A Better Investment: Search-Optimized Content or Paid Search?

Account Director, Miles Hospitality
Published 7/7/15
Share This Post: 

Share This:

If your business were retail, you wouldn’t dream of advertising a Grand Opening before you had inventory on the shelves. Before you open your doors, you would identify the products your customers need and want and you would stock your shelves in anticipation of their arrival.

In the travel industry, your website is your retail store. Do you have content on the shelves? Are you stocked with the information necessary to make a sale? Can potential customers browse your storefront and find what they are looking for? Or are you, like many others, sending customers to the store without giving them something to buy?

Without content, your store is empty. True, PPC or paid search will bring traffic, which is great—but content is what drives the sale. Content allows you to align with your customer’s needs (i.e. a beachfront hotel in Florida with family suites) and content is what allows you to make the sale (i.e. beautiful imagery and copy describing the idyllic family vacation enticing the traveler to make the reservation).

A paid ad says “choose us.” Content says “this is why.”

Is organic necessary?

Ideally, the decision of whether to invest in paid online advertising or search-optimized content isn’t an either/or choice. Both are vital to increasing your reach and one needs the other to reach its optimum potential. But limited marketing budgets are a reality. Rather than spread your dollars too thinly, thereby weakening their effectiveness, often the best answer is to start by doing one thing well. Then use your progress to expand into additional marketing channels.

With its relatively low cost of entry, PPC is an obvious, low-cost investment. Few marketing channels offer PPC’s trackability, limitless targeting, quantifiable ROI and the opportunity to pay only for qualified leads. PPC is the best media vehicle after the Super Bowl—and a whole lot cheaper! Seems an obvious first investment, right?


Organic traffic = Direct bookings.

Organic traffic typically has the best engagement and highest conversion rates of all traffic sources to a site.

That’s because content is authentic.

Paid ads are an obvious sales pitch. Nobody sees a text ad offering 2 for 1 and thinks, “I wonder if they are trying to sell me something?” They know you’re selling something. People are skeptical when they think they are being sold to; that doesn’t mean they won’t buy, it just means they are more likely to question the source. More importantly, a paid ad for “family friendly suites” that links through to a website with no supporting information or products to back it up will fall flat. Customers will be at your door with nothing to buy.

Content does double-duty, both reaching customers and selling your product. It connects with travelers searching the web for specific experiences, and it talks to them about those experiences. Content answers their questions and shares their passion for travel. It’s a trusted source.

Content does a better job of selling because it speaks to us. Not by saying “Buy me! Buy me!”, but by describing the vacation we can picture ourselves in. Just like seeing the perfect blue blouse on the rack says “We would be great together, wouldn’t we?”

Creating loyal customers

Content continues to work for you by telling your story, connecting your website to travelers searching for the experiences you offer and growing in value with each guest delivered to your site. Sure, you should make occasional updates and repairs. But properly maintained, you shouldn’t have to buy it all over again.

Paid search is a one-time hit. A powerful hit, granted. The reach and ROI of highly-targeted paid search are undeniable and limited only by your media budget. But even the best text or banner ad can’t, alone, sell a vacation. It needs good products and good information on the shelf inside the store to make a sale.

More is more

The most effective online marketing programs contain a mix of both SEO and SEM, working together to reach customers, deliver customers to the website and close the sale. Content needs the reach of PPC like a retailer needs the guy with the sandwich board pointing out his new location. Growing organic traffic takes time, so just adding words to your website won’t create a line at your door. But, if you can only choose one, start with organic, then evolve your campaign to include a PPC strategy.

Paid advertising without compelling content can result in clicks that don’t convert. If you only have one chance to bring them into your store, make sure you have something to sell.