Organic and Paid Search Marketing – What’s the Difference?

Right now, a prospective customer is at Google looking for your products or services. There are two ways you can ensure your business shows up on the first page: invest in organic marketing or use paid marketing.

Organic marketing entails optimizing a website to rank high in the organic search results. It takes time to climb to the first page of search results but the benefits are long term.

With paid marketing, you pay to have your ads placed at the very top of the search results. The return on investment is immediate but only lasts for as long as you’re paying.

If you’re wondering whether to take the long term game and invest time in optimizing your site to rank organically or just invest money and see results right away, this article is for you. Keep reading to discover how paid and organic marketing are both similar and different and what to expect with each option.

What is Organic Search Marketing?

Also referred to as inbound marketing, organic search marketing entails employing SEO (search engine optimization) techniques to improve a website’s natural rankings in the search engine results.

Where your website ranks for a keyword query depends on the quality of your content, how relevant your content is to the search intent, the quantity and quality of backlinks pointing to your website, among other ranking factors.

What is Paid Search Marketing?

Paid search marketing is an online advertising strategy that works on a pay per click (PPC) model. Advertisers pay publishers like Google for placement at the very top of the search engine results pages (SERPs).

As an advertiser, all you have to do is bid on the keywords you want to appear for. You will then pay money whenever a person clicks on your ads.

What are the Differences Between Organic and Paid Search Marketing?


The main difference between paid and organic search marketing is what you have to do to get to the top of the SERPs.

Organic search marketing focuses on content and links. It’s all about (1) creating great content and optimizing that content to rank high in the search engines and (2) acquiring links from other topically related websites.

With paid marketing, you have to craft ads, bid on placement opportunities for targeted keywords, and then pay money for every click.

Ranking Speed

It can take weeks or months for organic marketing efforts to pay off and for your website to climb to the top of organic search results. On the positive side, your top ranking organic pages and posts will be driving traffic and leads for a long time. 

With paid search, your site appears at the top of search engine results within 24 hours. The downside is that the traffic stops when your advertising budget runs out and you stop paying.

Appearance in the SERPs

When someone types a search query, the search engines return a results page featuring two types of results: paid and organic results.

The paid search results typically appear at the top and bottom of the page while the organic search results appear in the middle of the page, after the paid results. Paid search result will have the word “Ad” next to the result.

If the results page also features elements like a featured snippet, local search pack, “People Also Ask” section, or video and image carousels, the organic results appear further down the page.

How Organic and Paid Marketing are Similar

Both Require Training To Get Started

Whether you opt to go with paid or organic marketing, you will have to invest some time and effort to learn how to execute organic techniques and create effective PPC campaigns.

Both are Keyword Focused

With both, you’ve to research what keywords to target in order to attract targeted traffic. You can use Keywords tools like the Google Keyword planner to identify what keywords to focus on.

Both Rely On High-Quality Content

No matter what type of marketing you use, content is key. You need relevant and helpful content to rank organically and enticing landing pages to convert paid traffic.

Both Provide Actionable Data

Both methods yield key insights such as where your customers come from and the top keywords they use. You can use this data to tweak your overall online marketing strategy and support other marketing channels. For example, you can use the keyword data in your social media and email marketing campaigns.

Both Require Constant Maintenance

Neither of the two digital marketing approaches is set and forget. Both strategies require constant monitoring and tweaking in order to maintain high rankings and optimize the return on investment.

Organic search requires routine upkeep. You need to continuously update and optimize your site or it will slowly fade out if the top results. On the other hand, you have to tweak your ads, pick more relevant keywords, and optimize your landing pages.

What Is More Effective: Organic or Paid Marketing?

So which online marketing strategy is more effective at delivering the desired results? Both paid and organic search marketing deliver a great return on investment.

They both generate qualified leads, increase online sales, drive in-store foot traffic, and ultimately build your business. However, there are some differences with the results each marketing method delivers. Here is what you can expect in each case:

  • 49% of marketers say that organic marketing delivers the highest ROI (Source). It drives 51 percent of website traffic and over 40 percent of revenue (Source).  
  • When it comes to click-through rates, organic results beat paid ads 65% of the time. Most people trust the organic results more and 70-80% ignore the ads results (Source). Click-through rates are especially high for prospective customers in the researching stage of the purchasing journey.
  • Paid ads, however, take the top spot when it comes to converting visitors with a high buyer intent. For customers typing in buying keywords, 65% of the clicks goes to Google Ads results (Source). These ready to buy visitors deliver a 50.6% higher conversion rate than organic search visitors.
  • While it’s true that some people are turned off by ads and more and more people are using ad blockers, paid marketing is still effective at increasing your reach and growing your brand awareness. Studies have shown that only half of searchers can distinguish paid results from organic results (Source). And even those who can identify the ads don’t mind clicking on ads as long they make it easy to find what the customer is looking for.
  • One of the reasons that companies readily  invest in paid marketing is that it delivers an impressive ROI. Paid campaigns generate an average return of $2 for every $1 invested. Even more impressive, Google Ads can result in ROI as high as $8 for every $1 spent for most businesses (Source).

When To Use Paid vs Organic Search Marketing

As you can see, these two types of marketing come with unique benefits. Which one to use depends on what goals you’re trying to achieve.

When To Use Organic Marketing:

  • Are you looking to build a sustainable source of long-term traffic? Invest time and effort in creating search engine optimized content.
  • If finances are tight and you can’t afford to pay for ads, organic marketing offers you a way to get your website and brand noticed.
  • Organic search engine optimization comes in handy when targeting customers at different stages of the sales funnel. You can create different types of content to appeal to audiences at different stages of the buying process. 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!

When To Use Paid Marketing:

  • Do you want to appear at the top of the search results right now? Paid ads can put you on the first page within a day.
  • If you’re just getting started online and haven’t yet established your domain authority, paid marketing offers a quick way to get your offerings in front of your target audience.
  • Paid marketing is the best way to capture ready-to-buy customers at the bottom of the sales funnel. It works best when targeting keywords that indicate a high intent to purchase.
  • Are you marketing a novel product unlike any other? Paid marketing is a great way to create awareness.
  • It’s also an effective way to maximize a limited and time-sensitive offer by getting it in front of as many people as possible.

Pros and Cons

As you decide which strategy to use, keep the following advantages and disadvantages in mind.

Advantages of Organic Marketing

  • The best part is that you don’t have to pay a cent. You can hire an SEO agency or purchase SEO tools like Ahrefs or SEMrush but this is optional.
  • You can create content to target your audience at every stage of the sales funnel. Blog posts and guides to capture customers in the research stage and review and case studies to convince those at the bottom of the funnel.
  • Customers trust organic search results more. Appearing at the top of organic search results makes a positive first impression and helps build your brand authority and credibility.
  • Organic marketing offers multiple ways to connect with customers and create emotional connections.
  • Organic marketing delivers the best long-term return on investment. Organic traffic is free, ongoing, and builds in momentum. Once your site gets ranked and climbs to the top of search engine results, you’ll continue reaping the benefits of a high ranking for years to come.

Disadvantages of Organic Marketing

  • It takes a lot of time and effort to research and create high-quality SEO-focused content and optimize it.
  • The turnaround time is another disadvantage of SEO tactics. It can take months or years to start seeing results
  • Search engine algorithms are ever evolving. You have to keep up with the changes and continuously optimize your site with SEO best practices in order to continue ranking high.

Advantages of Paid Marketing

  • Paid search generates instant results. If you execute your ads right, you can start getting leads and sales as soon as your ads go live.
  • Paid results have a prominent placement at the top of the SERP.
  • PPC isn’t affected by Google’s algorithm changes.
  • Not only can you place ads exactly where potential customers are already looking, you can also target you ads to the ideal customers.

Disadvantages of Paid Marketing

  • Paid search requires money upfront. You need an advertising budget to benefit from it.
  • Every click you get costs you money.
  • Your ads only appear in the search engines for as long as you’re paying. The traffic stops when your advertising budget runs out.

That’s A Wrap!

Organic and paid marketing are both similar and different. Both are effective ways to drive traffic to your website. The difference comes down to what you have to do in order to rank on the first page in the search engines and how long it takes to get there.

Paid marketing is fast, highly targeted, and doesn’t require much effort to implement. On the downside, it’s expensive and only works for as long as you’re paying.

Organic marketing is a long-term approach. Creating content and implementing SEO techniques take a lot of time and effort but the effort yields free, targeted visitors. And while it can take months for your website to climb to the first page, the traffic will keep coming for a long time.

So what option is right for your business? We recommend using the two digital marketing strategies in tandem.

Use paid search to capture visitors at the end of the sales funnel and lead them straight to your landing pages. Then use organic content marketing to attract visitors at the beginning of the sales funnel.

Keep analyzing the results of both marketing approaches and use the insights gleaned to optimize your organic content, PPC campaigns, and other marketing strategies.

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