There are two kinds of search: organic search and paid search.

Organic search is based on unpaid, natural rankings determined by search engine algorithms, and can be optimized with various SEO practices. In contrast, paid search allows you to pay to have your website displayed on the search engine results page when someone types in specific keywords or phrases. The fee you pay is based on either clicks or views of your ads.

The questions we are often asked by our clients is “what we should be doing organic SEO or Paid.” The answer always is both but for many companies, it’s determining the amount of each they should be committed to performing based on their budget, workforce, time, and talent.

So let’s guide you through this process starting first by identifying your goals.

The advantage of organic search marketing is that organic listings are more trusted by searchers than paid listings. Most searchers are savvy enough to realize that Google has a say in what shows up in their searches, and that paid listings are more about who has the deeper pocket. Top organic positions also attract 50% more attention than top-paid positions.

The disadvantage of organic search is that it can be tricky to get top rankings if you don’t know what you are doing. Search engine optimization services base their entire businesses around raising their clients’ rankings. SEO services are highly valued by companies because a top position in Google for a competitive keyword can skyrocket leads and sales. These companies improve their clients’ rankings via proper search engine optimization. Search engine optimization is the act of optimizing a website to be more search engine friendly and increasing its perceived importance in the eyes of a search engine. Google uses complex ranking algorithms to determine which websites will be listed nearest to the top of the page. If your website isn’t properly optimized, you could be losing out.

Paid Search
The obvious disadvantage of paid search marketing is that you have to pay for it. Paid search marketing is also commonly referred to as pay per click (PPC) marketing. The rate you are charged per click varies upon your market and your preferred ranking. A company paying $0.30/click will likely not rank above a company paying $0.40/click (there are some exceptions but for simplicity’s sake, this holds true).

The advantage of paying per click is that you have complete control over which terms your website will be listed under– in real-time. This is especially useful when you aren’t sure about which keywords yield the highest returns. Using PPC management tools, you can easily determine which keywords are working best for your website.

The right choice for your website depends on your particular needs and desires. Most websites benefit most from utilizing a combination of these two approaches. Using PPC marketing can help you quickly identify your best-performing keywords while implementing a longer-term SEO strategy will increase your chances of ranking well in the organic listings.

Your Goals

The objectives you have for your Web site will influence your search strategy.

For example, if your main goal is to drive high volumes of traffic to your site, then organic search might be the most cost-efficient option, as you have to pay each time someone clicks on a paid search ad.

However, if your goal is to drive specific action on the site, you might benefit from the direct response nature of paid search. In paid search, you control which keywords you bid on, what appears in your listing, and which page you drive traffic to. You have a greater ability to influence user action than with organic search.

In addition, paid search enables flexibility you don’t necessarily have with organic. If you find certain keywords or content aren’t converting, it’s harder and slower to effect changes to your Web site than it is to adjust your paid search campaign.

Your Industry

Are you in a highly regulated industry that provides strict guidelines about direct-to-consumer advertising (e.g., pharmaceutical industry)? In such cases, paid search may pose some challenges and force you to be more inventive to ensure regulatory guidelines are met. Organic search isn’t paid media, so it isn’t considered advertising and the same rules (in theory) wouldn’t apply. That means you may be able to get your brand in front of consumers in a more meaningful way through organic listings than through paid listings.

If you’re in a highly competitive industry or category, investing all of your resources in organic search likely isn’t the best approach. For example, in the travel, gaming, or health information categories, it’s often extremely difficult to get anywhere near the top of the organic results for competitive keywords. Therefore, paid search may be your only option if you want to have visibility in the results.

Also, remember that you’re at the search engines’ mercy with organic search. Therefore, if you have a seasonal product or offering and your key time of year is quickly approaching, a paid search may be the quick win you’re looking for to capture prospect leads.

The advantage of paid search is that once you develop the campaign, it can be launched right away and your listings will start showing immediately. Search engines can take weeks to re-index your content, and it may take months for you to see a perceptible difference in your rankings (if any).

I hope these few considerations will help you determine the best approach for your search marketing program. Whatever you choose, always make sure you have a strong measurement program in place to evaluate campaign effectiveness and make the case for future investment.

Kip Russell