Organic vs. Paid Search Marketing — Which Should I Choose?

According to recent statistics, nearly 70% of consumers’ online journeys begin with a visit to a search engine. And considering this data, it’s abundantly clear: For any brand with an online presence, efforts to achieve high search engine results page (SERP) rankings are critical to gaining more online exposure among consumers.

But which of the two leading ways to land high in the SERP rankings — organic search marketing and paid search marketing — is the best choice for your brand? The short answer is that the ideal option depends on your situation and your goals, and from a big-picture perspective, a healthy mix of the two is your best bet. But each offers its own distinct advantages, which could make one or the other the better option for your circumstances.

Read on to learn more about each of these two strong ways to get your brand to appear higher in the search rankings, along with some guidelines on when it’s best to optimize and when it’s best to pay for added website traffic.

What is organic search marketing?

Organic search marketing is when your brand employs tactics known as search engine optimization (SEO) that naturally raise its rankings with the search engines. Because search engines rank the webpage results they provide largely based on the candidate pages’ relevance to the searcher’s query, the majority of organic search marketing revolves around the use and placement of keywords. Those keywords appear in places ranging from your webpage titles and tags to your meta descriptions, URLs, landing pages and blog articles.

While organic search marketing offers a huge upside in that it can deliver free-of-charge traffic to your brand’s website, it can require a substantial investment to implement and maintain, and simply doesn’t happen overnight — rather, it’s very much a long-term tactic. Even with heavy investments of time and effort, SEO tactics can take six months or longer to begin producing top-page SERP rankings, and they must be properly maintained after that to remain effective.

What are the advantages/disadvantages of organic search marketing?

Some of the pros of organic search marketing include:

  • Website traffic delivered at no per-visit cost
  • Can deliver high levels of ROI
  • Establishes brand authority and credibility
  • Attracts highly relevant users
  • Delivers actionable user data

And some of the cons of organic search marketing include:

  • Takes a long time to produce results
  • High-level skills and expertise required for implementation/execution
  • Requires constant upkeep, as search engine algorithms and relevant keywords are always changing

When is organic search marketing a good choice?

The ideal scenarios for employing organic search marketing tactics include:

  • When your marketing budget is tight and time is readily available
  • When you’re looking to elevate brand authority and credibility
  • When you’re seeking to achieve high levels of ROI over the long term
  • When you’re focused on reaching consumers at each different stage of the marketing funnel

What is paid search engine marketing?

With paid search engine marketing — also known as pay-per-click or PPC advertising — your brand effectively pays the search engine provider for immediate and prominent visibility on its search engine results page. As with organic search marketing, paid search marketing also puts a heavy focus on keywords — but in this case, your brand bids on keywords used by consumers in their searches. When your brand has placed the winning bid for a relevant keyword, your ad and website link will appear at the top of the consumer’s search engine results page, above the organic search results in the “sponsored” SERP section.

The results delivered by paid search marketing are nearly instant, with little work or preparation required to move your brand to the top of the search engine results page beyond choosing your keyword(s) and building your (usually text-based) ad. And while the web traffic that paid search marketing delivers can come at an extremely budget-friendly price depending on the popularity of the keywords chosen, it always carries a cost — as opposed to the free-of-charge nature of organic search marketing.

What are the advantages/disadvantages of paid search engine marketing?

Some of the pros of paid search engine marketing include:

  • Produces instant, often budget-friendly results
  • Can deliver high levels of ROI
  • Can offer keyword insights for SEO purposes
  • Attracts users who are often ready to buy
  • Delivers actionable user data

And some of the cons of paid search engine marketing include:

  • PPC advertising always carries a cost and can get expensive
  • Brings higher customer acquisition costs than SEO
  • PPC ad and campaign tactics need to be updated regularly

When is paid search engine marketing a good choice?

The ideal scenarios for employing paid search engine marketing tactics include:

  • When you need immediate results
  • When your offering is an all-new one and/or carries substantial differentiators that make it stand out from the competition
  • When you’re seeking to direct consumers to a campaign-specific landing page
  • When your offer is time-sensitive, such as when promoting sales or special events

Organic search marketing and paid search engine marketing each have their advantages and disadvantages, as well as scenarios in which each serves as an especially strong tactic. But for most brands seeking to achieve digital-marketing success over the long haul, achieving a well-balanced mix of the two is an ideal strategic objective. When executed well, the two can work hand-in-hand to get your brand and messaging in front of potential customers at just the right time — when they’re looking for offerings like yours via web searches.

Could the help of a team of professional marketers with extensive organic and paid search marketing experience bring benefits for your brand? At Brandon, we can cover all the bases, whether you’re seeking SEO assistance, help with content marketing, guidance for your paid social media efforts or digital media & targeting expertise. Further, our fully integrated marketing firm can assist in a range of other business-boosting areas, including web design, brand strategy, creative, interactive, social media, analytics and conversion rate optimization, just to name a few. To get started with help ranging from a simple website analysis to a comprehensive strategy tailored to boost the performance of all of your marketing campaigns, contact us today.


Nick McNeill

Interactive Director

Nick uses his talents in computer science and graphic design to grow the online presence of brands such as Santee Cooper, Southern Tide, frogg toggs, Farmers Telephone Cooperative and Blue Force Gear. A serial marathon runner, his steely determination shines through every brand he grows. As lead user interface designer of the GuestDesk software suite for online hotel reservations, he watched it explode from $1 million in reservations to over $400 million annually.

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