Organic Search vs Paid Search: Which Is Best For You?

Over the past decade, search engine optimization has evolved from a niche skill into the cornerstone of a strong digital marketing plan. Competition is fierce for the top spots on Google search result pages. Since 95% of people never move past the first page of results when searching, you need to be highly ranked to generate clicks.

There are two ways to get your business into those coveted spots: organic SEO and paid search rankings. To better understand the digital marketing landscape, elk marketing takes a deep dive into organic search vs paid search results.

Paid vs Organic Search Results | Which Is Better?

Many businesses wonder if they should focus on organic search engine optimization or paid search results to grow their customer base. There isn’t a short, straightforward answer to this question.

While both strategies can get your business to the top of search rankings, each approach has unique strengths and weaknesses.

This common question is a bit like asking: Which is better for building, a drill and screws or a hammer and nails? Both are important parts of a well-stocked tool kit. With some understanding of woodworking, you can choose which approach is right for a specific project. The same is true of paid and SEO.

What Is the Difference Between Paid & Organic?

Before getting into the details, it helps to define organic vs paid search results.

Organic SEO Basics

Organic SEO is what most people mean when they talk about search engine optimization in a general sense. This is where your business’s web pages fall on the list when a search algorithm naturally orders its results on a search page.

Search engine algorithms change frequently, and no one is sure how they work except for the engineers who design them. Still, through proven strategies like keyword placement and backlinks, it’s possible to arrange your business’s web pages so that the algorithm ranks your business higher in search results for free.

We’ll go into the main benefits and drawbacks of organic SEO later, but generally, achieving good organic search placement takes years of consistent effort and drives noticeable growth. It also has fringe benefits, improving the public perception and credibility of your business.

Paid Search Results or Pay-Per-Click Basics

Paid search results, also called Pay-Per-Click, are a faster way to get to the top spots. Search engines will put your business in a highly visible position at the top of the page, and you pay a small fee every time someone clicks on your ad. This is a major way that search engines generate revenue.

Your result will have a small ‘Ad’ designation next to the link, so people looking closely will know it’s a paid result rather than an organic one. Google also has strict content standards for its paid results, so your page still has to be high-quality and relevant to the search query to rank well. Paid results are a quick and consistent way to increase your search ranking.

What Is the Difference Between Organic & Paid Traffic?

The point of a high search ranking is to drive traffic to your site. However, all traffic isn’t equal in terms of closing sales and ROI. The quality of traffic in organic vs paid search results is up for debate. While some claim that organic SEO traffic is “better” because of its higher volume, this isn’t true across all industries.

Many people scroll past the paid ads at the top of a search page out of habit. There are so many advertisements on the internet, skipping anything marked as an ad becomes second nature to those who are always online. According to a survey from Wordstream, paid Google ads for technology only achieved a 2.0% click-through rate, the lowest of all business categories studied.

Other consumers click on the first result without caring or noticing if it’s an ad. The chances of these click-throughs increase if the ad copy or service is emotional. Dating and travel sites had the highest click-through rate in Wordstream’s survey, at 6.05% and 4.85% respectively. The category of your business has a large impact on the effectiveness of organic vs paid search results.

After the initial click, the strength of your website plays a large role in converting views into sales. Keep your website up-to-date and loading quickly to retain eyes on your product and prevent bounce-backs (people leaving your site right away). Be sure your product information is visually appealing and easy to find.

What Is the Difference Between Organic & Paid Ads?

search engines

Organic search rankings aren’t technically ads in that you don’t pay for them directly via search engines. However, improving organic SEO is an important and potentially expensive search engine marketing effort that delivers a measurable return on investment.

Though organic SEO is often thought of as ‘free,’ in reality, there are many hidden costs behind achieving naturally high search rankings. A few of these costs include:

  • Time spent researching and testing keywords.
  • Time and skill spent writing content that fits the search algorithm’s expectations for flow, content, and grammar.
  • Posting consistently to a company blog.
  • Outsourcing SEO to an experienced agency.

How do the costs compare between organic vs paid search results? While you still have to rigorously test keywords and optimize copy with paid ads, the time and labor costs are lower because the entire process takes less time. With paid ads, you can reach higher search placements without the months or years required for organic SEO.

Paid ads are closer to a traditional advertising model, but there are some key differences. The top spots function like an auction, and businesses enter bids on specific keywords. The higher your bid, the greater your chance of ranking above competing paid ads. You pay in the form of a set rate every time someone clicks on your ad (known as a click-through).

While both avenues involve costs, remember that good search result rankings are a key part of growing any business. 70% of all online sales begin with a search, and 75% of clicks go to the top three ranked results.

How Can Organic Search vs Paid Each Help Your Business?

Depending on your specific goals, you may get better returns from organic vs. paid search results. In other cases, paid ads may achieve your goals more quickly and easily than waiting on organic SEO.

However, like a woodworker needs both a hammer and a drill, the best digital marketing strategies involve organic SEO and paid search results. Each strategy boosts your business in different ways.

Organic SEO Bolsters Your Business in the Long Term

Think of organic search rankings as the long game. It takes consistent work and savvy strategy to elbow out the competition and achieves a top search rank. Once you’re at the top, however, the benefits of organic vs paid search results justify the effort. Here are the top five reasons why:

  1. Potential customers aren’t necessarily going to scroll past your ranking because it’s marked as an ad.
  2. A high organic search position instills trust in your business before a customer clicks on the link. Customers know that Google tends to rank the most high-quality and relevant search engine results page first.
  3. Newer businesses in your category won’t be able to quickly overtake you. This is a risk factor in paid ads because of the bidding system. Organic SEO is a more stable way to stay at the top of the rankings.
  4. You won’t have to pay an advertising fee every time a customer clicks through to your website.
  5. Strategies that increase organic SEO, such as keeping an informative company blog, help engage customers and improve your company’s perception overall.  

Organic search engine optimization is an essential consideration in any digital marketing plan. Even if paid ads better align with your business’s goals, it helps to have an organic SEO strategy laid out early for long-term search ranking success.

Paid Search Results Make Sense for Many Small Businesses

Paid ads can boost your business as well. Most small businesses don’t have years to devote to slowly nurturing a high organic search ranking, making the paid option of organic vs paid search results more appealing.

With the right keywords — popular search terms without heavy-hitting competition — a paid ad can instantly put your business at the top of search pages and begin delivering results. Five reasons to consider pay-per-click search results are:

  1. Paid ads are displayed before organic ads. On mobile devices, this is especially important because the screen is smaller. Paid ads may be the only results displayed on a mobile-first page.
  2. Google gives paid ads more space to pitch your product or service.
  3. Google Analytics automatically tracks your ad spending and offers reports on the effectiveness of your paid ads.
  4. Paid ads help with brand recognition and quickly get your business’s name out there.
  5. Customers searching for a specific product who are ready to buy may be more likely to click on the first result out of convenience, which will be a paid ad.

Paid search result ads are often painted as weaker options compared to organic SEO, but don’t discount their usefulness. These quick solutions can provide good ROI while you wait on the long-term strategies of organic SEO.

How Do Paid & Unpaid SEO Strategies Compare?

organic search results

The strategies involved in effective organic vs paid search results are two very different beasts. Here are the basics of each. Note how the different methods reflect these two approaches’ separate goals.

3 Organic SEO Strategies

Entire textbooks lay out the best practices of organic SEO, but as the algorithms change, strategies must keep up with the times.

Here are three basic concepts that never go out of style. Understanding these strategies can give you insight into how Google ranks your business’s pages against others in the category.

1.  Post Informative Blog Articles

How often do you google a question for a quick answer? For most people, this is a daily occurrence. If your site provides the most highly-ranked answer, you’ve just generated organic traffic. Commonly searched questions in your business’s category are organic SEO gold.

Through consistently posting useful and informative articles that answer questions, you both establish your business’s credibility with your customer base and inch your way up the search engine algorithms. It helps if these articles aren’t overt ads for your product or service. A lack of blunt advertising copy is a major difference in strategy between organic vs paid search results.

Why? Search algorithms are designed to reflect users’ queries as accurately as possible, and most web searches are for information rather than products. Give the information people ask for consistently, and your search ranking will gradually increase. Articles become more valuable with age as they accumulate clicks.

In the past, a business could increase its search ranking with only a few informative articles, but this is no longer the case. More complicated algorithms and greater competition mean that hundreds of articles might be necessary to move the needle in many categories.

2. Practice Smart Keyword Optimization

Google algorithms are based in part on keywords, and these algorithms have gotten more sophisticated over the years. Loading a page’s text with the same keyword only gets it shunted to the bottom of the rankings. Instead, the keyword should show up in informational phrases and headings occasionally.

Some keywords associated with your business are so popular, it isn’t efficient to try to rank highly with them. A well-tailored organic SEO strategy includes keywords that your customers search frequently, but not keywords with massive competition for the top spots.

3. Use Backlinking To Strengthen Your Web Pages

A backlink is a URL from another page that directs to your website. Backlinks from a variety of different URLs strengthen your organic vs paid search results. Google interprets many different pages linking to your content as an indicator of useful, high-quality information.

A backlink strategy can set your site apart, as 66% of web pages don’t have a single backlink.

3 Paid Search Strategies

paid search

Organic SEO strategies position your business as an authority and put it on the Google algorithm’s radar. In contrast, paid searches are all about choosing the right keyword, writing the most compelling ad, and having the strongest landing page (first page of your website).

Below we highlight three key strategies for a smart paid ads approach.

1. Use Google’s Keyword Planner Wisely

Paid search ads live and die by their chosen keywords. It’s crucial to select keywords that won’t be crowded out by massive corporations such as Amazon. One advantage of paid ads is that Google is generous with keyword data for their customers. In paying for ads, you’re also paying for more information to guide your decisions on both paid and unpaid SEO keywords.

Using Google’s tools, you can select multiple keywords and assign a certain percentage of your budget to each one. Google keeps track of keyword performance and ROI, allowing you to easily adjust your strategy as you go.

2. Write a Strong, Attention-Grabbing Ad

Google assigns a quality score to each paid ad. This score is visible on your account page. The higher your ad’s quality score from 1 to 10, the more likely it is to come up higher on search results — and generally, the more effective and cost-efficient the ad.

Copywriting requirements are stricter for organic search than paid search results. First, you must follow all of Google’s guidelines for capitalization and grammar. Then, you must get creative in hooking your audience’s attention, as your click-through rate is part of your score.

Snappier hooks and stronger calls to action will raise your quality score, making your paid ads show up more often and creating a positive feedback loop.

3. Fine-Tune Your Strategy Frequently

Cultivating organic SEO is a long-term project that can be opaque and frustrating at times. Paid ads, on the other hand, are a science that you can keep on top of constantly.

Check your metrics and prune underperforming keywords or ad copy. Soon, you’ll be left with the best of the best: high-performing targeted advertisements at the top of results pages.

What Are the Unique Challenges of Organic vs Paid Search Results?

Organic SEO and paid searches each have their strengths, strategies, and challenges. Here are a few of the potential drawbacks of each.

Organic Search Challenges

The number one drawback to using organic SEO is the time involved. Even the best plans take years to come to fruition.

A study of over 2 million web pages found that 78% of pages ranked in the top ten Google search results were over 2 years old. The same study found that, out of all pages less than a year old, only 5.7% of them made it into the top ten for even a single keyword.

Organic SEO is also a high-effort and high-skill endeavor. The years of time investment come with hefty hours of strategizing and writing labor costs. The SEO space is competitive and complex, so professional guidance is a great way to give your business an edge.

Paid Search Challenges

Paid search results solve the time issue, but they’re still effort-intensive. To get the best ROI on these ads, it’s crucial to keep adjusting keywords and phrasing. Running frequent head-to-head trials with data is a must.

Paid ads can also become expensive. The bidding and ranking systems encourage competition, so costs can quickly snowball over an original budget. Over the long term, paid ads don’t provide the large ROIs of a well-implemented organic search strategy.

The competitive nature of paid ads may work against you if your business is in a crowded sphere. Some keywords are already dominated by large corporations. It can be difficult to get a foothold in paid listings without a new angle.

What Are Useful Organic vs Paid Search Results Statistics?

Paid and unpaid SEO both have impressive numbers to back up their effectiveness. Here are some of the most eye-catching statistics that highlight the importance of both strategies.

Organic Search Statistics

Hard data reasons to invest in organic SEO include:

  • Of the 5.6 billion Google searches conducted every day, 35% result in an organic search link click for the top three positions.
  • The average conversion rate of an organic search link click is 2.35%.
  • Up to 80% of people attempt to skip paid search results in favor of organic ones.
  • Organic search is estimated to comprise over 50% of all web traffic.
  • A third of people searching click on a link to answer a question they have.

Paid Search Statistics

Paid search results can also boast impressive data points. Some of them include:

  • Google estimates that every $1 of paid search results generates $2 in revenue.
  • The average conversion rate for paid search results is 3.17%.
  • 67.5% of consumers have trouble distinguishing between organic search results and paid ads.
  • 94% of Americans look up businesses on the internet.
  • Global spending on PPC ads nearly tripled from 2020 to 2021, for a total of $144 billion. That’s 54% of total ad expenditures worldwide!

The data is clear: Both paid and unpaid SEO are important parts of establishing your brand online and driving sales. A competitive marketing strategy must combine both approaches.

Which Digital Marketing Agencies Integrate Organic vs Paid Search Results?

A google search provides a quick and legible list of results, but the algorithms used to get there is anything but simple. In such a volatile and competitive landscape, it pays to have expert help in your corner.

Combining both strategies is ideal for many small and medium-sized businesses looking to establish themselves in competitive online markets. Whether you’re an authority building credibility through organic SEO or a novel startup getting the word out with paid search ads, let the pros guide you through the complexities of modern search algorithms.

At elk marketing, we’re experienced in the strengths of organic search vs paid search results. We know how to tailor both strategies to the needs of a wide variety of businesses to boost their online presence. Contact Us today to get in touch with an expert and begin your new digital marketing journey.