Paid vs. Organic Search Marketing

February 28, 2013

paid vs organic search

With 88 million tech-reliant Millennials taking their places as decision makers in households and the workforce, crafting a strong online presence is more important than ever. According to the Harvard Business Review, Millennials will account for over 50% of the workforce by next year. Already, this demographic shift, in combination with rapidly developing technology, is drastically changing the way successful companies go to market. 

Ask any member of this new generation where they go for information, and you will probably get one answer: the internet. And the number one search engine for getting answers fast? Google. With billions of searches every day, and 76.6% of the 1.5 billion unique searchers worldwide, you can be sure your target audience can be reached via Google.

Get Your Business Online

If you have a user-friendly website, good for you! Your business is probably already showing up in search results based on your current web content, and at no cost to you.

Even if you don’t have a website, you can still make sure customers can find you online by creating listings on sites like DexKnows and Yelp. Just be aware that your customer base will be relying more and more on the internet to learn about your company, and a website will better provide the information they seek, as well as helping you build their confidence in your business.

Organic is Good

If your company already appears in organic search results, you may be wondering: Why should I pay for search engine ads? This is a perfectly reasonable question. Organic search has many advantages.

However, there are important differences between paid search advertising and organic search traffic:

Organic Search Results (SEO)

  • Free
  • Can’t opt out
  • Content-driven
  • Passive, no direct control

Paid Search Advertising (SEM)

  • Paid, easily managed cost
  • Opt in or out anytime
  • Active, direct control

Let’s consider these differences in more detail. Organic search is free, and comes automatically with having a web presence. It provides exposure for your business at no cost to you, but is dependent on current customer awareness of your business and the quantity and quality of content on your website.

Another drawback with this type of passive exposure is that you don’t have direct control over your message or who sees it. Whether or not your business appears in top results, or doesn’t show up until the fourth page of results, is wholly dependent on your current content and level of web traffic.

Reasons to Pay for Search

Paid search advertising costs money, which at first may seem like a disadvantage, but these costs can easily be managed. With cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) campaigns, you spend as much or as little as you want. You can adjust your campaign budget at anytime, so if your business is going well, you can spend a little extra to drive traffic to your website and catch the attention of new customers.

Conversely, if your business is in a tight spot, you can decrease your budget or stop spending altogether. You can also specify when you advertise, so if you are having a sale this month and want to reach a larger audience, you can run a campaign focused on the sale just during this month. Or, if you offer special deals on Tuesdays, you can schedule your ads to run only on Tuesdays.

In addition to giving full control over how much you spend and how and when ads appear, paid search advertising gives you full control over your messaging and target audience. You control the text and images your audience sees, and you can direct potential customers that click your ads to specific landing pages on your website.

For example, you could direct them to your “Tuesday’s Special Deals” page instead of your website’s home page. You also have full control over who sees your ads. You can choose to advertise to everyone in the Midwest, or only to residents of Des Moines and the Quad Cities.

Combine Organic and Paid Search to Cultivate a Robust Online Presence

While organic search has the advantage of being free and can be influenced by your website content, it is limited to the number of people searching for your business or the products and services you offer. Paid search advertising allows you to reach a broader target audience which has more potential customers who may not be aware of your business, all while providing you full control over your messaging and costs.

In the rapidly changing market, both of these types of exposure are critical elements in building a strong online presence. As more tech-reliant consumers become major decision makers, your business will benefit from a strong web presence.

Remember, the internet provides small and medium-sized businesses with as much power to reach potential customers as large corporations. Be sure to use this media shit to your advantage.

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is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.