fastest competitor off the mark.  What many people don’t know is that are also longer term benefits.  Some of the benefits include increased share of the search results page, improved click through rates on organic search, increased branding effect, the ability to narrowly target customers, and remarketing, among many others.  Pay Per Click advertising is fairly straightforward.  You find an appropriate medium such as search engines or websites and pay them for each click through you receive to your site.  The cost of these campaigns vary significantly depending on the product or service being sold and the competition in the marketplace.  As discussed earlier it is a quick and fairly simple marketing method to start.  To be truly successful with pay per click advertising it takes a great deal of time and effort.  There are many variables that one must take into account when trying to manage and optimize a pay per click campaign.

The following article excerpt attempts to put PPC in context with SEO.  The comparisons could be used in many cases with PPC vs. other methods as well.


Pay Per Click vs. SEO

Pay Per Click vs. SEO

SEO vs. PPC: Knowing Which Is Right for Your Website by  AJ KUMAR, May 20, 2012

“If you want more traffic fast and are willing to pay for it, then PPC might be right for you. But if you’re operating on a shoestring budget, it may make more sense to invest time in chasing high search rankings through SEO.”

There are many ways of approaching online marketing.  Everyone seems to have a favorite method for generating new business.  Many of them incorporate aspects of the others.  For instance, if you are focusing on SEO then you need to develop content.  The SEO and content pieces are part of most inbound campaigns.  Social Media is often used as part of inbound and content marketing.  To top it all off there is research that shows PPC can increase click through rates on organic search (SEO), and can also be used with social media.  If you are not confused yet, all of these methods require tracking and testing.  When all is said and done, I don’t believe anyone has definitively decided that any one of the methods is best overall, or in the long run since they are most effectively used in an integrated approach.

Whether you are looking to win a sprint or a marathon, the best results are achieved by integrating all these methods.  They each have many complimentary and overlapping areas.  Your complete integrated online marketing campaigns should make use of them all and take advantage of the inherent strengths of each.  Develop best practices so each of them enhances the others and you can win any marketing race.

  • Craig Hodgson

    Love this article, Joe! It makes me think that maybe I should start doing PPC to get things moving, since SEO takes 6-9 months, as you have already mentioned when we talked.

  • SumTotal Marketing


    Thanks. PPC is a great way to get traffic quickly. All of the marketing channels working together is ideal, but PPC is a great way to kickstart things.


    • http://startupsavant.com/ Startup Savant

      PPC, like you said, is an awesome way to get things started.

      But for those on a budget, creating a few great pieces of content and doing an outreach with others in your industry is a great way to get started. Guest blogging too perhaps?

      Great article by the way!

      • SumTotal Marketing

        SS, I agree with you that good content development is an excellent way to start, and should be created regardless.

        If the decision is purely based on speed and the budget exists, PPC wins, at least in the short term. If there isn’t money for PPC, or there are other issues, then its a different race.

        Guest blogging can be great. However, I would be careful how one goes about it now. Matt Cutts has made several negative comments about guest blogging related to SEO. There is still value, but its not the same as it used to be.

        • http://startupsavant.com/ Startup Savant

          Yes, be VERY careful when guest blogging. But as long as you are being careful and actually adding value, you should be ok.

          Great points STM.