Paid vs. Organic Search: Advantages and Drawbacks

If your business has an online presence, understanding the difference between organic and paid search, and how it can be applied to your business, is critical.

Developing an ‘SEO-approach’ to your business is not only a good idea, it’s imperative to your success!

Keep reading to get all the details on natural search vs. organic search!

According to ComScore, search engine users conducted 34.6 billion explicit core searches in April 2019. That number excluded searches without specific intent to interact with the search results. The search engine result pages (SERPs) likely provided a mix of both organic and paid rankings.

Both organic and paid (PPC) have distinct advantages and drawbacks. Knowing them will allow you to get the best return for your search marketing dollars. As you will see, combining them will often result in a better click through rate (CTR).

When creating a marketing strategy, there is often some confusion over choosing which path to take when trying to increase online visibility. There are generally two traffic generating choices: organic search marketing or paid search marketing.

When it comes to advertising, paid traffic has many benefits and can help almost any business improve their exposure and conversions. One of the many benefits of paid traffic is the fact that it’s practically instantaneous. You can set up a PPC or paid ad campaign in a matter of minutes and have it running instantly. This means you can start to receive traffic to your website on the same day. Unlike other forms of advertising out there, paid traffic offers much faster turnarounds and results.

Another benefit of paid traffic is that it allows you to target users that you never thought you’d be able to. With PPC networks offering huge 3rd party display networks your advert can be shown on literally millions on other websites. Not only does this massively increase your exposure, but it also attracts users other advertising methods would struggle to reach.

Difference between Organic Search and Paid Search

Organic Search: Organic Search results are the unpaid sections in the search engine results page that are determined based on the content’s relevance to the keyword query rather than because of Search Engine Marketing. A website can take advantage of organic search by presenting the website to Google to be filed and afterward making website pages that depend on specific keywords that the site is focusing on. A website’s organic rank does not cost any amount every month. The main expense is the time and exertion to get to that ranking.

Organic search results are the “natural” results found underneath the ads in the SERPs. They are natural in the sense that the search engine algorithm analyzing all the pages across the web felt these pages contained the most relevant information for your search.

The algorithm has decided that these websites will have the most useful information according to what you are trying to discover, which is why they rank highly for the keywords you typed in your query. The page is scanned for various things (like proper title tags, meta description, URL, keywords, awesome content, etc) and the more relevant the information, the higher the ranking.

To optimize your page in order to rank in the organic search results, you need to employ SEO (search engine optimization) techniques to make your page as desirable to search engine algorithms as possible. Some companies dish out a lot of money to specialized SEO agencies in order to rank on the first page – or the number one goal, to rank as the first organic result. However, ranking with SEO is a long term process, and often takes upwards of six months to climb the rankings.

Paid Search: Paid searches are advertisements. Search engines will show ads close by organic search results. This is the primary way search engines make a profit. Advertisements are almost consistently shown at the very top of a search result, or in a left/right sidebar. Paid search works on a pay-per-click model. Paid search is a kind of contextual advertising where site owners pay a charge to have their site shown in top search engine results page placement.

Paid search results are basically ads paid for by businesses in order to rise above the organic results in the fastest way possible. Marketers invest money into SEM (search engine marketing) in order to boost their website to (ideally) the first page when someone types an inquiry using specific keywords.

For ads showing up on Google, marketers use AdWords to craft ads and bid on placement opportunities in the auction. On the SERP, you can usually tell the paid results from the organic ones with visual clues that distinguish them. Paid results will usually appear first on the page and have a small outlined ‘Ad’ label on the lefthand side of the URL.

It’s assumed that whoever pays the most in the AdWords auction will have the best visibility, but much like the rules surrounding who ranks organically, Google has processes in place (quality score, copy rules, landing page quality, and more) to make sure that the ads that rank are still highly relevant for searchers. In both organic and paid search, Google puts user experience above all else.

In order to get a positive ROI (return on investment) with paid search, it’s important to know what you’re doing – or employ an agency that specializes in PPC. At Acquisio, we’ve developed artificially intelligent technology that helps agencies get the most value for their budget (and yours). For the non-experts among us, we also developed a smart product called Promote that works to help small businesses, and those new to PPC, see a positive ROI on their paid search efforts.

But first, it’s a good idea to start from square one and find out how paid search works. Check out our crash course in PPC for beginners to learn everything you need to know to get started:

Paid vs. Organic Search – Which Strategy is Best for my Business?

Marketers need to use both paid and organic search strategies to compete in today’s digital landscape. 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 budget on tactics that might not make sense for your business. For example, if you have a very visual brand like 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! Delivering the right answers where your customer base is asking the questions can make all the difference.

Organic Search Pros & Cons

In general, having a presence on the first page of the SERPs sends a message that you are a trusted source of information. After all, you beat out millions of other businesses for that spot! It suggests your service is one of the most widely relied upon, and there’s an automatic perception of credibility and respectability for your business.

That’s a lot of small businesses!

Pro: Authority & Credibility

When you follow SEO best practices on your website, you will naturally earn authority and rank higher on search engines. This means Google (and other search engines) considers you a reliable source of information for certain keywords, pushing your website higher up in the list on SERPs for searches containing those terms. The more authority your site has, the higher you will rank – and the higher you rank, the more authority your site earns (what I like to call the serple of life).

But even more important than that, the people doing the searching will consider your site a go-to destination for the information they need. People tend to trust organically ranked web pages more than the ads, so they click on them. When it comes to click-throughs, organic beats paid 65% of the time for desktop searches. Your optimized pages and amazing content will prove to Google and the world that you know what you’re talking about!

Pro: Cost

Although you can spend a lot of money optimizing for organic search, you don’t have to. There are a ton of free resources (make sure they are from reputable sources!) available to get you started with SEO and help your website rise above your competitors. Although it may be more time consuming (more on that later), the long-term results will be worth it.

Pro: Top of Funnel Clicks

Click-through rates are generally higher for websites that appear organically at the top of SERPs, especially when you are talking about “top of funnel” searches. A top of funnel search is the kind that doesn’t show a strong purchase intent yet (e.g. “where can I buy….” or using price-related words like “cheap” that suggest the searcher wants to shop) but rather still in the researching stage of the journey. SEO gives you an opportunity to capture these top of funnel searchers in a way you may not have been able to before. And once they are on your site, you can push them further down the funnel with your awesome content and turn them into a paying customer!

Pro: Longevity

Unlike paid search, organic search is the gift that keeps on giving. If you optimize your site and continue to implement SEO best practices in your processes, you will start to rank and continue to rank (see the serple of life, above) if the content meets Google’s requirements. Because the content has “earned” the ranking, it can stay up in the top for quite some time. And once you get those high rankings, it’s easier to hang onto them. Have you ever searched for something and noticed the article was from 2013? Although the content may be getting on in age, the search engine still thinks it’s a valuable resource for you, years after its intended reception. All that to say, the effort of creating optimized content and getting SEO right can pay off over a longer period of time.

Cons: Time & Resources

Of course, nothing in this world is truly free. Although SEO might not hit your wallet as hard as paid search might, there is still a significant amount of time and resources required to get it right. SEO is a long-game approach that takes time to craft content and implement it across your site, and it often takes months to see results.

You’re also not alone in the game – keywords can be very competitive and you might be fighting against other businesses with more time and resources to invest in creating high quality, SEO-focused content and techniques. However, if this is your business, putting the required time and effort into ranking organically is something that will certainly pay itself off, even if it takes a little longer than expected.

Paid Search Pros & Cons

What could be better than getting your message out there quickly and efficiently to people who are actively looking for what you offer? Paid search has a lot of benefits, but those benefits come at a cost (sometimes a significant one). It’s fast, fairly easy, and highly targeted – but also expensive and short lived. So what is it about paid search that has people coming back again and again?

Pro: Faster & Easier

Developing evergreen SEO content and waiting for it to climb up the Google rankings can be a slow, labor-intensive process. If you don’t have that much time, paid search can get you in front of new audiences much quicker. Without a doubt, there is no faster way to be the very first result people see when they land on an SERP than with PPC. If you follow AdWords best practices, optimize your ads, develop a great landing page, and have a competitive budget (for your industry) than you will be able to attract targeted customers who are ready to buy.

Crafting a successful PPC campaign isn’t exactly a walk in the park. But paid search efforts, in a way, are simpler to get off the ground than organic search campaigns. It certainly requires fewer resources (like a team of writers to develop long form, SEO-friendly content), but it also requires a level of expertise to manage campaigns to avoid misspending budget on unqualified traffic. Although some aspects of paid search campaigns can seem daunting, machine learning technology is making the process much easier and much more accessible for small businesses.

Pro: Targeted

Every year, audience targeting gets more sophisticated across the platforms. Although GDPR and privacy is a top concern, targeting remains an ongoing and important part of digital marketing. Google, Facebook, Instagram, Bing and others all offer targeting methods that help you specify exactly who you want to see your ads. On Facebook for example, you can target by location, age, educational level, marital status, shopping behaviors and more. This kind of granularity means that you’ll have access to people that are much more likely to click on your ad, engage with your content, and buy your product.

Pro: High Purchase Intent

Paid search gives you the opportunity to put your product or service in front of people who have a high purchase intent. When the searcher is that far down the funnel, relevant ads at the top of the fold tend to get a larger share of click-throughs (and clicks on paid search are rising). If the keywords show a desire to buy, and an ad specifically for the product or service being searched for comes up on the SERP, the searcher’s problem is solved fast. However, keyword research and testing are required to refine your campaigns so they match what people are looking for. Well thought out campaigns will result in a higher quality score (QS) and have better visibility.

Cons: Cost & Longevity

With paid search, you pay to play. Depending on the competition for the keywords you want to bid on, you may end up needing a significant budget to compete. However, the competition in every industry differs and the price of keywords varies depending on many factors (broad vs. exact match, long tail vs. short, branded vs. non-branded, etc). And while the cost may end up in the thousands of dollars for some industries, in the end what matters is your return on investment. If you spend 2K on a paid search campaign but end up making 10K back, it’s probably worth the investment! Adding machine learning to the mix also has the potential to significantly increase ROI.

Alongside this, the visibility of these campaigns and the potential for a higher ROI only lasts as long as the campaign is running – and the campaign only runs as long as you are still spending. When the well runs dry, that’s it, until more budget is allotted.

Organic Search Benefits

  • Trust and credibility: With high search engine rankings comes a perception of credibility on the part of searchers. High search rankings imply industry authority and leadership. This perception translates into more trust and a greater likelihood to click through to the site.
  • Evergreen: If the content that ranks high is evergreen, then the rankings will also have a more evergreen presence. The specific listing may rank high long after the content was created.
  • Ranking: Once you get high rankings, it’s easier to keep those rankings. You get authority status and build the trust of users and search engines.
  • Click through rates: For “top of funnel” search terms, I.e., don’t show immediate purchase intent, the click through rates are better for organic search results. That’s very important for businesses that have a longer buying cycle.
  • Inbound marketing: An organic search strategy requires marketers to develop the content assets to achieve it. This is important for higher involvement purchases. Users interact with content as they move down the purchase funnel.

Organic Search Drawbacks

  • Time: Depending on the competitiveness of the keywords involved, it may take months or years to get high rankings. Can you wait that long?
  • Resources: Getting high rankings requires both creating content and using SEO tactics to achieve it. That can be difficult, frustrating and time consuming. Either internal staff or external contractors are needed for both these functions.

Paid Search (PPC): Paid search results are advertisements. A business pays to have their ads displayed when users do a search containing specific keywords. The ads are typically displayed above and to the right of organic search results. The exact placement of the ads is determined by both a bidding process and quality score. The advantages and drawbacks of paid search are often the opposite of organic listings.

Paid Ads (PPC) Benefits

  • Time: Unlike organic search rankings that can take months or years, paid results are placed at the top of rankings as soon as you pay for ad placement.
  • Targeting: PPC campaigns can be tailored to reach specific audiences. Examples of segmentation include geo-targeting, income, age, educational level, marital status, industry, etc.
  • Click through rates: Searches using terms that denote high purchase intent such as product or brand-specific keywords will get more clicks than organic results. The advantage of paid search can clearly be seen in the Internet retailers MarketLive Performance Index data. For the year 2013 as a whole, PPC accounted for 36.5% of search traffic but an outsized 47.9% of revenue from search.

Paid Ads (PPC) Drawbacks

  • Cost: The more competitive the keyword, the more the bid price is for each click on the displayed ad. Paid search requires a level of expertise to manage these campaigns. Otherwise a lot of money will be spent to attract unqualified traffic.
  • Momentary: The ads disappear as soon as you stop paying for them.
  • Distrust: Consumers don’t always trust paid ads and often avoid them. They place more trust in organic rankings.
  • Click through rate: Except for high purchase intent searches, users will click on paid search listings at a lower rate than organic search listings. Organic listings have more credibility with search engine users. In one UK study, published by Econsultancy, only 6% of clicks were the result of paid listings. In another study, it was 10%. The important thing to remember is that click through rate varies by purchase intent. Organic rankings will get more click through rates for “top of funnel” keyword search queries.

Paid and Organic Search – a Balancing Act

While there are pros and cons to investing in paid and organic search strategies, the best strategy of them all is to find a balance between the two. It’s important to target customers at both the top and the bottom of the funnel (and everywhere in between) in order to capture more leads for your business.

By optimizing your site using SEO tactics, you ensure that your website content is showing up when people are digging through the organic results – potentially for years to come. Not forgetting about those nearing the bottom of the funnel, a strong paid search game ensures that your business is front and center for those ready to make a purchase.

If your goal is to make it easy for potential customers to find you online, then a strong marketing strategy would utilize both organic and paid search techniques. A combination will deliver the best results and have new customers discovering your business in no time!

If you’d like to learn more about these individual methods, here are a few resources that you can read through.



organic search vs paid search

Here are just a few ways you can integrate organic and paid search to drive greater success online.

Step 1. Use paid search to test organic keywords

Raising your rankings with organic keywords requires considerable effort. You need to not only develop content but also promote the content across various channels and platforms to raise its visibility. Strong SEO also requires meeting various optimization goals and using technical efforts to improve its visibility on the search engines. Before you invest your time and energy in this process, many brands find it helpful to first research and see if the keywords will bring in the desired return. Paid search can be an excellent asset for this research.

Develop a bit of content and set up paid search campaigns to test the receptiveness of the target audience. Since paid ads will have a prominent display on the SERP when they appear, you can be confident that your site will be visible for the target keyword. You can then gauge the interest of the audience based on how they respond to the ad.

If you get a lot of clicks, for example, but also a high bounce rate and few conversions from your effort, that you have a reasonable idea that your site and content might not align well with the user intent for this keyword. On the other hand, if you see an outstanding response to your site and content, then you can feel confident throwing your resources behind an organic search campaign centered around this theme. This will help you better invest your resources moving forward.

For example, if you want to increase exposure for your organic keywords that do not rank very highly, you can design a campaign like this:

  1. Bring your organic and your paid search teams together and have them set goals for this integrated campaign
  2. Focus on bringing together organic search efforts that have high search volume, but a page ranking between 4 and 10 with PPC keywords for which you generally perform well.
  3. Develop a campaign that emphasizes the exposure of both sets of keywords. On, you can use your dashboard to track traffic from your organic keywords with previously little exposure and the success of your PPC campaign.
  4. Throughout your campaign, continue to monitor how well your keywords are performing as well as the progress of your competitors. This will help alert you to new potential keywords that can be used and potential holes in your own campaigns.

Step 2. Use paid and search together to maximize your presence on the SERP

The key to both paid and organic search lies in visibility on the SERP. When you use them together, you can maximize your visibility and presence.

  • Align the language you use across your organic and paid search strategy. Keep the messaging consistent so that users recognize you between channels.
  • Leverage the two together to drive traffic towards content. Even if you achieve page one ranking for a particular valuable keyword, a paid ad on that keyword can still boost visibility, particularly since most clicks go towards the links at the top of the SERP.
  • Use PPC to drive content engagement on other channels. PPC does not only live on the search engines. It also can help on the different social platforms, driving clicks towards your content through social channels.
  • Use the two together to capitalize on user intent. Google has focused over the past few years on deciphering the user intent of people making searches. This explains why the SERP can vary widely from search to search with the number of ads, visual content, and articles that appear. As you create your organic and paid search campaigns, consider carefully the intent of of users for those keywords and create all your material to align with these needs.

Who Wins in the Battle of Paid vs. Organic Search?

It’s time to stop thinking about paid vs. organic search as a battle. Paid campaigns and organic search strategies will likely always have a place in the marketer’s playbook, and thinking of them as two competing elements is no longer the reality of the digital marketing landscape.

The future of marketing is holistic and customer-first. Your responsibility as a marketer is to get your customers and prospective customers to the incredible content you are creating. It’s not about organic vs. paid search, it’s about understanding how your customers are looking for solutions online and helping them find your content.

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. 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.

So, 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. Organic traffic vs paid traffic are the two options for promoting your website. You can choose the one that fits your needs in the best possible way.


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