SEO and PPC (and a Village Full of Starving Farmers)

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A conversation about SEO and PPC recently whipped around the office.  It turns out that igniting a conversation about one of these two discoverability superpowers, is as inadvisable as cranking up a lecture on politics in a pub.

Apparently, not everybody harbours the same beliefs.

On one hand, we have a feisty team member stomping around the office declaring that Google is a “black hole for good money”.  Somebody made a snarky comment about SEO being a little too much like luck.

This is our first meeting back after the Christmas break.

Amid the jabbing fingers and snide remarks, our director finally leans forward and clears his throat to speak.

He wanted to tell us a little story.


And it had a lot to do with a paddy field

Two farmers lived somewhere near the Yangtze River basin in Southern China.  As with all apocryphal tales, the protagonists were both neighbours.  And, of course, they disagreed on a fundamental issue.

How were they to feed a nearby starving village?

One farmer recognised that the need for sustenance was immediate.  The current famine was upon them, and for labour to continue, the villagers required full bowls now.  Any delay would just exacerbate the starvation.

This man declared that they should spend ¥3000 to import rice for the villagers.

His neighbour scoffed at this idea.  You can place a bowl of rice in front of a man and he will fill his stomach until he is ready to burst.  But tomorrow when there’s no rice, what will he do? Another ¥3000 would be required to bring in more rice.  Eventually the money would run out and the villagers would die.

Surely the answer is to spend the ¥3000 on the resources to grow and cultivate the rice so they would always have rice in the future.


And silence hit the table

When our director had finished speaking, we were silent for about thirty seconds before we started arguing again.  Despite his twenty-first century Confucius moment, we were now choosing sides between two fictional East Asian farmers.

The problem remains.

Farmer One, the PPC farmer, is right.  If a company doesn’t start creating revenue immediately, then it won’t matter how Google ranks the pages in the long term.  There will be no website, because there will be no company.

So PPC is the right investment.

Except that it isn’t.

Because, Farmer Two is still correct.  You can’t endlessly pour money into the Yangtze River if it costs more resources than you earn.  Eventually you will run out of money.  It’s an expensive game.  You need to guarantee the sales.

So, do we starve?  Or do we flush our resources and hope something comes of it?

We might have found out the answer if we’d let our director sum up his apocryphal tale before descending into chaos.

I bowed out of this argument early and sat back and listened.

And, I had a thought.


What were the rice farmers missing?

We argue either side of Farmer SEO and Farmer PPC all day long.  At once, we would be entirely correct, and completely wrong.  Because it’s one of those unanswerable debates that I would sit through whilst studying for my English MA.

And these debates would go on and on, unless you applied a little context.

For instance, who are we feeding the rice to?  Is it going to families who sit around the village creating riddles and writing poems?  Or are they a skilled farming community that would be able to use the fuel to work hard and make money elsewhere in the business?

And as for the SEO farmer, it’s all well and good assuming we can make and farm a paddy field full of rice, but is the workforce and environment ideal for it?  Is the land arable?

Perhaps it’s time to stop talking in fictional terms.


It has a lot to do with the who

Regardless, whether you choose PPC or SEO, if you can offer it no more skill than that of a highly trained chimpanzee, you’re likely to fail.

PPC platforms are hardly the most user-friendly experiences, and the actual process of creating a PPC campaign requires knowledge.  Sometimes that isn’t even enough.

SEO is fraught with complexities too.  It takes a lot of analysis, research and then a gamble against your competition in the attempt to rank.  And, as the apocryphal tale above suggests, there are no short-term wins.  Experience and knowledge are required.

Not every business owner is proficient in the wily ways of discoverability.

So, your best option is to outsource.


So, who are you handing your rice to?

What we’re really saying, is that these farmers need a contractor.  Someone to come in and offer a bit of balance.

Make sure the villagers are fed right now.

Build a solid foundation for the future.

But that isn’t going to happen with a company you don’t trust.  It certainly won’t happen with a company that Google doesn’t trust.

If you’re looking for a company to manage your PPC, then make sure they’re a Google Partner.  Check their testimonials to make sure they are not just talking a good game.  It’s important that you can trust and communicate freely with the company you’re handing your rice to.


Wrapping up

This article might play it safe just a little. After all, fences are quite comfortable to sit on.  Debating between SEO and PPC requires balance.  There are reasons to focus on both, and perhaps that’s the way it should be done.

Let’s be fair, if you concentrate solely on PPC, there’s almost no need for a website at all.  Just a bank of ever-changing landing pages.  And, you have to guarantee you always have a great and competitive offer if you’re going to keep pouring money into PPC.

There’s also the problem of the keywords themselves.  How good an offer can you create if your keywords are expensive and competitive?

But that isn’t to say SEO is a picnic.

A true SEO expert needs patience known only to most saints.  Well, and any dyed-in-the-wool England football supporters.  It requires the constant maintenance of pages.  SEO requires foresight and analysis, and all of this requires various complicated tools for your expert to use.

It will always be about who you trust, and their ability.

If you’re unsure of what to do, call one of us here at IHM on 01604 790007.

Or email us on: and we can discuss your needs.





4 Responses

  1. Very interesting article (LOVE the parables) and intriguing debate. For both sides really. My first thought is: what are you selling? To whom? are you global or local. Many factors can also play a role in which direction to take. If your target audience or potential customer base is 60+ SEO may not be the way to go in this situation. But who knows? One point I totally agree with is the idea that outsourcing is the way to go. Stick with the experts. Great article, Adam. Thanks!

    1. Ah Jeff, thank you for commenting. You are right, I didn’t cover the products or the buyer persona within the analogy **slaps wrist** but you make a good point when discussing that in your comment. I do fully agree with outsourcing wherever it is affordable. You might find that a lot of people have-a-go-hero it by reading a lot of blogs and watching YouTube, but you can’t beat education and/or experience with something like this. I hope you are well, and thank you again for taking the time to comment.

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