Comparing the Cost per Lead from Organic SEO versus Paid Ads

Comparing the Cost per Lead from Organic SEO versus Paid Ads

Which is more effective, SEO or paid advertising?

Earlier this week I saw a social media post from a guy who noted that he is always surprised when dental clients are prepared to pay thousands per month on paid ads but won’t invest in search engine optimisation. I have some sympathy with this sentiment as, over the years, I’ve met quite a few dentists who understand the benefits of SEO, but still shun it in favour of paid advertising.

So what causes this reluctance, why is it somewhat misguided, and what data can we share to show the relative worth of dental SEO versus paid ads?

I thought the best way to show how effective these channels can be is to look at specific data and drill down to the actual cost-per-lead generated respectively. I selected five mature paid ad accounts and pitched them against five mature SEO accounts to get some meaningful data to share. Here are the headline details:

Cost per lead – SEO

Across five SEO accounts measured in the last quarter of 2021 we saw an average cost per lead of £27. So in broad terms, a client paying £450 per month (av) for SEO was receiving an average of 17 qualified leads.

With SEO, the average cost per lead ranged from £21 to £32 in the accounts studied.

Cost per lead – paid ads

This was a little harder to calculate as quite a lot of the campaigns we run are targeted towards specific treatments e.g. Invisalign and dental implants. However, we also have sufficient data on more generalised campaigns to make the comparison meaningful.

For paid ads, the average cost per lead was £36, in the range of £29 to £41.

SEO versus paid ads – which one to use? Or both?

Years of experience in providing SEO and paid ads for dentists gives us access to lots of data to show which technique is most cost-effective. Predictably, dental SEO wins every time, particularly if it simply comes down to cost. However, this doesn’t mean that you should avoid paid ads; on the contrary, they can also be very productive, just that bit more expensive in terms of cost per lead.

Pros and cons

Whilst we usually recommend that both SEO and paid ads are essential for successful dental marketing, particularly in areas where competition is significant, there are certain characteristics of each channel to be aware of. These will help to inform when to deploy the techniques and what to expect.

SEO characteristics:

  • Mid to long term strategy
  • Sustainable, reliable results if managed correctly
  • Progressively establishes a broad web “footprint” for the practice
  • Adds considerable value to the practice as Google positions are established and maintained
  • Can be subject to periodic perturbation as Google introduces changes to the ranking algorithm – so not “fire and forget”
  • Best value for meaningful new patient enquiries

Paid advertising characteristics:

  • Near instantaneous
  • Can provide new enquiries quickly
  • Needs very regular maintenance for best results
  • Very competitive for certain treatments such as Invisalign and dental implants
  • Needs a considerable budget particularly where competition is significant
  • Useful to get your marketing moving whilst SEO is built up
  • Useful to get quick results for open days, new treatments etc
  • Some leads can be very speculative compared to better quality leads coming from search engines


An analysis of a number of mature organic SEO accounts was done to establish the cost per lead versus cost per lead from similarly mature social media advertising accounts. As expected, the cost per lead was lower for SEO and with overall better return on investment. Whilst SEO is much slower to build up, it is much more sustainable in the mid to longer term.

That said, the returns from social media advertising were also good and very worthwhile to complement SEO and/or gain momentum whilst good search engine positions are established.

We can conclude that neither technique is preferable as such and you can never say just do one. They both have different characteristics and pros and cons and it’s typical that effective dental marketing campaigns utilise both.

For more information and to see how we can help your own practice with digital marketing, please call the team at Dental Media on 01332 672548 for a customised proposal.