Organic Search vs Paid Search—Should You Pay For Traffic?
Paid search strategy experts detail how these two SEM strategies form a crucial alliance. Here’s what you need to know.
If Google Ads had its way, you’d opt to pay for traffic until you were blue in the face [honestly, no thanks]. But you don’t need to waste your marketing budget bidding on every keyword in your niche to get more high-quality traffic. There’s an easier way to think about using organic search and paid search to boost your online presence instead.
To work out exactly when you need organic search vs paid search, we picked the brains of two paid search analysis experts and got to the bottom of when buying traffic makes sense. Be sure to read from top to bottom because they have plenty of insightful advice for anyone trying to attract and convert new web traffic.
Organic Search vs Paid Search: What’s the Difference?
While both search engine marketing tactics can drive traffic to your site, there are some noteworthy differences.
Paid search traffic is akin to calling a ride-share service to help you run an errand. It’s fast, easy, efficient—and costly.
Investing in organic traffic is like buying your own car—it demands more patience, but you won’t need to pay for a ride whenever you need to go somewhere. Yet even car owners still call for a ride on occasion.
As such, even businesses with a competitive SEO strategy may also benefit from a well-designed paid search strategy.
Paid search is when you purchase ads to drive traffic to your website.
Paid search is a data-driven marketing tool that allows you to place paid ads on search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. When someone searches for a keyword or phrase you’ve targeted, your ad appears either above organic listings [or sometimes below—more on that later].
In other words, paid search allows users to “rent” their way to the front page of search engine results pages [SERPs], while organic search positions are more like “owned” digital real estate.
Paid traffic achieves snappier results [and valuable data] over a shorter period.
When performed with technical and data-driven precision, paid search can quickly attract high-quality leads like moths to the flame. But, according to Jeff Bowles, Vice President of Media & Marketing Technology At Hey, paid search offers more than just a quick bump in traffic.
“Paid search is a great foundation for all your other marketing,” Jeff points out. “One of the main advantages is seeing what works and what doesn’t.”
For example, you can test descriptions and headlines in paid search and then use the highest performing ones in social ads and landing page copy.
Optimizing paid search analytics also offers you a chance to monitor the performance of each stage of your sales funnel, giving you a bird’s eye view of your entire marketing campaign. That way, you can identify underperforming ads and tweak your advertising strategy without wasting time (or money).
“There’s an adage in the industry: 50% of marketing works, we just don’t know which 50%. But when you monitor paid search performance in Google Analytics vigilantly, you can ultimately track everything back from the conversion,” explains Colin Carson, a digital marketing strategist based in Seattle, WA.
Organic search [SEO] is when you earn traffic the hard way.
On the other hand, building an organic search strategy [search engine optimization, or SEO] allows you to earn your way to the top of search engines over time. It’s like the Olympics of organic result rankings—the page with the highest-performing content wins.
But the difference between the two goes beyond your budget—here are some other key differences between organic search ranking and paid search.
Organic ranking [SEO] builds domain authority and attracts a steadier flow of visitors.
Organic search performance can indicate the overall quality of a user’s online experience when they visit your site. The more users you attract and keep with original content [which you can measure by looking for a low bounce rate], the more Google will recognize that your website offers helpful content to querent.
The best part? You don’t have to pay a cent to keep your earned position as long as users keep clicking on and engaging with your content. Over time, a solid organic strategy helps your website build authority to make ranking for competitive keywords in your niche even easier.
Organic Search vs Paid Search: Which Is More Important For Your Website?
Trick question! Versus is the wrong way to think about the relationship between organic and paid search. The two are better together, so instead, you need to think in terms of and. The two strategies form an alliance—they harmonize.
“The two play off of each other,” Jeff explains.
“Using paid search, you’re sending paid traffic to your site, which helps organic, and in turn, the organic helps your paid search. Organic is more of a long-term marketing strategy, and successful organic SEO helps ensure your paid search ad appears in the top four ads at the top of the page.”
So don’t get it twisted—you should always be working to improve your organic search traffic by adding fresh content and optimizing your pages for SEO. Even if you pay for ads.
When Should You Use Paid Search?
You may not need to pay per click with organic search, but you will pay with something even more valuable—time.
New content can take months, sometimes years, to outperform existing content in your niche. Plus, knowing which search terms you need to target is a challenge—especially if you’re not a technical paid search expert who knows how to track key analytics.
And good luck keeping up with the whims of the Google search engine algorithm, which changes an estimated 500 – 600 times per year. At best, that means the same SEO strategies you used last year might not work anymore.
At worst, using old hacks [like keyword stuffing] could wind up tanking your overall search engine ranking and traffic.
“With organic, you don’t exactly know what you need to optimize, and Google always changes its algorithm. But with paid search, you type in the words you want to optimize for, and the algorithm does the rest for you,” Jeff explains.
Just look at data points like click-through rate [CTR] and cost-per-click [CPC] to tell you which keywords are trending in your industry.
How Does Paid Pay Per Click [PPC] Work?
Anyone can create PPC Advertising through a Google Ads search campaign, which charges users by the number of clicks they get. There are essentially two ways this can turn out for businesses—either they got a conversion from the paid click, or not.
A tale of two ads: what happens when someone clicks your paid search ad?
Your dream customer sits down to search for a product or service you offer. Voila—your business appears on the first page of the search results because they typed a keyword that your ad targeted.
Intrigued by your witty header and enticing description, the user clicks on your page. You’ll pay a fee for that click based on your agreed-upon bid [of course, more competitive keywords require higher bids] and hope for the best. From here, things can end one of two ways.
Ideally, your efforts to purchase the attention of ready-to-buy users pay off. The user is awed by what they see and persuaded to hand over their email address, submit a form, or purchase a product.
Or, the user decides to bounce from your site, leaving you with no return on the investment you made to snag that coveted click. The next time someone makes a similar search, your paid search ad may even appear further down the page.
How Does Google Ads Determine Where Your Paid Search Ad Appears on the Page?
Where you show up on the search results page comes down to your ad rank. Your ad rank is determined by a combination of factors, including:
Your Bid Price
Estimates suggest that the average cost per click [CPC] is between $1 – $2. Be sure to create custom budgets in advance for your monthly ad spend—you need to know where to draw the line to get a decent average return on investment. Your average ROI should make the bid prices worth the investment.
Your Quality Score [Ranked 1-10]
This is where tailored ad copy and optimized landing pages can make or break your success with paid search ads. Strong organic SEO is favored when it comes to your quality score. Is your ad targeted on a granular level to target specific audiences? Is your funnel optimized from top to bottom?
Any Ad Extensions
Google Ads offers unique features to improve your ad’s likelihood of getting clicks. Maximize the quality of the user experience with manual extensions like Sitelinks, Callout Extensions, and Featured Snippets.
User Search Intent
Finally, you have to take into consideration what people expect to find when they make a query. For example, if a user does a transactional search for women’s shoes and clicks an ad that takes them to an informational article [say, “A Fascinating and Thorough History of Women’s Shoes”], they’re going to bounce. So double-check that your ad fulfills the purpose of the search for which it appears.
Does Increasing Your Keyword Bid Guarantee Your Ad Gets the Top Spot in Search Results?
Even if you’re willing to pay the highest bid for a keyword, it doesn’t guarantee you’ll get the best position on the page. You need to make sure that what users find on the other end of your ad makes sense for their query.
“If you send people to a page that isn’t applicable, it hurts your quality score, and the user isn’t going to convert. So not only do you have to think about what keywords, but also the user experience,” Colin points out.
“That’s where we pull a lot of Google Analytics data.” Jeff adds, “We want to make sure they have as much relevant content on that page as they need, but not fluff. So we’re looking at paid search analytics like how much time they spend on the page and whether they convert.”
5 Paid Search Strategy Optimization Tips From The Experts
1. Analyze your CTR to make sure you’re targeting relevant keywords.
One of the most important aspects of a successful paid search campaign is ad relevance. Your ads must be relevant to your target keywords and products or services. If your ads are irrelevant, people are less likely to click on them, and you’ll waste money on clicks that don’t convert.
If you bid on irrelevant keywords, you’ll likely see a low click-through rate [CTR] and high CPC [cost-per-click], which will hurt your campaign. Aim for the industry standard 3% – 5% CTR to keep yourself on track.
2. Mine paid search data to keep your finger on the pulse of your entire funnel.
Paid search analytics offers you a chance to monitor the performance of each stage of your sales funnel, giving you a bird’s eye view of your entire marketing campaign.
“Paid search is a great foundation for all your other marketing,” Jeff explains. “You can test descriptions and headlines in paid search and then use them in social ads and landing page copy to appeal to your most high-intent audience.”
3. Update negative keywords throughout your campaign.
Negative keywords are keywords for which you don’t want your ad to appear because they’re irrelevant. For example, if you’re a clothing brand selling women’s clothes, you might want to add “men” as a negative keyword so that your ad doesn’t appear when someone searches for “men’s clothing.” Monitor your negative keywords throughout the campaign and update them regularly for the best results.
4. Think critically about your funnel from top to bottom.
Paid search is at the very bottom of a marketing funnel, but you can’t rely on it alone to make your sales funnel a success.
“You have to think about your paid media strategy as part of the funnel—you can’t just focus on paid search, or you won’t see the results you want,” Colin warns.
“Leverage display ads, native ads, and social media, too. One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen is that people will neglect some of the other channels, but you need a full-funnel approach.”
5. Consider letting a pro manage your Google Analytics and Google Ads.
This is the tip that really separates the amateurs from the pros. Set yourself up for success by avoiding the easiest mistake of all—not correctly setting up your Google Analytics account for success.
“From a technical perspective, how you set up campaigns and add groups is super important,” Jeff explains.
“We’re in the platforms all day, every day, proactively setting things up. And a lot of times when we take over accounts for clients, organizational structure like tagging needs to be updated. By ensuring Google Analytics is connected with Google Ads, you can track specific conversions and see what’s working in your campaign.”
Ready To Nail Your Next Paid Search Campaign?
Let’s be honest—if you’re not staying abreast of the upgrades to Google Ads, your campaign will suffer. It takes continuous monitoring and ensuring you’re up to date on Google Ads’ rolling features to make your campaign a success.
At Hey, we know how to create brands that thrive in a connected world. We’re a group of content creators, technophiles and digital media experts fueled by the power of creativity to make meaningful connections online.
Our experts bring audiences and brands together every day through paid search campaigns. Contact us today to talk about how we can help you exceed expectations for your next paid search campaign and help your brand thrive in the digital age.