Organic vs Paid Search (Differences, Pros & Cons)

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    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.

    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 vs Paid Search (Differences, Pros & Cons) 1

    Which is better? Organic or Paid Search Results?

    As you can see in the graph below, it’s critical to be found on the first page of search results.

    a graph revealing the percentage of search traffic broken down by page

    Having a website is simply not enough to show up on the first page of the SERPS. You also have to make sure the right customers find your site when they jump on their computer in buying mode, looking for your products or services. Time and money must be invested into new, consistent website traffic – and ultimately, making sales.

    This is exactly why organic search engine optimization and paid search marketing strategies are so important.

    To determine where to spend money, and how to do so wisely, it’s time to really understand the difference between organic search vs paid search. We’ve laid out the differences in detail so that you no longer have guess in your marketing strategies, or look at your sales pipeline realizing you’ve been spending money in the wrong places. If you place budget in the wrong areas, there’s a high chance that you may lose out on potential customers that you could have had, and likely need.

    Sure, there are traditional marketing methods such as TV, billboards and such. But, the benefit to spending money to be found in search results is that it’s 100% trackable. You can have an exact Cost Per Lead (CPL) and know exactly how much you need to spend in order to hit company revenue goals.

    Plus, with search, you get in-front of people who are in buying mode. They already know what they’re looking for. You can’t get that kind of lead quality from any other kind of marketing or advertising.

    Side note: popping up in people’s social media feeds begging them to buy from you is not the best brand-growth strategy.

    Wondering what the differences are between organic and paid search are?

    Want to know what the pros and cons of each are?

    Without further ado, let’s take a dive and find out…

    Organic Search

    If you’re struggling on deciding between spending money on SEO (organic search) or Google Ads (paid search), it’s important for us to explore what each technique is all about first, as each has its pros and cons, dependent upon your unique offering.

    Organic search is basically another term for Search Engine Optimization. With this strategy, you focus on growing your brand through:

    • Digital PR (in other words, backlinks (see:
    • Creating unique, valuable content
    • On-Page Optimizations such as keyword density check & optimizations, proper crafting of meta tags, titles, alt-text, making sure your website loads quickly and more (see:

    When all of the pieces of the puzzle come together in harmony, can you guess what happens next?

    Customers search for what you offer, see you on the list of search results, and click through to your website.

    Of course, getting to the top of Google’s search results takes a lot of time and effort. And while it’s hands-down your best long-term strategy (more on this in a bit), paid search offers the possibility of quicker gains.

    Semrush study on the google ranking factors
    Source: SEMrush

    Paid Search

    What is paid search? In many ways, the name says it all. This “pay per click” strategy allows you to pay a certain price and shoot your website all the way to the top of the results.

    As you know from browsing the internet, such search results will be in a separate area above the natural results. The chief benefit of this is the instant high visibility: rather than spending months working on getting your website to appear organically on the front page. Paid search lets you skip the lines and go to the top immediately, driving website traffic & potential sales, but only for as long as your budget allows. Meaning, paid search placements are only temporary.

    So, the biggest downside to PPC is right there in the title. You must pay for these results, as opposed to organic search results which are 100% free (as in, you don’t have to pay Google every time someone clicks on your website).

    To fully understand which approach is best for your business, it’s important to understand the cost of each approach.

    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.

    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 Searchers into Paying Customers

    inbound marketing performance broken down by marketing channnel

    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.

    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 & 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 & 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.

    To see how we can transform your marketing efforts, contact us today!

    About The Author:

    Chris Kirksey

    Chris Kirksey

    Chris Kirksey is the CEO of, a Local SEO software & SEO services company reflecting the culmination of a 15+ year obsession with digital marketing. It all started with an eBay business at 9 years old, then transitioning from domain investing and website building. After a 6-year US Army career leading intelligence collection teams both in the US and overseas, Chris now brings a sophisticated approach from cryptologic language and adversary data intelligence to digital marketing and business intelligence. His precision and planning of military campaigns, now reflected in SEO campaigns, have proven successful for clients in industries ranging from law firms to technology startups.
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