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Organic vs Paid Search (Differences, Pros & Cons)

Picture of Chris Kirksey
Chris Kirksey

CEO, Direction.com

The Difference between Organic vs Paid Search

The seasoned digital marketer understands that organic rankings are cultivated, not purchased, and earned placements build trust and authority over the long-term, which translates to more sales over time.

What are Organic Search Results?

Organic Search results are the relevant websites shown on the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs), based on your search query.

The organically ranking websites appear below the ads, and below the map results if a local search was performed. There are typically anywhere from 7-10 organic results on the first page of Google, followed by a 10 results on each page after that.

To achieve higher website rankings in Google organically, SEO is required. Your website must have a great user experience, load quickly, have great content, and be a trusted, reputable source of information.

What are Paid Search Results?

Paid Search results are ads that are placed both above and below organic search results which take you to a relevant landing page based on your search query.

There are search ads and local map ads. There are typically up to 4 paid search results above the organic search results, and 4 ads below the organic search results. This is also known as search engine marketing (SEM) and pay-per-click advertising (PPC).

Organic Search vs Paid Search: What's the Difference?

Organic Search refers to the unpaid results that appear in search engines, which are ranked based on their relevance to the user’s query. Achieving a high ranking in organic search requires Search Engine Optimization (SEO), a process that involves optimizing your website and content to improve its visibility in search engine results. SEO is a long-term strategy that builds credibility and can generate consistent, sustainable traffic over time.

Paid Search, also known as Pay-Per-Click (PPC), involves paying to have your website or advertisement displayed in a search engine’s sponsored results. With PPC, you bid on keywords relevant to your target audience, and you pay each time a user clicks on your ad. Paid search allows for immediate visibility and can quickly generate traffic, but it requires ongoing investment.

In summary, Organic Search and Paid Search are both strategies used in search engine marketing. Organic Search focuses on optimizing content to rank naturally in search results, while Paid Search involves paying for prominent placement in search results. Both strategies can be effective depending on the specific goals, budget, and timeline of a business’s marketing plan.

Which is Better: Organic Search vs Paid Search?

As we navigate the vast landscape of digital marketing, a common question arises: “Which is better – Organic or Paid Search Results?” This is not a battle of good versus evil, but rather a strategic question that depends on various factors such as your business goals, budget, timeline, and specific industry nuances.

In the following section, we’ll delve into an in-depth comparison between these two search engine marketing strategies, laying out their strengths, weaknesses, and best use-cases. By understanding the unique advantages and potential drawbacks of both organic and paid search results, you can make an informed decision that best aligns with your business’s needs and objectives.

Organic Search Pros:

  • Cost-Effective in the Long Run: Once you’re ranking well, there are no costs per click or impression.
  • Sustainable Results: The efforts put into SEO can have long-lasting results, providing a steady stream of traffic over time.
  • Credibility and Trust: Users often trust organic search results more than paid ads. Ranking high organically can increase your brand’s credibility.

Organic Search Cons:

  • Time-Consuming: It takes time to build up an effective SEO strategy and to start seeing results.
  • Competitive: There’s a lot of competition for the top spots in organic search results, particularly for highly sought-after keywords.
  • Algorithm Changes: Search engine algorithms change frequently, and these changes can impact your website’s ranking.

Paid Search Pros:

  • Immediate Results: As soon as your campaign is live, your ads can start appearing in search results.
  • Targeted Traffic: You can target specific demographics, locations, and use particular keywords to attract relevant traffic.
  • Control Over Budget: You decide how much you want to spend on your campaigns.

Paid Search Cons:

  • Can Be Expensive: Depending on the competitiveness of your keywords, PPC campaigns can be costly.
  • Temporary: Your ads only appear as long as you’re paying for them. Once you stop funding, your visibility ends.
  • Lower Trust: Users tend to trust organic search results more than paid ads.
organic vs paid search statistics

7 Advantages of Organic Search

1. Organic search comes with no initial financial expenditure

Unlike paid search that requires a budgetary allocation, organic search demands no upfront investment. Your organization doesn’t need to carve out funds for monthly ad spends. The only investment required in organic search is time, which could be spent learning SEO basics, devising a strategy, or creating optimized content.

 

While you have the option to put money into organic search, it’s entirely up to you. You can choose to employ an SEO agency or consultant, or even invest in paid SEO tools like Ahrefs or SEMrush. But these are not prerequisites for your website to appear prominently in organic search results.

2. Organic search offers a substantial ROI

The comparison between organic and paid search inevitably brings up the topic of return on investment (ROI). Regardless of the channel – organic search, social media, or paid search – you want your efforts to yield returns.

The encouraging news is that optimizing your site for organic search (SEO) provides an impressive ROI. This is corroborated by nearly 90% of marketers who find SEO successful. Although it’s hard to quantify SEO’s average ROI, you can assess the return of your SEO strategy and view case studies to understand the effect of a comprehensive SEO strategy.

For instance, a building solutions provider, Reynolds Building Solutions, augmented its search result visibility (with WebFX’s help) to achieve remarkable year-over-year (YOY) results:

  • 43% YOY increase in organic traffic
  • 71% YOY increase in organic contact form submissions

With a smart organic search strategy, your business can achieve significant results as well!

3. Organic search offers cumulative benefits

Another advantage of organic search is that its benefits compound over time. As you launch and maintain your SEO strategy, and expand it with strategies like voice search SEO, you can leverage all the benefits of organic SEO. By creating “shareworthy” content, you attract backlinks and create industry buzz around your business.

These benefits accumulate as you continue to produce top-notch content, leading to increased:

  • Traffic
  • Leads
  • Revenue
  •  Rankings
  • And more

Moreover, you don’t have to pay for these benefits, unlike with paid search where each click costs you. Instead, you enjoy the fruits of your organic search optimizations at no extra cost.

4. Organic search enhances credibility

From a user’s perspective, organic search can boost your credibility. When your company tops the organic search results, whether for comfy holiday footwear or reliable business software, it creates a positive first impression. In contrast, companies appearing in the paid section may seem less trustworthy.

Furthermore, if your business consistently appears in various organic search results, it can enhance brand awareness and credibility as you’re repeatedly seen as a resource for user queries.

While you can target informational searches with paid ads, it’s not a common strategy due to the cost per click. Consequently, many businesses prefer to target transactional searches that have a higher likelihood of leading to a purchase. Therefore, organic search is ideal for reaching top-of-the-funnel users and establishing credibility.

5. Organic search draws relevant users

In the debate between organic and paid search, organic search shines by helping your business attract interested users. Whether you aim to reach top-, middle-, or bottom-of-the-funnel users, organic search can help.

Remember, with organic search you can target a variety of searches without the initial cost of paid search. This allows you to maximize your presence in search results related to your industry, audience, business, and products or services.

Organic search also allows you to capitalize on content marketing. While content marketing plays a role in paid search, it’s more renowned for its impact in SEO. This is because content created for content marketing often takes an informative and educational approach.

Users appreciate this type of content. A recent study found that 70% of users prefer getting to know companies through articles rather than ads. Moreover, 61% of users admitted they liked businesses that produce original content more than those that don’t.

With organic search underpinned by a competitive SEO strategy, your company can enjoy numerous benefits. You can establish your presence across search results, write and publish useful content for your audience, and drive later purchases, store visits, quote requests, and more.

6. Organic search yields actionable data

Like any other digital marketing strategy, organic search provides your team with actionable data. In contrast to traditional marketing, online marketing offers real-time data. For instance, you know that your recent blog post gets about 15 views daily, or that your service page generates five leads weekly.

This data can significantly influence your SEO and overall marketing strategy. With accurate, current information, you can make data-backed improvements to your approach, helping your company attract higher-quality users, appear in less competitive search results, and support your growth objectives.

However, to exploit organic search and its data, you’ll need an SEO toolkit. Google Analytics, for example, is a must-use (and free) website analytics tool for SEO.

7. Organic search complements other marketing channels

A coordinated approach to online marketing works. If your social marketing campaign supports your organic search initiatives, you set your company up for success and remarkable results.

  • Social
  • Paid
  • Email
  • Video
  • And more

 

With organic search, you can bolster several other marketing channels, including:

For instance, if your team publishes a series of informative blog posts, you can repurpose that content for your social media channels. Your next Facebook post could share a compelling statistic from your article to pique user interest.

However, this benefit of organic search depends on your team and strategy. You need to align these marketing channels. That means if one team member is handling your social campaigns and another your content marketing strategy, they must coordinate to maximize the impact of all your efforts.

7 Advantages of Paid Search

1. Paid Search provides instant visibility

Unlike organic search engine optimization (SEO), which relies on earning traffic over time through content and keyword optimization, paid search advertising allows businesses to buy their way into the coveted “top spots” on search engine results pages (SERPs).

The moment your PPC campaign is activated, your ads can start appearing for the keywords you’ve targeted. This immediate visibility provides a significant advantage, especially for new websites or products that have not yet established an organic presence. It offers an instantaneous way to drive traffic to your site, allowing your business to gain exposure and start generating leads or sales right away.

Another aspect of this instant visibility is the flexibility it provides. Paid search campaigns are easy to adjust, meaning you can tweak your strategy based on real-time feedback and performance data. This ability to quickly respond to market dynamics ensures your ads remain relevant and effective.

Moreover, paid search ads offer prime real estate on SERPs. They typically appear at the very top of the results, even above organic listings. This prominent placement further enhances visibility, ensuring your ads are seen by users before any other content.

It’s important to note, however, that while paid search offers instant visibility, it does require ongoing investment. The moment you stop funding your PPC campaign, your ads will disappear from the SERPs. In contrast, the visibility earned through organic SEO efforts tends to persist long after the initial work has been done. Therefore, a balanced digital marketing strategy often includes both paid search for immediate visibility and organic SEO for sustained, long-term presence.

2. Paid Search has great flexibility and control

Paid advertising’s flexibility and control are critical components that provide businesses with a competitive edge in the dynamic digital landscape. This flexibility extends to budgeting, allowing companies to set and adjust their daily spending based on campaign performance, market trends, or business objectives.

In addition to financial control, businesses can also tailor their ad messaging to directly address their target audience’s needs and desires, enhancing the relevance and effectiveness of their ads. Geographic targeting is another powerful feature of paid ads, enabling businesses, particularly local ones, to reach their local audience more efficiently. Paid advertising platforms also offer remarketing opportunities, displaying ads to users who have previously interacted with the business’s website or app, thus increasing conversion chances.

Furthermore, platforms like Google Ads offer flexible bid strategies that simplify bidding and optimize ad spend. The transparency and control provided by such platforms allow businesses to monitor and adjust their ad campaigns’ performance in real time for optimal results.

3. Paid Search provides great budgetary freedom

One of the biggest advantages of paid search advertising is the budgeting freedom it provides. Unlike many traditional forms of advertising that require substantial upfront costs, paid search allows businesses to set their own budget according to their financial capabilities and goals.

Whether you’re a small start-up with limited funds or a large corporation with a sizeable marketing budget, you can tailor your paid search strategy to align with your resources. You can decide how much you want to spend on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, and you only pay when someone clicks on your ad.

Moreover, most platforms provide real-time data, allowing you to monitor your campaign’s performance and adjust your budget accordingly. If an ad is performing well, you can increase your budget to maximize its reach; if it’s underperforming, you can decrease spending or pause the campaign to optimize it. This flexibility ensures that every dollar spent contributes towards achieving your business goals, providing a cost-effective way to reach potential customers.

4. Paid Search generates data, data, and more data

Another standout benefit of paid search advertising is the wealth of data it offers. Every click, impression, and conversion is tracked, providing businesses with a goldmine of valuable insights. This data allows companies to understand who is engaging with their ads, what keywords are driving traffic, which ad copy is most effective, how users behave after clicking on an ad, and much more.

The granular level of detail available through paid search platforms such as Google Ads or Bing Ads enables precise performance tracking and campaign optimization. For instance, if a particular keyword is underperforming, businesses can identify this through the data and adjust their strategy accordingly. Similarly, if an ad is leading to a high number of conversions, the data can help uncover why it’s successful so that approach can be replicated in future campaigns.

This data isn’t just useful for paid search campaigns; it can also inform broader digital marketing strategies, SEO efforts, content creation, and even product development. In essence, the data provided by paid search is a powerful tool for understanding customer behavior, refining marketing strategies, and driving business growth.

5. Paid Search levels the playing field

Paid search advertising levels the playing field in the digital marketplace. Even if a business isn’t ranking organically on the first page of search engine results, it can still achieve top-tier visibility through Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ads.

By strategically bidding on relevant keywords, a company’s ads can appear alongside or even above those of larger, more established competitors. This visibility can significantly increase brand exposure and draw traffic away from competitors, offering a competitive advantage that can be particularly beneficial for smaller or newer businesses trying to establish their presence in a crowded market.

6. Paid Search supports key business objectives

The versatility of paid search advertising makes it an excellent tool for achieving a wide range of business goals. Whether a company aims to increase brand recognition, drive website traffic, or boost sales, paid search can be tailored to support these objectives.

By selecting the right keywords, crafting compelling ad copy, and targeting specific demographics, businesses can use PPC to reach their target audience with precision and drive desired actions. This flexibility makes paid search a valuable component of any comprehensive marketing strategy.

7. Paid Search simplifies campaign management

You heard that right, campaign management for PPC is fairly straightforward.

Platforms like Google Ads offer user-friendly interfaces and robust analytical tools that simplify the process of setting up, monitoring, and adjusting campaigns. With real-time data at their fingertips, marketers can track performance metrics, identify trends, and make informed decisions to optimize their campaigns based on search intent.

This data-driven approach ensures that businesses can navigate their marketing journey smoothly and steadily, making necessary course corrections along the way to maximize return on investment. In essence, managing a paid search campaign is akin to navigating with a well-drawn map, providing clear direction towards achieving business goals.

The Cost of Organic vs. Paid Search

At first glance, it seems like SEO has a clear edge over PPC in terms of cost. After all, it doesn’t get any cheaper than “free”!

Keep in mind, though, that the old saying is true when it comes to business: time is money. For those looking to explore innovative business ideas, understanding the balance between SEO and PPC is crucial.

Properly setting up your website to be found in organic search and rising through the rankings can be a slow and arduous process. For some businesses (especially new businesses), it may be worth paying extra upfront and enjoying the increase in revenue from paid advertising while you simultaneously invest in SEO and play the waiting game.

How much, though, does PPC cost?

That’s actually a bit of a tricky question. It depends on the exact cost per click as well as the maximum amount of clicks that you’re willing to pay for.

For example, you will bid a maximum price per click. Let’s say you win the big and will be paying fifty cents per click. You can then establish a maximum number of clicks per day that you’re willing to shell out.

So, if you set it for 500 clicks, then, at $0.50/click, you will end up paying $250. If you set it for 1000, you will end up paying $500. So on and so forth. You get the picture here.

Keep in mind that these costs can add up very quickly. After a month of paying that much for 500 clicks a day, your company will have spent $7,500. If that is too rich for your blood, you can always bid for less expensive keywords or set lower daily limits on clicks.

That being said, there are a variety of other factors which play into how much you’re paying per click, such as:

  • How well your ad account is structured
  • The competition for the keywords you’re bidding on
  • How well your landing page is constructed and the information on that page (Quality Score)
  • and more…

All Traffic, No Jam

In many ways, traffic is the primary goal of both organic search and paid search methods. However many people your website currently attracts, your goal should be to bring more people to it.

That brings up the big question: are you going to get more traffic with organic search or paid search? The short answer is “organic search.” The longer answer is a bit more complicated.

That’s because it is theoretically possible for a company to earn more clicks through paid search than organic. However, you would be paying a ton of money for the privilege!

In the previous example, your company would be spending $7,500 a month, every month, to bring in those clicks. And you are still operating on a limit of 500 clicks per day.

For many smaller companies, paying a large sum for PPC each month is an unsustainable plan. And due to the nature of PPC, you stop getting those clicks when you stop making payments.

With organic search, it may take a lot of time and effort to make it to the first page.  But if you can make it into the first five results of the right keyword searches, you will have a continuous stream of traffic each day.

Best of all? You aren’t limited to a certain number of clicks, and your results are completely free.

Converting Searches into Paying Customers

seo roi

Any savvy business owner knows that traffic is only one part of the equation. It is equally important that you discover the best strategies for converting customers.

Unlike pure traffic, this is one area where PPC has the edge. Why? Because you can customize your PPC ads to ensure that they target your key demographic.

With organic search, you are bound to get a few clicks from people who aren’t sure what they are looking for or who searched for the wrong thing. While they may (briefly) check out your site, they aren’t likely to become customers anytime soon.

However, a solid PPC campaign will result in clicks only from people who are most interested in your product. And this is definitely something you should consider when budgeting for online marketing.

Keep in mind that for niche products and services, it may be worth running selective PPC campaigns rather than attempting the broader approach of organic SEO.

organic vs paid CTRs

Executing on Organic and Paid Search Strategies

As you can tell, there are many important differences between organic vs paid search. Unfortunately, there is one thing that both approaches have in common: they are not necessarily easy to implement.

It’s one thing to put in a few keywords here and there and hope for the best (fyi, that doesn’t work). However, really good SEO is difficult because it can be tough to find the right topics and keywords, then properly integrate them into a larger marketing campaign.

PPC is no different. While services like Google Ads (which accounts for over 70% of Google’s revenue) aim to be user-friendly, it is still difficult to find the right keywords to bid on. And determining whether you are bidding too much or too little brings its own difficulties!

What is the solution to this particular conundrum? You can generally save a lot of time and money by working with veteran marketing professionals. Not only can they help you see results that much quicker and actually save you money – but they can teach you both paid and organic SEO tips and tricks that you will benefit from for years down the road.

Benefits of Organic Search and Paid Search Differ by Industry

Are you still wondering whether organic search or paid search is best for your company?

The answer often comes down to the market supply & demand and what your overall brand marketing goals or, key performance indicators (KPIs) are.

Let’s say that your business is a newer startup trying to establish itself. Should such businesses rely on organic search or paid search

The truth is that the startup should begin working on SEO right away. And considering that SEO can take a long time to really pay off, there is no time like the present to get started.

PPC is better for a company that needs some short-term gains. It may be a good solution within the first few months of establishing a startup or help you generate hype concerning a new product launch.

By now, though, you’ve probably realized that there’s no need to choose between organic vs paid search.

The Power of Utilizing Both Organic and Paid Search

When it comes to organic vs paid search, that’s exactly how most companies view these options: as fighters in a ring competing for dominance.

In reality, most all successful companies use a mixture of both approaches.

In some cases, one approach can enhance the other. For example, analytics from a well-run PPC advertising campaign can help you discover which keywords perform better. It can also help you discover new search terms people are typing in that you didn’t even think of. After the PPC campaign ends or your monthly budget runs dry, you can focus on those effective keywords as part of your SEO efforts.

You can also modulate between these approaches based on your budget and products or services. SEO is always budget-friendly and is a great way to stretch that advertising dollar. PPC, though, is a great choice to help launch high-converting products because the marketing will pay for itself (and then some).

Organic vs. Paid Search: Determining the Best Way to Boost Your Bottom Line

Now you know the differences between organic search vs paid search. But do you know who can help you craft the perfect marketing campaign for your business?

We specialize in digital advertising, web design, and SEO. Whether you need a killer short-term campaign or a longterm strategy worthy of Sun Tzu, we’re here to get things started.

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