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If limited to one or the other, marketers prefer Google Ads to SEO
02 April 2020 (Edited )
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But users say organic results are more relevant and trustworthy

Results of a survey of marketers and search users just reported by SEO-provider rankers show that while 64% of business owners and marketers would choose to use Google Ads in preference to SEO if limited to using just one tactic or the other, search-engine users say they're significantly more likely to click on organic search returns because they're more trustworthy and relevant.

These professionals gave both tactics high marks for effectiveness (90% for Google Ads, 87% for SEO), but gave SEO slightly higher marks for being Worthwhile, Beneficial and Important, and gave Google Ads the edge on Fairness, Simplicity and Cost.

When asked to rank Google Ads vs. SEO on metrics, the professionals gave Google Ads the edge on Conversion Rate, Time-on-Site and Transaction Amount, but ranked SEO higher on ROI.

On another set of dimensions, the professionals rated Google Ads significantly higher than SEO on:

  • Getting fast results (66% vs. 28%)
  • Ease of implementation (56% vs. 38%)
  • Ability to measure ROI (52% vs. 36%)
  • Traffic volume (53% vs. 39%)

But gave SEO the edge on:

  • Affordability (49% vs. 45%)
  • Sustainability (50% vs. 42%)

Google search users, however, expressed a clear preference for organic listings vs. Google Ads:

  • 84% said they frequently click on organic search results, vs. 45% for search ads
  • 79% said organic search results are trustworthy, vs. 46% for search ads
  • 37% said organic search results are relevant, vs. 11% for search ads
  • 28% said they are most likely to click on organic search results, vs. 2% on search ads
  • 34% said they are likely to follow an organic result to an external website when searching for product information, vs. 15% who would follow from a search ad
  • 17% said they are likely to click on an organic listing and make a purchase, vs. 8% who would click through and buy from a search ad

Survey population consisted of 496 business owners or marketers and 522 Google Search users.


  • Note that the report doesn't report level of preference among marketers for using both Google Ads and SEO, or anything about the Ads:SEO mix being used by the respondents. Some may be using SEO only, some Google Ads only, others varying combinations.
  • That the professionals gave Google Ads higher marks on speed, ease, measurability and traffic was predictable. Compared with meaningful SEO, Google Ads are easier and faster to get running, more easily measurable, and you can get all the traffic you want if you have a big enough budget.
  • SEO logically got the edge on Sustainability - Google Ads grind to a halt without a click budget, but SEO goes on as long as you maintain it.
  • SEO having an edge in Affordability isn't something that can be generalized. SEO requires a big up-front investment and ongoing maintenance. But maybe the marketers who said Google Ads were more costly are buying high-priced keywords or very high ad positions.
  • Responses from users as to what they would do surely indicate a strong preference for organic search results. But bear in mind that people don't always do what they say they would do in any given circumstance, and other surveys continue to find that 40-50% of users can't reliably distinguish between Google ads and organic returns. I'm sure the marketers surveyed - who live and die by ROI - would be shifting spend from Google Ads to SEO if user behavior were in fact as skewed toward clicking on organic listings as is users' stated preference.
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