Web traffic from search engines is typically broken down into one of two different categories: organic and paid. While both of these mediums offer an effective way for webmasters to funnel traffic to their site, there are some major differences between them that shouldn’t go unnoticed. If you’re thinking about launching a marketing campaign, you should first weigh the pros and cons of both paid and search traffic to determine which one is best aligned for your professional goals and objectives.
Warning: Not All Search Listings Are The Same
When you search for a particular keyword or phrase in Google, it reveals page of relevant results. Some people assume these listings are all the same, but this page of results contains both organic and paid listings. Paid listings appear in a box at the top of the page that’s shaded in light pink, along with a vertical column off to the right-hand side of the page. Google has also added Product Listing Ads to their search results, which appear as images with a title and store name.
Organic listings appear under the shaded box of paid listings. And just as their name suggests, “organic” listings are free and don’t require any participation in Google’s Adwords program. If Google deems your site worthy of a front-page listing for a given keyword, you’ll receive organic traffic from people searching for it.
It’s oftentimes difficult for your average internet user to distinguish between paid and organic listings. If you look at the section of paid Google ads, you’ll see a small disclaimer saying “Ads related to [your keyword]” along with a tiny exclamation point that you can click on for more information. The truth is that most people are completely unaware that Google displays paid and organic listings in the same results.
Understanding Paid Search
Paid search traffic comes from pay-per-click (PPC) platforms like Google Adwords and Bing Ads. Advertisers essentially place a maximum bid they are willing to pay for a keyword or phrase. If their bid is higher than all other advertisers for the respective keyword, their ad will be displayed in the first position. It’s important to note that advertisers for most PPC platforms pay a penny more than the next closest bid. For instance, if you bid $0.60 cents for the keyword “atlanta roofing company” and the advertiser under you bid $0.40 cents, you’ll pay $0.41 cents per click.
Traffic Share Between Organic and Paid Search
Now, let’s talk about the traffic share between organic and paid search. There are dozens of studies published online which reveal traffic search engine traffic data, but nearly all of them point towards the first organic listing as receiving more traffic than the first paid listing. The margins vary depending on which study you are reading, but one such study published by Resolution Media and Kenshoo (2013) found the first organic listing to receive 60.4% of its respective keyword’s traffic, while the first paid listing received 39.6% of its respective keyword’s traffic.
An area where paid search dominates over organic, however, is highly commercialized ‘buying’ keywords. Since paid search allows advertisers to create their own ad copy, you can market products and services more easily. Paid search advertisers can craft targeted titles to encourage customers to click and buy, whereas organic listings display the site’s title and meta description.
Advantages of Organic Search
- The most obvious benefit: don’t have to pay for traffic
- Slightly higher traffic (per keyword) than paid
- Oftentimes more stable than paid search
- Improved brand awareness
- Establishes trust and confidence among customers
- Generates credibility and trust among visitors
Disadvantages of Organic Search
- Takes time, work and dedication to build strong rankings
- Making large-scale changes to your site (including design, layout, and overall function) may harm your rankings
- Google is constantly rolling out new updates to keep webmasters on their toes
Advantages of Paid Search
- Instant traffic (no waiting around for your site to rank)
- Split test multiple ads
- Ability to target and/or exclude specific keywords and phrases
- Ability to target and/or exclude specific regions
- Use different landing pages to maximize conversion rate
- Pay-per-click (PPC) models allows you to set a maximum price per click
Disadvantages of Paid Search
- Prices may fluctuate depending on the number of advertisers and current bids
- Requires frequent monitoring
- Some users may run into problems getting their paid search ads approved
- Learning curve is steep for new advertisers
Now for the million dollar question — should you focus your marketing efforts on organic or paid search traffic? If your goal is to generate conversions (whether it’s sales, leads, opt-ins, etc.), you should incorporate BOTH of these techniques into your advertising. Limiting yourself to just organic or paid search is leaving tons of untapped traffic on the table for your competitors to scoop up.