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Understanding the Difference Between Organic vs. Paid Search

Creating a content marketing strategy for your business is necessary if you want customers to find you online. But there’s a lot to consider before you dive in. As the internet becomes increasingly saturated with content, it’s essential to know how to leverage the power of organic and paid search to increase visibility and maximize ROI. 

Organic search is focused on increasing visibility through natural, unpaid techniques, whereas paid search is a form of advertising that requires a budget to reach your audience more quickly. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, depending on the type of business and the goals you are trying to accomplish. Understanding the difference between organic vs. paid search will help leverage the benefits of each strategy.

Which one is right for your business? Some companies focus on one over the other, while others utilize a combination. The most successful businesses focus on the long-term effects of organic search and the short-term bursts of paid search. Let’s look at the differences between organic and paid search and how you can use them to your advantage.

What is Search Marketing?

Search marketing is a digital marketing strategy focusing on increasing your company’s appearance on search engine result pages (SERPs). Because people use search engines multiple times a day, creating search-engine-optimized content drives traffic to your website. Someone searching for information regarding your industry will find your content in a search. It helps your company attract new people who are already interested in what you do, and good, quality content helps convert them into paying customers.

There are two types of search marketing: organic search and paid search. Organic search works by creating content that targets specific keywords your potential customers are searching for. This type of search is free and relies on the algorithm of Google or your other chosen search engine to rank your website. It primarily focuses on building a brand and creating quality content that appeals to your target audience. 

Paid search is paying to show up at the top of search rankings for specific words and phrases. Paid search results are more immediate and can be seen by a wider range of users, including those not actively looking to purchase a product or service. 

There are reasons to use both organic and paid search marketing. The key is knowing when to use each one for maximum results.

a woman's hands typing on a laptop keyboard

Understanding Organic Search

Organic search marketing is all about using search engine optimization (SEO) to make your content rank higher in SERPs. Organic search marketing works like this: You find keywords that your potential customers are searching for that don’t have a lot of competition. Then, you create valuable content around those keywords. Over time, as people continue to search for the keyword you’re targeting, your content will gain more and more traffic. 

Things to consider about organic search:

  • Cost-Effective Results. Other than the time you put into creating content or the money you pay to have someone else write it or do your SEO research, there is no other investment in SEO content. 
  • Lasting Impact. Good content can continue bringing in new search traffic for years to come. Optimized content is often called evergreen for that reason.
  • Takes Patience. It takes time for your content to show up on SERPs. So it’s not a quick-fix marketing strategy.
  • Builds Engaged Audiences Over Time. As your search traffic picks up, more potential customers will seek out your content and keep returning because they trust your company.
  • Establishes Brand Authority. As you create more content, your website will rank for more keywords related to your industry and what you do. This ranking will put you at the top of SERPs and show you’re an authority.

Disadvantages of Organic Search

The main disadvantage of organic search is that it takes time to build your visibility. Organic search relies on you consistently creating and publishing high-quality content that appeals to your target audience. If you rely solely on organic search, it can take months or even years to build up enough content to be noticed by Google. 

You also need to follow a keyword strategy which is another cost to your business. But if you’re creating an organic search campaign, you should always follow the data. The cost of the research is a disadvantage, but following a well-thought-out plan is always a good idea.

Understanding Paid Search

Paid search focuses on paid ads. These ads will place your content at the top of search results for specific phrases you choose, and you pay based on the number of clicks your ad receives. You can also create paid search campaigns for social media platforms.

With paid ads, you can target specific groups of users, including those actively searching for your product or service. This focus makes it easier to find your target audience and get them to convert. You can also watch the analytics closely and adjust your spending or targets to reach your conversion goals.

What you need to know about paid search:

  • Quick Results. You’ll see an increase in traffic quickly when you use paid search. It’s good if you need search traffic fast or immediate attention on an offer.
  • Higher Investment. Paid ads only work as long as you’re paying for them. So, the longer they’re running, the more you’re paying.
  • Limited Impact. Ads don’t continue to pay off over time and don’t work to build your brand authority like organic search marketing does.
  • Attracts Transaction Intent. The traffic that is likely to engage with your ads will be searching with purchase intent. That’s why ads are great for boosting conversions quickly. 

Disadvantages of Paid Search

Paying for your ad to be featured at the top of search engine results can be costly, depending on your keyword or industry’s competitiveness. And the amount you spend on your ad will depend on the budget you set. Not all businesses can afford to spend much on paid search, but some keywords or industries require high spending to see any actionable results.

For example, the keyword: Sell My House for Cash 

(Graphic from Semrush data)

It’s a highly competitive keyword. Nearly impossible for a newer website to rank in organic search. The cost-per-click is $41.97. Meaning every time your ad shows up for this keyword, and someone clicks it, you pay $41.97 — whether it’s a real lead or not. The competition for that ad is also fairly high. At .43 on a scale from 0-1, so those ads may run even higher than $41.97. That gets expensive fast!

Once you outgrow the free organic search results, paid search can be an excellent way to scale your marketing efforts. But keep in mind that it can be expensive. Depending on the keywords you’re targeting and the amount you’re willing to spend per click, paid search can quickly become costly. 

If you don’t have a large enough budget to sustain a consistent paid search campaign, your ads may only appear occasionally, causing them to fall off the first page rather quickly.

Another area where paid search falls short is direct lead generation. With paid search, you can only reach people actively looking for your product or service. Organic search allows you to reach users who are not actively seeking out your product but can still be valuable for your business.

Organic vs. Paid Search

Knowing the difference between organic vs. paid search and when to use each is key when creating a content marketing strategy. Choose organic or paid search based on your goals and what those methods can do for your company. 

Choosing organic or paid search is like choosing between cooking dinner in a crockpot or a microwave. One is fast and serves you immediately. The other requires upfront work and takes hours, but the results are better and serve you longer.

Before you choose organic or paid search for your next marketing campaign, here are some important things to consider.

Pay Per Click (PPC) is Best for Time-Sensitive Offers

If your company is running a sale, using paid search makes sense. You can target particular phrases that customers may search for and put the sale in the title of your ad. Customers will be more likely to click for the discount. 

Customers who are ready to buy are more likely to click on ads than other search results. Plus, predicting when your content will start appearing in search engines is difficult. So it wouldn’t make sense to create content for your sale four to six months ahead of time and hope it shows up in search results at the right time.

If you have already implemented other marketing initiatives, adding PPC is a great way to boost sales and awareness around your product or service. 

Brands who run PPC too early in the launch of their business risk wasting money. Consumers are spending more time researching brands before making purchases. If they follow your ad and find a site that lacks details, FAQs, or other helpful content, they may abandon it and find another provider. 

Organic Search is Best for Building Loyalty

Organic search marketing requires you to consistently share valuable content that helps educate your ideal customer about what you do. These customers will read your content and learn to trust your brand over time. 

A good organic search strategy requires that you build up a content library, which will help you rank at the top of more Google searches. But most of all, organic search is a long-term strategy that pays off over time. That means that the longer you focus on this strategy, the more return on your investment you’ll see. Your results will last for years, and it will be cheaper than paying for ads.

If you’re at the beginning of creating your search strategy, then this is step one. Organic search takes time to build. When executed the correct way, it’s always successful, but patience is required.

person using black and silver laptop computer
Photo by Daniel Thomas on Unsplash

Strategies to Leverage Both Options

There are a few ways to leverage both organic and paid search. The first is to use both types of marketing together. If you’re starting with your marketing efforts, you may not be able to afford a large ad budget. In this case, focusing on building your organic search presence makes sense. Once you have enough content on your website and Google has begun to rank you, you can include paid search in your marketing strategy. 

You can also use paid and organic search with other marketing efforts, such as email and influencer marketing, to expand your reach further. Marketing is multichannel. The best strategies always use multiple tactics. 

When building your campaigns, optimize your content for paid and organic search. This approach means using relevant keywords and including them within your content. Even if you’re only running organic search campaigns now, your content will be ready when you start implementing paid search.

You should also be sure that your website is optimized for mobile devices, as this is where many people are turning to find businesses and products online nowadays. We still regularly see websites that aren’t optimized for mobile. When running paid ads, it wastes money if your potential customer comes to your site, has a bad experience, and leaves. 

Key Metrics to Track for Organic and Paid Search

Once you’ve implemented your paid and organic search campaigns, track their progress. This way, you can make adjustments as you go. One of the biggest mistakes we see business owners make is not checking analytics or not checking them regularly. 

Now is the time to check. If you can’t access your Google Analytics or Google Search Console, figure it out now.

Metrics to track for paid search include: 

  • Impressions. The number of times your ad has been displayed, including both paid and organic impressions. It will let you know whether people are seeing your ads and whether you need to increase your budget to reach more people. 
  • Click-Through Rates. The number of users who have clicked on your ad, divided by the amount of impressions your ad has received. It tells you how many users have clicked on your ad, which is important for measuring the success of your paid search campaign.
  • Conversion Rates. The number of users who have visited your website after clicking on your ad, divided by the number of impressions your ad has received. It’s important for measuring the success of your paid search campaign, as it will tell you how many users have clicked your ad and then visited your website. 
  • Average Costs-Per-Click. The average amount you are spending per click on your ad.

Metrics to track for organic search include:

  • Acquisition Overview. Shows the number of visitors broken down by channel over time. It tells you which channels drive the most traffic and whether those visitors engage with your site. 
  • Bounce Rate. The percentage of visitors that leave the page (bounce away) after a specific time. You want to see if people who engage with your content stay and find it helpful or leave quickly.
  • Pages Report. Shows pages getting the most traffic on your website. It also displays metrics such as time on site and bounce rate. You can see exactly which pages are most popular and how you can optimize them further with CTAs, additional lead magnets, or rich content like a video or infographic.

( Graphic is anonymized data from Google Analytics)

It’s important to track these metrics so that you can adjust your budget if needed to keep your campaign profitable. Otherwise, you are spending money on ads and content creation without knowing the direction you need to go. 

Are You Ready to Build Your Search Marketing Strategy?

It isn’t a competition over which of these search tactics is better. Highly-successful campaigns use organic and paid search to target specific audiences. This combination strategy lets you speak to your customers where they are in the buying cycle. 

Organic vs. paid search is our thing at Content Journey. We love to nerd out about long-tail keywords and SEO content writing. The truth is organic and paid search hinge on the success of well-crafted content. Want to see how we can work together to help your customers find you online? Contact Content Journey today.

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