Organic search vs paid search: What's the difference?
Updated: Aug 7, 2020
Modern life is thoroughly linked to the use of search engines. Let's just think about how often you suggest “Googling it” when you need pretty much any kind of information. A fraction of a second after you search for something on a search engine like Google (or others like Yahoo and Bing, who are steadily climbing in market share), millions of results populate on the search engine results page (SERP).
But within that list, you will find a mixture of both organic and paid results. The difference between the two has a lot to do with how they got there. Mostly, the first few results you see are ads (paid search) that the search engine felt were relevant to your query (note: you’ll often see more ads at the bottom of the page), while the middle results come from all around the web (organic search), but aren’t necessarily paid for. Paid advertising also extends to other platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and more.
Businesses that have an online presence, understanding the difference between organic and paid search, and how it can be applied to your business, is critical. Read on to learn more about the basics of each, and how you can (spoiler alert) use both to drive more traffic to your website.
Let’s break it down for you.
4 Things Paid Search and Organic SEO have in common
Paid search and organic SEO are both ways to connect with interested buyers when they are searching for your product or service.
1. Both Drive Traffic
Paid search and organic SEO both are designed to drive traffic to your website or landing page. They encompass the most significant ways your business can be visible on the web.
2. Both Target Search Engine Rank
Both strategies aim to appear near the top of the results page when shoppers search on Google for a specific keyword phrase.
3. Both Use Keywords
Both strategies require targeting keywords. Some keywords have steep competition between marketers. Experts recommend looking for keyword phrases that have a high volume of searches but low advertiser competition.
4. Both Improve with Customer Insight
A well-crafted headline and meta description needs to align with your customer’s expectations. Companies can rank for keywords but lose conversions if customers were looking for something different.
Results improve for both methods when you understand your audience and their needs. Marketing should reflect what customers are thinking while they search for products or services.
Five Ways Paid Search and Organic SEO are Different
While they serve the same purpose, paid search and organic SEO are different in several key ways.
1. Position on the Search Page
Paid search ads appear at the top of search results with a little “ad” indicator letting potential customers know it is advertising.
Even though organic search results are below the ads, 70 to 80 percent of users skip the ads and go straight to the SEO results.
2. Cost per Click
With SEM, you pay each time a user clicks on or sees the ad.
With SEO, you pay to develop the content but each customer click is free.
3. Audience Targeting
Paid search allows you to target specific audiences. You can direct the search engine to show your ad only to people who live in a geographic area, express related interests, make a certain income, or fall within an age range.
There is no audience targeting with organic SEO.
4. Time to Results
SEM provides rapid feedback and results. You can track your ad in analytics as soon as it’s launched.
On average, ranking for keywords through organic SEO takes months.
Paid search results stop as soon as you turn off your ad and only run as long as you pay.
With a steady investment of robust, relevant content, SEO compounds over time. You can get leads from blogs you published months or years ago.
Paid vs. Organic Search – Which is the Best Strategy for my Business?
As marketers, we need to use both paid and organic search strategies to compete in today’s digital landscape. In the case of Organic search results, generally speaking, have an evergreen presence. That means they can continue to climb up the rankings over time, assuming the information remains relevant. Paid ads, on the other hand, stop displaying as soon as you stop paying.
If you are new to digital marketing or have a lean marketing budget, choosing the right strategy may feel overwhelming. But don’t worry – we’re going to lay out the pros and cons of each so you can make the best (and most informed) decisions for your business.
It’s also important to fully understand how and where your customers are looking for solutions online (do your research!) so you don’t waste any of your budgets on tactics that might not make sense for your business. For example, if you have a very visual brand as a clothing company, Instagram ads may make sense, where that might not make sense for another type of business. Your time, and your money, is precious! And by delivering the right answers where your customer base is asking the questions can make all the difference.
Conclusion: Organic search vs paid search
Traditionally, inbound marketers have avoided paid search as we viewed it as more of an outbound method for marketing, but with Social Media Ads and tools like HubSpot Ads, it's becoming far more common for the two to work together.
Realistically, it takes three to six months to start seeing movement in search rankings and most people just don't want to wait that long. But, paid search helps you get visitors to your website today and also speeds up the process of optimizing your landing pages for higher conversions, which pays off exponentially in the long run.
And, if you are weighing the pros and cons of organic search vs paid search, sit down with your team and examine your timeline and budget.
But, if you're looking for the quickest results, paid search is better, but if you're looking for the most cost-effective results, the answer becomes less clear cut.
Generally, Organic search is more cost-effective in the long run. But, with the right tweaking to your campaign and attention to landing page optimization, paid search can be very cost-effective as well.
Take a look at your goals and don't be afraid to experiment.