Many entrepreneurs believe they have to choose between paid search vs organic search. Yet few consider if they should invest in both PPC (paid search) and SEO (organic search). Not only is this a big mistake, but it’s also a way to leave money on the table.
On average, Google handles around 3.5 billion searches per day, and over 90% of online experiences start with a search engine. So, if you want to attract a steady stream of new clients, your business needs to be displayed at the top of the results.
And while we can all agree on that, many small business owners are confused about whether they need a strategy for organic search or paid search, or even strategies for both.
After coaching clients for years, we believe it’s not a matter of paid search vs organic search strategies but having a marketing plan that includes both channels.
Organic search (SEO) overview
If you don’t know what organic search or search engine optimization (SEO) is, the below will clarify how these marketing strategies can help you get your business found online by potential customers.
What does organic search mean?
When you type a query into Google or Bing, they display a set of results. The top few are usually adverts, which we’ll come to later. Following the adverts are 8 to 10 results selected by the search engine as the best answer to the search query.
We can optimize pages on a website to display higher up these results. We call this process SEO.
Depending on the query, you might see some additional information before the organic results. Known as Knowledge panels, they show information about people, places, organizations, and things.
Knowledge panels are part of organic search. So, we can optimize our page for them.
How much does it cost?
SEO isn’t a dark art or expensive. But it does require a specific skill set. And like other skills, if you’re willing to learn, you can develop them for yourself.
Getting your business’s website SEO optimized takes time, so there’s a cost involved. Search engines also require time to find new or updated pages and show them in the results.
Does it work?
Yes! If you’re reading this article, you likely found it using a search engine. Many business owners wrongly believe SEO is like other marketing channels and instantly works after a cash injection. It doesn’t. The fact is, SEO takes time, effort, and skill for it to work.
Benefits of organic search
There are plenty of reasons to invest in SEO and boost your organic search performance. Here are just a few things to consider.
It doesn’t cost much to start SEO optimizing a website. You don’t need countless SEO tools or a degree, just some basic skills you can easily learn. Of course, I’d assert that optimizing a website isn’t simple or a task you do once.
It’s an ongoing process that requires constant tweaking, testing, and learning. That said, unlike other marketing channels that can cost thousands just to get your foot in the door, SEO is highly affordable.
Delivers an impressive ROI
For such a low-cost marketing strategy, SEO delivers an impressive return on investment (ROI). It can beat the ROI of PPC, adverts in a local newspaper or magazine, and more. Some might argue it is just as profitable as building a referral network, only without the hard work!
I can trace my love of SEO back to a few people. The main one is Neil Patel, who I still recommend people read. At the core of Neil’s SEO strategy is creating content that answers every possible SEO question.
When I owned an E-commerce jewelry store and started to get interested in digital marketing, I would Google the basics (things such as “how to do SEO like Amazon?” and “are internal links important?”) and the person who always appeared near the top? Neil!
By appearing organically for so many basic SEO questions means Neil is viewed as an authority on digital marketing. And if it works for Neil, you can bet it will work for you and your business.
Attracts new customers
I think of a well-executed SEO strategy as a salesperson who works 24/7 with no holidays or sick days! By investing in SEO, you can drive highly targeted prospects to your business that are easy to convert.
Provides actionable data
To effectively market your business, you need to speak exactly how your customer does. Keyword research tools can help you find how your audience talks and their issues. You can then use this data to optimize your website and marketing campaigns.
As I spend more time in business, the more I want to guarantee results. Legendary marketer, Dan Kennedy once illustrated this as shooting fish in a barrow. You want the largest fish in the small possible bucket and the biggest gun!
What I mean is that SEO can help you with product development as you can build out service and product pages before you create them and see if there is demand. If there’s enough demand, you’ll know you can build a profitable product or service.
Supports other marketing channels
With a comprehensive marketing plan, you should see a compounding effect. SEO will support your PR, social media, and other marketing channels. They work in concert together, ensuring you have an impact on your target market.
Downsides of organic search
Like other marketing strategies, there are downsides to SEO that might make it not worth the investment for your business. Here are some downsides of organic search.
Requires routine upkeep
In some industries, getting your website to the top of organic search is fiercely competitive. It’s not a set-and-forget marketing channel. SEO is very much like gardening (sorry!). If you don’t put in regular effort, your website will vanish from the first page of the search results or a new competitor will capture the top spot.
Both paid and organic search marketing strategies require ongoing work and maintenance. As the old saying goes, you snooze, you lose!
Takes time to deliver results
SEO doesn’t magically kick in overnight. Instead, it takes time, money, and effort to make it work. Anyone who promises you quick results should be avoided! That is unless they can explain in very simple terms what key mistakes you’re making that are holding you back from ranking.
With all of my coaching clients, I tell them upfront, it might take 6 months to start seeing good results from their SEO efforts. It could take 9 or 12 months.
Requires SEO knowledge
Sadly, you can’t read a blog post or two and become an SEO pro overnight. Like other marketing disciplines, it takes years to master SEO and requires much reading, research, and trial and error. Even after 8 years of doing SEO, I still make mistakes, I keep learning and testing new ideas to ensure my skills are sharp.
Paid search overview
If you’re new to paid search or Pay Per Click (PPC), the below will clear up how these marketing strategies can help you get your business found online by potential customers.
What does paid search mean?
As the name suggests, paid search means a business or person is willing to spend money to appear at the top of the results. Known as Pay Per Click or PPC for short, the advertiser is only charged when someone clicks on the advert.
Where do paid search results display?
After typing your query into Google or Bing, the first few results you see will be paid adverts. Typically these adverts are text only, unless you search for a product, where you’ll see an image of the item with the price.
How much does it cost?
As you’re paying per click, you could be spending as little as 10 pence (or 10 cents), but you could spend £20 each time someone clicks on your advert.
The cost depends on the industry and how competitive or lucrative your product is. For example, car hire, expect to pay around £5 per click. Your local guitar teacher might pay 20 pence per click. So it ranges massively depending on a range of factors.
Does it work?
When I ran an online jewelry shop, my primary method of driving traffic was paid shopping adverts. They were very profitable. But PPC is like a tap. The moment you turn it off, the water stops. So you need to keep feeding the beast for it to continue producing results.
Benefits of paid search
There are plenty of reasons to spend money on paid search. Here are just a few things to consider.
Works with any budget
The beauty of PPC is that most businesses can start with as little as £5 or £10 per day. Of course, you can spend thousands per day. You can ramp up your spending depending on the season and pull back when your business goes quiet.
Generates instant results
As you’re paying to appear at the top of the search results page, you can make sales within hours or days of starting your campaign. It’s the complete opposite of SEO in this regard.
Collect keyword data for SEO
If you’re struggling to know what keyword to target with your SEO efforts, you can run adverts and see what keywords convert the best. From there, you can create a page or pages that target these high converting keywords.
Delivers an impressive ROI
As you’re paying for each click, you can tweak your campaign to ensure your budget goes as far as possible. You can also ensure that every penny you spend drives new customers to your business. So the ROI is impressive, especially as you can scale your campaign with ease.
Supports other marketing channels
Part of building a comprehensive marketing plan is understanding how different channels work together to create a compounding effect. PPC will support your SEO, social media, and other marketing channels. They all work together to effectively reach your target market.
Downsides of paid search
Like other marketing strategies, paid search does have a few downsides. So, you’ll want to weigh up if the investment is worth it. Here are some of the downsides of paid search.
Costs money upfront
Many wrongly see SEO as a free marketing strategy that only requires time. Of course, your time has a cost. They compare this “free” strategy to PPC, which costs cold hard cash upfront.
Paid search does have a cost from the start, and you can easily blow your budget in a day. A hidden cost of PPC is the initial testing. It takes time, effort, and money to test different strategies and advert copy before you see results.
Demands constant maintenance
Unlike SEO which takes a few weeks for changes to take place, every tiny change you make to your PPC campaign has an instant impact. You can dramatically improve your results with a few tweaks each week or month. So, you should be constantly refining campaigns.
As anyone can start paying for adverts, the competitive landscape can change in a heartbeat. So, you must actively manage your campaigns and watch for subtle changes.
Provides short-term results
So long as you’re willing to pay, you’ll get results. But stop running paid adverts, and you’ll see your site’s traffic massively drop. If you’re operating in a highly competitive market, a new advertisement could double your cost overnight.
Requires PPC knowledge
Many years ago as a PPC novice, I wasted plenty of money playing with paid search. While I have no regrets, there is a steep learning curve and always room to test.
My best advice is either start small and test like crazy or hire an agency that can manage your account for you and learn what they do by watching and asking questions.
Paid search vs Organic search: Which is better?
If you’re just starting to market your business online, I’d advise you to start with paid search to get some instant traffic. But, I’d continually test different keywords, ad copy, and strategies.
PPC should provide a few quick wins and drive some early sales. At the same time, I’ll build out a keyword plan and start creating SEO-optimized content, knowing that it will take a few months for it to start ranking.
Within 6 months, the plan would be to slowly reduce the amount spent on PPC as SEO should pick up the slack and start performing well. I’d still run paid search adverts and introduce remarketing into the mix.
Remarketing works by adding a cookie to your visitor’s browser. When they next visit a website running Google AdSense, they’ll see an advert for your website that should encourage them back to you. It’s highly effective and typically costs less than PPC.
Hopefully, you can see it’s not a matter of picking between paid search vs organic search but understanding how they work together to best market your business.
How to use organic and paid search to your advantage!
By using both paid and organic search marketing, you can ensure you reach your prospects. You’ll want to avoid falling into the trap of picking either paid search vs organic search and embrace both.
Both SEO and PPC are complex marketing channels that require years of study and testing to learn. You can’t read a blog post and master them overnight.
If you don’t have the time to invest in learning and managing the marketing of your website, hire an agency, but set and agree on KPIs before handing over any cash. Doing so will ensure your results align with your expectations.
Again, it’s not a choice between paid search vs organic search. Instead, it’s a matter of understanding how you can utilize both to reach your prospects and convert them into buyers.
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