Striking the Optimal Balance: Paid vs. Organic Search for More Clicks & Sales

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Striking the Optimal Balance: Paid vs. Organic Search for More Clicks & Sales
14 September 2023
The choice between organic vs. paid search strategies can be a real head-scratcher. After all, both these methods aim to do the same thing: increase your website's visibility on search engines, leading to more traffic and sales. The interesting part is that they go about attracting your potential customers in completely different ways. Which option should you go for? Let’s figure it out together!

20min.

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Table of contents

First, let’s break down what we mean by “paid” and “organic” traffic – don’t worry, I’ll keep it simple.

Paid traffic involves investing in advertisements. You pay to have your website appear at the top of search engine results or on other websites. Think of it as renting a prime spot in a mall to attract shoppers. You’ll see immediate results and can control who sees your ads, but it comes at a cost.

On the other hand, organic traffic is like word-of-mouth marketing. It’s the traffic that finds your website naturally through search engines, social media, or referrals from other websites. It takes time to build up but can be more sustainable and cost-effective in the long run.

So, is one better than the other? 🤔

Well, let me tell you something – neither strategy is a one-size-fits-all solution. Both help you increase website traffic but work differently. That’s why going for paid or organic search traffic generally depends on 3 things:

  • your unique business goals,
  • who your target audience is, and
  • the budget you have currently at your disposal.

That’s probably not the answer you were hoping for, right?

No worries, by the time you finish reading this piece, you will have a clear understanding of the differences between paid search and organic search. It will be easier for you to comprehend which one of these two web traffic sources is more beneficial for your brand.

So, let’s see about your specific situation and figure out which approach aligns best with your current business needs and objectives. First, paid search.

Understanding Paid Search

Paid search refers to a way of promoting your online business where you – as the name suggests – pay for your ads to appear in front of potential customers. Interestingly, according to Search Engine Land and the survey they did, 75% of online shoppers said that search ads make it easier to find the information they’re looking for.

Furthermore, the statistics provided in Clutch’s reports are also quite remarkable. According to their findings, 33% of individuals click on paid search ads when these ads directly address their search queries. Another compelling insight is that 26% of people click on paid search ads simply because they recognize the brand mentioned.

With such promising data in mind, it’s clear that paid search advertising can yield significant results, can’t it? So, what types of paid search do you have at your disposal?

With pay-per-click (PPC) advertising you only pay when someone clicks on your ad. It’s like paying a small fee each time a potential customer visits your online store.

  •  Example #1: Google Ads You create an ad for your online shoe store. You only pay when someone clicks on your ad after searching for “running shoes,” and they land on your website.
  •  Example #2: Bing Ads Similar to Google Ads, but on the Bing search engine.

Display ads are like digital billboards on websites and apps. They help you reach a broader audience visually, like putting up a big sign on a busy street to catch people’s attention.

  • Example #1: Banner Ads Imagine your online bookstore’s banner ad appearing on popular book review websites, promoting your latest bestsellers.
  • Example #2: Video Ads You create a short video ad for your cooking utensil store, and it plays before cooking tutorial videos on YouTube.

Social media ads appear on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or X (Twitter). They’re like promoting your business at a lively party, where you can target specific groups of people based on their interests.

  • Example #1: Facebook Ads You target your handmade jewelry ads to users who have expressed interest in jewelry and crafts.
  • Example #2: Instagram Sponsored Posts You pay to have a fashion influencer post a picture wearing your clothing brand, reaching their followers.

Affiliate marketing is like having partners promote your products for you. You pay them a commission only when their efforts result in a sale, similar to a salesperson earning a commission for every item they sell in a store.

  • Example #1: Blogger collaboration A popular food blogger promotes your gourmet food products on their blog. They earn a commission for every sale generated from their referral.
  • Example #2: Coupon code partnerships You partner with a coupon website, and they promote exclusive discounts for your electronics store. They receive a percentage of each sale made using their coupon codes.

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Advantages of Paid Search for an Online Business Owner

The first huge plus of paid search is the immediate results it brings. It can’t be denied that paid search campaigns provide super quick outcomes. When you launch Google ads, for example, you start attracting potential customers to your website almost instantly, making it ideal for promoting time-sensitive offers or responding to market trends swiftly.

With paid search, you have the power to pinpoint your target audience precisely, which is another massive plus to mention. This means your ads are seen by people who are actively searching for products or services like yours, increasing the likelihood of conversion.

Paid search not only drives traffic but also boosts brand visibility. Even if your target audience doesn’t click on your ad, seeing your business name and offerings can leave a lasting impression, helping to establish your brand in the minds of potential customers.

And finally, when choosing paid search, online business owners like you have full control over their ad spend and scheduling. You can set daily or campaign budgets, adjust bids, and pause or resume ads at your discretion, ensuring that you stay within your budget and reach your audience at the right times.

Disadvantages of Paid Search for an Online Business Owner

Paid search advertising, while effective in many ways, comes with some disadvantages.

The first potential downside? The costs can escalate over time. Sadly, paid search campaigns can quickly become expensive, especially if you’re targeting competitive keywords or bidding on popular ad placements. You should know that the cost-per-click model can drain your budget faster than anticipated, making it a less cost-effective option for those with limited financial resources.

Moreover, paid search is not always sustainable in the long term. Relying solely on paid advertising can lead to vulnerability when market conditions change or competition increases. That’s why it’s so important to have a diversified marketing strategy that includes organic search and other channels to maintain long-term growth.

And finally, paid search is connected with the risk of ad fatigue. Over time, your target audience may become irritated by or desensitized to your paid ads. This can result in diminishing returns as your potential customers start ignoring or even actively blocking your advertisements. Constantly refreshing ad content is necessary to handle this ad fatigue. Sadly, it’s often time-consuming and resource-intensive.

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Understanding Organic Search

Organic search is the art and science of getting your website to show up at the top of search engine results naturally, without having to pay for each click. It’s the digital equivalent of word-of-mouth marketing, where your content and website’s relevance work together to attract visitors, build trust, and drive ever-flowing, cost-effective traffic.

And you definitely want to aim for those top organic positions because, according to SEJ, the first five organic results on search engines grab an impressive 70% of all clicks 😲 – that’s more than two-thirds of the total!

graph showing that the first 5 organic results grab 70% of all clicks

source: Search Engine Journal

So how do you actually climb the search results ladder? 🤔

There are two things that you can do. The first one is, obviously, search engine optimization. SEO involves optimizing your website’s structure, content, and overall online presence to match what search engines like Google are looking for. When you get SEO right, your website starts attracting more organic traffic, bringing in visitors who are actively looking for what you offer.

  • Example #1: Keyword optimization Let’s say you run an online boutique selling handmade jewelry. You decide to optimize your website for the keyword “handcrafted gemstone necklaces.” You strategically put this keyword into your product descriptions, meta titles, and headings. As a result, when someone searches for “handcrafted gemstone necklaces” on Google, your website appears on the first page of search results, driving organic traffic of interested shoppers to your online store.
  • Example #2: Mobile-friendly design You operate a local bakery and realize that many of your customers search for “best local bakeries” on their smartphones. To improve your SEO, ensure your website is mobile-friendly and loads quickly on mobile devices. Google rewards this user-friendly experience by ranking your bakery higher in local search results. As a result, more people in your area discover your bakery when searching on their mobile phones, leading to increased foot traffic and orders.

Also, high-quality, relevant, and valuable content is another source of organic traffic. Not only does it keep your audience engaged but also helps search engines recognize your authority in your industry. Interestingly, content marketing isn’t just about creating content for the sake of it – it’s more about crafting content that answers questions, solves problems, and resonates with your target audience.

  • Example #1: Educational blog posts Suppose you run a fitness equipment e-commerce store. You create a series of blog posts on topics like “10 Effective Home Workouts” and “Choosing the Right Treadmill for Your Home Gym.” These informative articles offer valuable advice to your target audience. As people search for fitness-related information, they stumble upon your blog posts. Your content not only educates them but also establishes your brand as an authority in the fitness industry, leading to increased website visits and potential sales.
  • Example #2: Engaging video tutorials Imagine you manage a cooking supplies online store. You create engaging video tutorials demonstrating how to use various kitchen gadgets and cook delicious recipes. These videos are shared on your website and social media channels. As users search for cooking tips and product reviews, they discover your videos. Your informative and entertaining content not only keeps them engaged but also drives organic traffic to your website, where they can explore and purchase your kitchen products.

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Advantages of Organic Search for an Online Business Owner

One of the best things about organic search results is that they aren’t dependent on ongoing advertising spend. Result? Your online presence remains sustainable over time.

Another great benefit of organic search is the trust and credibility that it helps you build among your target audience. High rankings in organic search results are seen as endorsements by search engines, establishing trust and credibility with potential customers. In fact, 63% of users perceive the top results on the search results page as established or recognizable brands.

Even though SEO requires an initial investment, organic search ultimately becomes your cost-effective traffic source. This happens simply because the better your website is optimized for search engines, the less reliance you can place on paid advertising.

And finally, as your website’s authority grows, organic traffic tends to grow bigger as well. This provides you with a consistent flow of visitors that can steadily increase your sales.

Disadvantages of Organic Search for an Online Business Owner

Organic search also comes with some disadvantages, and the most notable one is the time it requires to bring you the desired results. Achieving high organic search rankings is a gradual and rather lengthy process. It often takes several months to make a website likable for search engines. This long waiting period can be a deal-breaker for entrepreneurs seeking immediate returns.

Moreover, maintaining a strong organic search presence demands ongoing effort. This means you need to continuously handle things like content creation and staying up-to-date with best SEO practices. Once you stop doing this, you shouldn’t be surprised to see a decline in your website’s visibility.

Last, but definitely not least, search engine algorithms are constantly changing. Those regular updates of algorithms can significantly impact a website’s search visibility, potentially causing sudden drops in organic traffic and rankings that are beyond the business owner’s control. Naturally, there are some ways around it like creating valuable content that the target audience appreciates and enjoys, as well as following only white hat SEO practices. Yet, sometimes algorithm changes may cause havoc on your website.

Organic vs. Paid Search: Striking the Right Balance

Maybe instead of choosing between organic and paid search, it would be better for your online business to just find the sweet middle spot, balancing those two approaches. Let’s see if that’s the option for you.

To make the right decision, you need to…

Understand Your Goals 🎯

First, think if your goals are short-term or long-term.

Organic search often serves long-term goals, such as building sustainable visibility and credibility over time. In contrast, paid search can provide quicker results and is better suited for short-term objectives, like boosting sales during a specific promotion – e.g. Black Friday, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day – or a new product launch.

Second, think if you aim for brand awareness or conversions.

Organic search is excellent for enhancing brand awareness and trust, as high-ranking, non-paid listings are seen as more authoritative. Paid search, on the other hand, is highly effective at driving conversions, as it targets users with a higher intent to purchase.

When that’s set, we can move on to…

Your Budget 💰

This aspect is pretty crucial and helps you determine which path should you follow.

If you count on achieving immediate results, then it’s better to go for a paid search. Keep in mind, however, that paid search campaigns require a clear budget for ad spend. Allocate funds to paid search when you need quick results, such as increasing sales during peak seasons or promoting time-sensitive offers.

However, if you’re more into long-term growth, then obviously organic search should be your go-to. As you already know, organic search may not bring you immediate results, but allocating a budget for content creation, SEO optimization, and link-building is a must if you care about building sustainable visibility and credibility.

‘While talking about money, what about ROI for both strategies?’, you may ask. And that would be a great question! Here’s your answer.

  • Paid Search ROI Measuring the return on investment for paid search is relatively straightforward. You can track conversions, sales, and ad spending directly to assess the effectiveness of your campaigns. Ensure that your paid search budget aligns with the expected Google Ads ROI for short-term goals.
  • Organic Search ROI Evaluating the ROI for organic search requires a more extended timeframe. Track metrics like organic traffic growth, keyword rankings, and conversion rates over time to gauge the effectiveness of your organic efforts. While it may take longer to see results, the ROI can be substantial in the long run as organic traffic compounds.

Now, that the issue of money has been discussed, let’s focus on your target audience and how both types of search affect it.

Audience Engagement 🤝

The general rule says that you use paid traffic for initial engagement whereas organic search for retention. How is that?

Imagine you’ve launched a new line of sustainable skincare products. Running targeted Facebook and Instagram ads can help you quickly reach a broader audience, can’t it? Paid campaigns enable you to grab the attention of potential customers who may not have discovered your brand otherwise, leading them to your website to explore your products.

Now let’s talk about retention. Let’s say a visitor clicked on one of your paid ads and landed on your skincare blog. They found valuable information about skincare routines and signed up for your newsletter. Regularly sending them organic, informative content via email, such as skincare tips and product updates, keeps them engaged and informed. Over time, this can lead to repeated purchases and brand loyalty.

What I want to say is that high-quality content, SEO optimization, and email marketing can help nurture relationships with your existing audience. These methods build trust and keep customers coming back for more, enhancing customer loyalty.

There is one more thing that helps you decide which option is better for you: organic or paid search. Think of your audience behavior analysis as a friendly compass that steers your engagement strategies in the right direction.

Suppose you’ve been running a paid advertising campaign for a few months. By closely monitoring metrics like click-through rates, you notice that one particular ad variation is driving significantly more clicks than others. You decide to put more budget into this high-performing ad and refine the messaging further.

On the organic side, you discover that a blog post about “Eco-friendly Packaging” is consistently getting organic traffic. You decide to create more content related to sustainable practices in your industry, knowing it resonates with your audience.

Conclusion: Paid vs. Organic Search

In the end, it’s all about finding the right balance between organic and paid search that suits your business, right? To help you wrap things up, see the table “Organic vs. paid search” provided below.

Organic SearchPaid Search
CostLower upfront cost. Long-term investment.Immediate cost. Ongoing ad spend.
TimelineSlower to see results. Long-term strategy.Quick results. Suitable for short-term goals.
CredibilityBuilds trust and credibility over time.Immediate visibility but may lack trust.
SustainabilityLong-term sustainability & compounding effect.Relies on continuous ad spending for visibility.
ControlLimited control over rankings, SEO-dependent.Full control over ad placement and targeting.
Audience targetingBroad audience reach based on content.Precise audience targeting with keywords.
CostBudget allocation for content creation & SEO.Budget allocation for ad campaigns.
ROIROI takes time to materialize but is long-term.Immediate ROI measurement but short-term.

⚠️ Just remember, when it comes to organic vs. paid search, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here.

Our advice? Try the blend. Combine the long-term benefits of organic search with the quick wins of paid search. Tweak and refine as you go along.

Always keep testing, analyzing, and adapting your approach to your unique business needs. Just keep experimenting with what works best for you.

And if you ever need assistance, support, or expert insights, our SEO / SEM Agency is here to be your trusted guide, ready to help you strike the right balance between organic search and paid search.

Author
Gosia Chłopicka Marketing Delante
Author
Gosia Chłopicka

Copywriter

She has been working in marketing as a translator, copywriter, and content creator since 2015. Also a trained English teacher, she knows how to make complex ideas easy for anyone to grasp. In her spare time, she enjoys being active and captures moments at weddings and sports events through photography.

Author
Gosia Chłopicka Marketing Delante
Author
Gosia Chłopicka

Copywriter

She has been working in marketing as a translator, copywriter, and content creator since 2015. Also a trained English teacher, she knows how to make complex ideas easy for anyone to grasp. In her spare time, she enjoys being active and captures moments at weddings and sports events through photography.

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