What Should I Choose? SEO vs. PPC as a Career

What Should I Choose? SEO vs. PPC as a Career

Full disclosure: I’m writing this as a someone who is intensely passionate about SEO; I enjoy it immensely and could never imagine doing anything else.

That said, I am going to give you my 99% unbiased take to help you decide which career path is right for you: SEO or PPC (or search engine marketing, SEM, as it’s also referred to).

I’ve worked at TechWyse for almost 6 years and I’ve worked with some very bright SEO and PPC managers over the years. I have made note of their strengths and weaknesses, understood the different pressures the face and most importantly come to know each of them very well.

The Prototypical PPC Manager

This is generally someone who likes numbers and constantly fiddling with variables. They need to write well, but they don’t need to be Shakespeare. The must be able to manage stress and they need to be able to sit in front of their computer and concentrate on a problem for hours on end.

The other side of the PPC Manager is that they must be able to communicate clearly and confidently to clients and account managers. They must also be ready to face adversity when unforeseen circumstances hit.

The Prototypical SEO Manager

Every SEO manager I know has been an entrepreneur at one point in their career. They know how to build websites and their curiosity inspires them to constantly find new ways to bring in more traffic. I'm continually impressed by the people I encounter in SEO, by their notable intelligence, and by their ability to learn things on their own.

The other side of the SEO Manager is that they need to be calm during times of uncertainty. They need to inspire confidence in the client, particularly in the early stages of a campaign. They need to have conviction in their knowledge and ideas, even though there are no absolute certainties in SEO.

Tips for Getting Into the Game

There are many similarities between SEO jobs and PPC, but getting yourself into a manager role in SEO may take more years of work experience than the same role in PPC. But once you reach a senior level in SEO, the work is consistently interesting and challenging.

What to Know Before Choosing SEO as a Career

If you’re an aspiring SEO manager, get your start by building your own websites and learning from that process. Try getting into affiliate marketing if you don’t have clients. You can learn a lot by doing this and start up costs are low.


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Invest your time and effort in affiliate work, and once you have some experience in the industry, you can move agency side where you’ll enjoy more job security, more diverse clientele and the opportunity to learn from other bright minds in your field.

With SEO, there is no formal education or schooling. Any course you can take in a university or college will almost surely be outdated. You may find some textbooks on SEO, but you won’t find them on the desk of anyone doing it professionally. SEO requires daily education in the form of blogs, webinars, online courses and videos like Whiteboard Friday.

What to Know About PPC as a Career Path

If you’re getting into PPC/SEM, the story is a little bit different. There are many blogs, online courses and yes, textbooks that you can buy to learn the trade. There’s also one more incredibly important thing you can do. Become an AdWords Certified Individual.


When I first became Google Certified going back 4 years ago, it was a paid test. Google has wisely lifted this barrier and made the test free for anyone to take. Even if you’re an SEO like me, employers LOVE to hire certified candidates. Just make sure to renew your certification once it expires.

So in a way, there is a school for AdWords and there really isn’t and probably will never be a formal school worth going to for SEO. My advice for both prospective professions is to choose some people to really follow. For SEO it could be someone like Brian Dean or Ryan Stewart; for AdWords you might want to follow Larry Kim.

So If I Can’t Really go to School for This, How Do I Learn?

There’s a simple answer to this: you read, you watch videos, you talk with your colleagues and you never stop doing this. Both professions require a constant refresh of information. Even after a week or two of vacation you’ll likely have something new to catch up on.

At the end of this post I’ve included 10 PPC and 10 SEO thought leaders and their Twitter handles. Not on Twitter? I suggest you get started, Twitter is very much alive and well in the SEO and PPC space.

There are literally dozens if not hundreds of great people to follow. I’ve included some below:

PPC Thought Leaders:

Purna Viriji - Senior Manager, PPC Training at Microsoft @purnavirji

Larry Kim - Founder, WordStream @larrykim

Daniel Gilbert - Founder, Brainlabs @dangilbertppc

Erin Sagen - PPC Evangelist, WordStream @erinsagin

Brad Geddes - Co-Founder, AdAlysis @bgtheory

Samantha Noble - Chief Strategy Director, Koozai @SamJaneNoble

Kirk Williams - Owner, ZATO @PPCKirk

Frederick Vallaeys - Founder, Optmyzr @siliconvallaeys

Aaron Levy - Client Strategy, Elite SEM @bigalittlea

Christi Olson, Search Evangelist at Microsoft @ChristiJOlson

Hat Tip to PPC Hero who provided this list.

SEO Thoughts Leaders:

Danny Sullivan - Founding Editor Search Engine Land @dannysullivan

Bruce Clay - Founder of Bruce Clay @BruceClayInc

Rand Fishkin - Founder of Moz @randfish

John Doherty - Founder at Credo @dohertyjf

David Mihm - Founder at Tidings @davidmihm

Annie Cushing - Founder at Annielytics @AnnieCushing

Mike King - Founder iPullRank @iPullRank

Bill Slawski - Director of Search at Go Fish Digital @bill_slawski

Cyrus Shepard - Founder at Fazillion @CyrusShepard

Wil Reynolds - Founder at SEER Interactive @wilreynolds

There are many people I left out. If there is a glaring omission please feel free to leave their name in the comments.

Well that about wraps it up. If you have questions about life as an SEO Manager or PPC Manager please leave them in the comments or follow me on Twitter @strategyinventr and I will do my best to answer you!

Good luck to you all :D

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