The Pros and Cons of Organic Search vs. Paid Search Strategies
When it comes to executing a successful marketing strategy, there’s an ongoing tug of war between organic search and paid search.
Both methods of traffic generation have distinct advantages and can yield amazing results, but how do you know when to use one over the other? Or when to use them in tandem?
Let’s see how each of these models can provide the necessary boosts in traffic and visibility needed to compete in this era of heavy online competition, and how you can implement them in your business to achieve next-level results.
Introduction to Organic and Paid Search
SEO and PPC as traffic models are more similar than they look. Both reside on Google Search, jockeying for placement on the SERPs (search engine results pages), and both rely on keyword targeting to appear for specific search queries.
What is Organic Search?
Organic search is the section of a search engine results page that is not paid. These websites appear based on specific factors related to the user’s search, like relevance of on-page content, links pointing to the page, or overall authority of the website.
When searchers type in a query like “running shoes,” the organic search results will appear underneath the top section of carousel ads.
What is Paid Search?
Paid search is the area of a search results page that is taken up by paid advertisements. These paid search campaigns typically work on a cost-per-click basis, where the advertiser pays for the amount of clicks their ad receives.
These ads can be turned off and on with ease.
Similarities Between Organic Search and Paid Search
The goal of both strategies is to appease the user, or searcher, with the best content that answers their query.
The more people that search for a specific keyword, the higher that keyword’s search volume will be, making it more desirable and usually more competitive.
CPC (cost-per-click) is another valuable metric that articulates the commercial value of a keyword. While this is intrinsically tied to the idea of PPC, it can also be used by marketing experts to determine the commercial value of organic keywords.
A higher CPC means there are more PPC bids, which means that people are willing to spend lots of money to show up on page 1. From an SEO standpoint, these are usually terms we want to rank organically as well.
Differences Between Organic Search and Paid Search
Although they have some similarities regarding keyword targeting, organic search and paid search are very different beasts.
Paid search campaigns can only exist when the marketer is actively spending money. The second you shut off funds to a campaign, or it reaches a spending limit, it’s over. Your ads will no longer be shown in SERPs.
But as long as they are kept on, paid search campaigns can collect an impressive volume of traffic in a short amount of time.
Gaming the search engine is the #1 challenge of any search marketing pro, and we will go over the advantages of both organic and paid approaches right now.
Advantages of Organic Search
Organic search is a traffic generation process that sends Google search users to a business website, technically for free.
The word free here is relative. It just refers to the brand not having to spend ad money to get the click.
A long-term SEO campaign requires a significant amount of work, especially with a newer website. However, unlike PPC efforts, you can get a steady amount of traffic over time. When PPC campaigns are turned off so is the traffic.
Organic search success is given to brands who exhibit value and relevance in the eyes of Google. Once that perception of authority in a niche is put in place, it becomes much easier to start getting results from your SEO and content creation efforts.
SEO can also be improved through technical boosts like faster load times (page speed), high-quality backlink building, and proper use of schema markup or other meta information.
When many of these organic search techniques work together, the results can be exponential. A website can achieve sustained rankings that will lead more customers straight to them.
Here are some of the many long-term benefits of an SEO campaign.
Paid search campaigns can be useful for many business objectives, as we’ll discuss later, but once that advertising spend is depleted the traffic stops flowing. PPC is like a faucet; when it’s turned off, so are the leads.
Organic search works differently. Once a webpage starts ranking for keywords, it is likely to maintain its search presence for an extended length of time. There might be some maintenance required to keep it atop the results, but it’s nothing compared to paying for an ad campaign.
Long-term search visibility helps for brand recognition in your niche. When customers are looking for solutions, they will see your brand as a thought leader and will be likely to click on your results.
If you own the paid search and organic search areas simultaneously, well that’s even better.
Better User Experience
Successful SEO campaigns aren’t just about appeasing Google. Ultimately you should be giving your users what they want when they land on your site.
Having a positive user experience will not only lead to more conversions, it will help you rank better as well. Google rewards sites for giving users the best UX and making them want to come back time and time again.
Websites that rank organically have more relevance. This means they have high-quality content and they are targeting the most relevant keywords for users, which increases the odds of appearing in Google search for additional keywords.
As SERPs get increasingly competitive, building credibility and creating value are hugely important for any SEO campaign. In addition to well-researched blog content, a site should also consider incorporating visuals like videos, captivating images, and infographics to their existing content. Plus, they should understand the context and purpose of every page built, ensuring that the right keyword targeting is in place for optimal results.
This brand relevance should also be cultivated off-site, using tactics like link building and digital PR. These are ways to generate brand mentions and drive traffic from other sites to the business.
Fuels Content Marketing
SEO directly ties into other aspects of your marketing strategy. Content marketers look at the most lucrative SEO keyword possibilities when deciding what pages to create or even what videos to shoot for a brand.
With the immense popularity of YouTube—the 2nd highest trafficked search engine—there is a growing demand for ranking videos to get businesses in front of more eyeballs.
Evergreen Content Creation
SEO is a great way to feed a brand’s engine of evergreen content. Evergreen content is information that stays relevant and valuable to readers for long periods of time following initial publication. This type of content is geared to wide-ranging audiences regardless of seasonality or other specific factors.
It starts with keyword research. Evergreen keywords are terms that have demand year round and will continue to have demand for years to come, like “back pain relief.”
These target keywords can then be integrated into long-form website content or videos, like “The Ultimate Guide to Back Pain.”
Evergreen keywords should also be cross-referenced using Google Trends. This way you can gauge the popularity of a keyword in relation to yearly searches.
As far as organic search growth strategies, evergreen content is a surefire way to drive steady traffic over the long-term.
While there are costs involved in the initial creation and optimization of organic content, there are no continual costs.
Maintaining your organic rankings might require some occasional investment in optimizing past content, but it pales in comparison to the cost of a paid search campaign.
You can grab some valuable search real estate without having to pay “x” amount of dollars per day.
Advantages of Paid Search
There are many situations when a paid search campaign is warranted, and even preferable.
The clear advantage of paid search is immediate visibility. While an organic search campaign may take weeks or months to get a website atop the SERPs, a paid search campaign can be launched in the morning and start driving traffic within the hour.
Adjustments can be made in real time to boost campaign visibility, like raising ad budget, altering keyword targets, or changing ad copy to boost click through rates.
Paid search lets you reach the exact audience demographic you want to convert. If you are a local business, you can drill down to hyper-specific geographic locations to connect with customers in your area. If you are a Spanish-language company you can target only Spanish-language customers.
By delivering ads only to people most likely to show interest, brands are able to increase ROI. A well-optimized paid search campaign can build a perpetual pipeline of leads, especially if users are captured onto an email list.
Easy to Measure ROI
Measure ROI quickly, and with precision. Google Ads lets advertisers constantly measure key metrics like cost per acquisition, clicks, impressions, and conversions.
By attributing conversions to specific keywords utilized in each campaign, marketers are able to make smarter decisions and further improve their ROI.
In an organic search campaign, split testing can prove difficult and time-consuming. In paid search, ads can be tested across a variety of different characteristics and levels.
You can test targeting settings by running multiple ad groups that contain the same ads, or you can test the creatives themselves by split testing different text in the same ad group.
Easily test different headlines, descriptions, CTAs, or even the landing pages to get the most bang for your buck.
The immediacy of paid search results is definitely its allure.
Let’s say you are a new brand that just launched a website. While it might take several days or weeks to get your new pages indexed in Google (let alone ranking), you can launch a paid campaign to get your website in front of eyeballs on day one.
Google and Bing search campaigns are a great method of exposure for new brands, since they can bid on keywords that are actively searched for in the space. They can also gather user experience data quickly, including time on page, bounce rate, and micro or macro conversion data.
Although paid search is mostly associated with short-term traffic generation, there’s a robust long-term benefit called remarketing.
Remarketing is the collection of customer information and advertising to them in future campaigns—especially in the form of display ads on other websites.
Since this is “warm” traffic, there is a higher likelihood that they convert. Brand reinforcement is a great way to build trust with your new audience and help them find the information they need to make a purchasing decision.
There’s a great Google Ads feature called RLSA (remarketing lists for search ads) which allows advertisers to pinpoint their search campaigns based on past user behavior, i.e. whether they visited your website or viewed certain pages.
The ability to turn cold traffic to warm traffic through repeated, funnel-specific offer targeting is the key to paid search dominance.
Organic Search Strategies
There are many paths to better Google rankings, but with an ever-evolving algorithm the key lies in the strategy.
Enhance your online presence through better fundamentals. In other words, get the small things right.
Targeting the right keywords is the bedrock of any successful organic search campaign. This starts with competitive analysis.
Take a keyword research tool like Google Keyword Planner (FREE), or try a paid tool like Ahrefs or SEMrush, and see what keywords your competitors are ranking. Most importantly, see which of these keywords are driving them the most traffic.
Then have a look at each competitor’s top pages. Which pages are driving the most traffic holistically and have the most keywords ranking? This research should provide the bedrock of your site structure.
Once you’ve determined which keywords are driving the most traffic across multiple competitors in your niche, start mapping out these keywords to your pages.
When starting out with any keyword strategy, it’s good to begin with long-tail keywords and work your way up. Long-tail keywords are terms that are longer than 2 words and are typically easier to rank than short-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords will provide the necessary support for your content clusters.
Content clusters are pages or posts that act as support of other, more high-priority pages—known as hub pages. Because of Google’s increased emphasis on topical authority, these cluster pages have become more critical for boosting the topical coverage of your main topic.
Here’s an example of a content cluster where our product page is the main page to boost:
Main Page: Gardening Accessories for Sale
Supporting Page: Tips for Better Gardening
Supporting Page: How Often to Water Your Plants
Supporting Page: Advantages to Better Lawn Care
The content in our clusters can rank on its own, but the main goal is to boost our “money” page through internally linking these pieces together.
On-Page SEO Techniques
Ranking your content isn’t as simple as spamming the keyword all over the page (this technique will actually demote your rankings).
Successful on-page SEO is about producing quality content on every page, and adding value to your visitors while simultaneously targeting desired keywords.
The first rule of on-page SEO is to include your target keyword in the title tag. Title tags are the first text people see in search results for your website, so it’s vital that you make your title tag appease the SEO gods.
There’s no steadfast rule to title tags, aside from length (they can’t be longer than 65 pixels). Other than that, you want to reverse engineer what the competitors are doing and try to do it better yourself.
From there, it’s about ensuring your SEO content falls in line with your competition. Are they using specific keywords in subheaders? Do they have a unique internal linking structure?
Internal linking is a key component of on-page strategy that often goes amiss. The idea is to provide helpful, contextual links between pages in a manner that helps users. So if you’re writing a piece about “gardening tips” it would make sense to link to your gardening accessories page.
Not only does internal linking help move users from page to page, it helps the Googlebot make sense of your website structure and recognize your clusters.
URL structure is another important on-page signal. Using your target keyword within the permalink of the page, i.e. /gardening-accessories-for-sale, gives you another ranking signal.
Your content should comprehensively answer your target keyword, and a great way to ensure this is by adding frequently asked questions (FAQ) to your pages. FAQs are likely to show up in Google’s People Also Ask section of search, giving you even more SERP real estate to conquer.
Schema markup provides another layer of optimization to your pages. Schema is HTML code that provides in-depth information about your on-page content in a way that Google understands. You can articulate business details about the company as well as the content within a page itself. By providing additional information, you are helping Google rate your authority while providing better information to the end user—searchers can sometimes see information shared via schema in SERPs.
A clean site navigation helps guide users around your website. Plus, it’s a coherent way to organize your content into categories or silos.
The key is to avoid clutter. Keep from having too many top-level navigation options or you may overwhelm users and prevent them from finding the right pages.
Most modern brands will want to take advantage of multiple content channels. They might start with a blog then branch out into video marketing, infographics, or social media content.
Content marketing is the gas that fuels the SEO engine, and producing content across multiple channels helps take your organic search presence from 0 to 60.
High-Quality Backlink Building
The backlink building space has a negative connotation. For years, success was predicated on building fake websites (known as private blog networks or PBNs), and linking these to your main site in an attempt to appear natural.
Google has gotten smart, and they have made it extremely tough to create a successful PBN. Most of these websites get snuffed out and could result in a manual penalty.
Today’s futureproof link building strategy is manual outreach—connecting with website owners and publishers to offer high-quality content contributions in return for a backlink.
Although manual outreach takes a bit more time to get the links pouring in, the juice is definitely worth the squeeze. It allows the business to cultivate natural relationships with other webmasters that can prove fruitful for future brand building.
An often forgotten piece of the organic search equation is the technical side, i.e. page speed, overall website health, and mobile usability.
Mobile usability is the most critical area of optimization. Since Google made it clear they are prioritizing mobile experiences through mobile-first indexing, site owners have been working hard to clean up their mobile experience.
Paid Search Strategies
On the paid search side, things happen quickly. Once a campaign goes live it’s spending money, so adjustments need to be made faster to ensure you are getting the most bang for your buck.
That’s why the initial keyword research and bidding process is so important.
Keyword Research and Bidding
Like organic search, paid search starts with keyword research. This process is nearly a carbon copy of the competitive analysis laid out in the previous section, with the caveat that you should be focusing more closely on cost-per-click (CPC) values and considering more keyword variations to harness different levels of ad targeting—broad match, exact match, and partial match keywords.
This keyword selection will directly influence how much money you will bid for ad placements. Paid search runs like an auction where ad space is given to the highest bidder.
By selecting keywords that have the right combination of volume and lower CPC, you can ensure you are getting the most value for your money.
Ad Copy Creation
The next step is deciding what you want your ads to say. The better the ad copy the more clicks you receive and the higher your quality score goes, so choose your words wisely.
Stellar ad copy isn’t drafted overnight, it requires extensive testing across multiple ads and ad groups to see what styles your would-be customers engage with best.
Be sure your ad copy targets your prospective buyers and includes language that’s conducive to the keywords you’re bidding.
Looking for inspiration? Peruse through the page one results for the keywords and see what others are doing. If you see similarities across multiple ads, there’s a good chance that their strategy is working and you should follow suit.
Sitelinks are a valuable piece of paid search real estate you’ll want to take advantage of. These are links that go underneath your ad and look similar to the links that go underneath an organic result. These sitelinks provide additional opportunities for customers to find what they are looking for before visiting your website. Using these can increase click through rates (CTR) and improve ad quality scores.
Landing Page Optimization
Some marketers make the mistake of only focusing on the ads and neglecting their landing pages in the process.
Landing page optimization is a huge second piece of your ad funnel. It needs to be well-optimized with a compelling call to action and a conversion-friendly design. The better your page, the better your ads, which also boosts that ever-important quality score.
Landing pages come in many forms. Depending on your product offering, you may want the page to function more as a bridge page—slightly warming up your audience before making the final sell—or for more warm traffic offers you could send them directly to the lander.
Ad Targeting and Scheduling
Your ads and landing pages could be fantastic, but if you’re targeting the wrong people it won’t matter.
Ad targeting means you are placing your paid search campaigns in front of the right audiences, those who are most likely to convert. You can use Google Analytics to study particular audience insights like interests, behaviors, and demographics and see who you need to target in your campaigns.
Remarketing campaigns are an additional step advertisers can take to increase conversion rates. Remarketing campaigns target users who have previously interacted with the website or engaged with the brand in some way. Since these ads are targeting warm traffic, there’s a much higher likelihood of converting that traffic.
Many people are driven away from paid search marketing due to budget concerns. While there is certainly a need to assess spend prior to any campaign, advertisers shouldn’t be afraid to budget for testing.
Testing is the key to successful paid search campaigns, and this should start from the very beginning. Budget should be allocated for testing multiple ad groups and creatives to ensure that your campaign is spending the least money while getting the best results.
Understand your clear goals for each campaign. What are your KPIs and what is your expected return on ad spend (ROAS)? These factors will dictate how much money you will need to pour into a given campaign.
Choosing the Right Approach for a Business
No two businesses are the same. Depending on your industry, level of competition, and overall marketing budget, it could make sense to choose one search channel over the other or possibly both.
Assessing Goals and Objectives
Determine your campaign needs from the start. Are you a new brand trying to gain quick exposure? Or do you already have a presence in your market but you are trying to rank for new keyword opportunities?
Maybe you’re trying to attain synergy? This is when brands utilize paid search and organic search methods in a complementary fashion.
For a new brand, launching a paid search brand awareness campaign is the key to entering a market. Picking off competitor keywords and other popular search terms in your space will give you a leg up.
During this time you should also be putting the right organic search pieces in place. Make sure your on-page SEO is on point, utilize keywords in title tags and page headers. Incorporate internal links where appropriate and to drive traffic to and from specific pages.
Understanding Your Target Audience
Knowing where your audience resides is another huge piece of the puzzle. If you know that your customers will find the business through top of funnel terms like “how to screw in a light bulb,” you will want to emphasize content creation to rank organically.
If your target audience is more on a local level, you may want to explore becoming a Google verified business and getting a sponsored placement at the top of SERPs—mainly for local contractors and other business professionals with an office space.
You don’t need a ton of capital to run a small brand awareness paid search campaign. Simply start with a few dollars a day and scale up the winning ads. You’ll be surprised how many people you can reach with a relatively low budget.
Evaluating the Competition
Finally, take your time to research your competition. Success in both search channels is about following what’s already been done and trying to do it slightly better.
Combining Organic and Paid Search for Maximum Results
Very few times will it be just one channel that drives the bulk of success. Be sure to tinker with paid and organic search campaigns in order to find the sweet spot.
Would you like to learn more about how organic and paid search can impact your business? Look no further than Blue Laser Digital, where our team of highly skilled and experienced marketers will help you along your journey.