Paid Vs. Organic Search: What’s the Difference and Why Does It Matter?

The Difference Between Paid and Organic Search

In a nutshell, paid search results are just that — paid advertisements. To pop up in the paid search results, you must pay Google to display your web pages for certain keywords. Organic search results, on the other hand, are the result of search engine optimization efforts. Organic search results are often more relevant to the user’s query and are therefore more likely to get selected over paid search results.

Users can tell the difference between organic and paid results by their position or appearance. Google will either place advertisements to the right of organic search results or, if not, give them a shaded background, border or other visual cues.

Why These Differences Matter

Though Google does accept money for paid advertisements, it values organic search traffic far more than it does paid traffic. Some evidence of this is as follows:

  • Google directs the majority of search traffic to organic results, as they are usually the most trusted sources for searchers.
  • The search engine giant is very particular about the sites it ranks in the top results, so those that do pop up in the top 10 generally contain high-quality content.
  • Though it takes sites a while to move up in the rankings, once a site achieves a top spot, it is likely to maintain that spot for a while.
  • Sites that make it to the first page are 92% more likely to receive traffic than those that show up on subsequent pages.
  • 33% of users click the very first organic listing in the search results.

The only downfall to organic search is that it takes time to achieve a top spot, especially in today’s competitive online landscape. Because of this, many marketers today try to “beat the system” with paid search, which does effectively skyrocket their sites to the top of the search results. The pitfall of doing this, however, is that those marketers have to pay every time a user clicks on one of their links. If a link proves to be irrelevant, and if the user navigates from the site almost immediately, the marketer not only loses money on the click but also, the site’s bounce rate may increase. A high bounce rate is bad for organic rankings.

Another pitfall of using paid search is that the results are often unsustainable. Unless an ad is highly targeted and yields significant conversions, once a marketer stops paying for the ad, the site falls back into the abyss of Google search results.

Paid or Search: Which Should You Choose?

If you’re just starting out or are in desperate need of traffic, it may not hurt to invest in paid search. However, to ensure it yields a substantial ROI, the ad needs to be highly targeted, and you should continually test it to ensure you’re not throwing away money (and hurting your organic rankings in the process). That said, even if you pay for traffic, you should focus on SEO as well, as website optimization produces sustainable results.