Organic v. Paid Search: What’s the Difference & Which Should You Use?

organic search vs paid search SEO scale 9Sail

You’ve probably heard a lot of talk about SEO and the value it brings for driving customers to your website. There are two main categories that use SEO: Organic search and paid search—but what’s the difference?

Organic traffic

Organic Search Engine Optimization on black board on blue background 9Sail Fairfield NJOrganic traffic “travels” to your website without you having to pay for it. When you incorporate SEO (search engine optimization) into your web copy, these keywords and key phrases help rank your page higher on search engine results pages (SERP).

Some of its benefits include:

  • Attracting human (not bot) traffic: Incorporating organic SEO into your website increases the chances of attracting people, not automated crawlers—which never convert into paying customers.
  • Permanent ranking: When you don’t have regular promotions that create a steady pipeline of people to your website, you can lose ranking. BUT if you use organic search techniques you’ll remain evergreen and your competitors will find it difficult to surpass you.
  • A reliable source of market share: It’s a rare customer who doesn’t research a product before making a purchase. Creating a reliable, online presence keeps people coming back and blunts your competitors’ edge.
  • Symbiotic relationship with Google: When your website includes valuable information for which people are searching, Google is happy. Using organic SEO raises your website’s Google ranking.
  • Stronger conversion rates: Optimizing content improves ranking and increases the likelihood that your page will appear on page one of a search—so more people will see your website and visit. Higher conversion rates result from more website traffic.
  • Cost effectiveness: Organic content doesn’t require a huge investment, just SEO savvy that includes using long tail keywords, creating quality content, and blogging.

Visitors find your website simply by searching for niche keywords using a search engine like Google. The easiest way to boost your page in organic search results is to publish a regular blog and update your website content regularly. But that’s only one of several strategies.


Increase organic traffic to your website

Building organic search traffic takes a significant investment of time and effort. Why is it a better long-term solution than using paid platforms? Because once you stop paying for those ads, what keeps traffic coming to your site? Organic searches, when done well, become self-sustaining, and that’s not an ROI you’ll (often) get from paid traffic. Here’s how to start:

  1. Write strong content. The written word holds a lot of power, and you want to present your website, business, services or products in the best way possible. Check out this resource for good suggestions. Remember: Great quality content ranks higher, which drives more organic search traffic, which results in more conversions.
  2. Use long-tail key phrases. These phrases use less popular keywords that have less search volume, less competition for which to rank, and tend to more closely resemble what someone might type in the search bar. The results from long-tail keywords are highly relevant and usually yield a higher conversion rate.
  3. Write consistently. Update blogs at least once a week, but the more the better—search engines look favorably on sites that are updated regularly. Plus, if people know you’re providing new information, ideas, or resources, they’ll come back more frequently.
  4. Blog for traffic, not SEO. Don’t just create a post chock-full of keywords strung together that make little sense. Consider guest blogging for other websites within your niche, and then promote those posts on your website, too. Don’t neglect Facebook or LinkedIn, which offer many opportunities to interact with current and potential customers. Check your posts regularly and respond to comments.

For more suggestions, especially if you’re new to this game, check out these 19 actionable SEO tips to increase organic search traffic.

Paid search

Econsultancy defines paid search as “Marketing you advertise within the sponsored listings of a search engine or partner site by paying either each time your ad is clicked (pay-per-click/PPC) or less commonly, when your ad is displayed (cost-per-impression/CPM).” The cost per click ranges from 50 cents to several dollars, depending on factors and the search engine’s algorithms.

So, what’s CPM? Your company appears on a search engine results page (SERP) and you pay the search engine (like Google) for every 1,000 times your ad appears on that page. It’s great for companies looking to raise their brand awareness.

And what’s CPC (cost-per-click)? It works similarly to a CPM, but you pay the search engine for each individual user’s click on your ad. It’s a strategy that works well for sales.


Why you should use paid search

To increase the chance of click-throughs, your company website should appear within the top five results on SERP. Using PPC is the fastest way to get one of those coveted spots. It’s also easier to track add ROI using SEM (search engine marketing) and easier to test campaigns and verify their effectiveness. Additionally,

  1. You can maintain your reputation because search engines look at quality scores (measures of your keywords’ relevance to ad text and customer searches). Customers can trust that your company is relevant to their search.
  2. Generally, people who see and click on paid ads are looking for a specific product or service and they’re ready to buy.
  3. You benefit from paid real-time search analytics that give you good demographic information on people clicking on your advertisements, including
    1. Location
    2. Time spent on your website
    3. Pages visited on your website
    4. Type of device used to browse your website (mobile, tablet, laptop)  

Paid search marketing does get a bit more involved, so for a more specific guideline to the dos and don’ts if you decide to incorporate this strategy into your marketing toolbox, check out this resource.


Popular paid advertising platforms

Several popular platforms are listed below, but if you’re getting ready to dive into digital advertising and not sure where to start, check out this guide from G2 Crowd, which breaks down the options available.

Google AdWords: Offering PPC and CPM advertising, site-targeted banners, texts, and rich media ads, it shows your ads on the Google Search Network and the Google Display Network.

Yahoo Bing: This rival to AdWords incorporates Yahoo, Bing, and syndicated partners that include Facebook, Amazon, and Monster, and in the US, the network accounts for about 29% of online searches.

LinkedIn: About 18% of marketers use LinkedIn, making it the third-most popular paid content platform. It offers sponsored updates, text and image ads, and sponsored inMail.

Facebook: Social Media Examiner says that Facebook is the most popular paid content promotion platform; it’s used by 84% of B2B marketers regularly.

Twitter: More than 65% of US companies have and use their Twitter accounts and 74% of customers follow companies on Twitter. It also works on a CPC basis.

For a more specific comparison between these platforms, read Paid Content Promotion, which is a great resource.


Regardless of which strategy you choose, remember that effective SEO increases brand awareness and market outreach through organic and paid searches.

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