Organic Search vs Paid Search: A Detailed Comparison for Driving Website Traffic

It’s time to stop thinking about paid vs. organic search as a battle. In todays digital landscape, marketers should employ both paid and organic search strategies that inform each other. Table of Contents

Every marketer has an opinion when it comes to the efficacy of paid vs. organic search marketing. Each has advantages: paid search can get you in front of new audiences quickly, while organic search is vastly preferred by customers and draws in the lion’s share of clicks.

While most companies invest in both, marketers have to make daily decisions about where they invest their resources and time. So where should you focus?

The answer: focus on organic search, and then use those insights to improve your paid strategy.

Organic search data is a deep dive into how your customers behave when they are looking for answers, solutions, products, services, and more. Those insights into what your customers need should form the backbone of a strong holistic marketing strategy that includes both organic and paid tactics.

Getting website traffic is crucial for any business looking to generate leads and sales online. But with so many options available, it can be tough to know where to focus your efforts. Two of the most common tactics used today are organic search and paid search. But what’s the difference, and which one is right for your business?

In this post, we’ll compare organic and paid search side-by-side so you can make an informed decision on the best SEO and PPC strategies to implement.

What is Organic Search?

Organic search refers to the unpaid, natural listings you see when you do a search on Google or other search engines These rankings are earned through search engine optimization (SEO).

SEO is the process of optimizing your website and content so the search engines determine your pages are relevant and useful for search queries. The better optimized your site is, the higher it will rank in the organic search results.

Some key organic search factors include

  • On-page SEO (title tags, meta descriptions, headers, content, etc.)
  • Off-page SEO (backlinks, social shares, branded searches, etc.)
  • Mobile optimization
  • Site speed
  • Domain authority

Organic search takes patience and effort to see results. But the payoff is earning long-term, relatively stable rankings that send targeted visitors to your site over time.

What is Paid Search?

Paid search refers to search engine ads you can buy to get instant rankings when certain keywords are searched. The most popular paid search platform is Google Ads (formerly called Google AdWords).

With Google Ads, you bid on keywords relevant to your business. When someone searches for that term, your ad may show at the top or side of the search results. You only pay when someone clicks your ad.

Paid search enables you to:

  • Get instant rankings for both short-tail and highly competitive keywords
  • Display ads across Google’s search network (including YouTube)
  • Target your ads by demographics, interests, location, and more
  • Track conversions and optimize your campaigns for ROI

The downside is paid search relies on a continual ad budget to maintain those coveted rankings. Turn off the ads, and the traffic will stop almost instantly.

Key Differences Between Organic and Paid Search

Now that we’ve defined both organic and paid search, let’s look at some of the main differences:

Ranking Factors

  • Organic search relies on actual website optimization and content. Rankings improve by making your site more relevant, user-friendly, and authoritative.

  • Paid search relies on how much you’re willing to pay for clicks and your ad quality score. The more you bid and the more relevant your ads are, the better they will rank.


  • Organic search costs nothing directly. You invest time and effort to improve SEO. The only monetary cost is an SEO expert or tools if you outsource.

  • Paid search has direct costs in the form of your ad bids and budget. The more you spend, the more clicks/exposure you will get.


  • Organic results appear in the main center of SERPs and look like regular listings. Position depends on search ranking.

  • Paid ads typically display at top and side of SERPs with an “Ad” label. Position depends on bid amount.

Traffic Volume

  • Organic search tends to provide lower visitor numbers but highly targeted visitors. Great for long-term growth.

  • Paid search can drive lots of traffic quickly to new/undiscovered sites. Ideal for short-term leads and sales.

Traffic Quality

  • Organic visitors have sought you out, so they have high buying intent (up to 2x paid search). Great for conversions.

  • Paid visitors clicks your ad, so buying intent varies. Need to nurture leads or risk low conversions.

User Trust

  • Organic results are perceived as more authoritative so users trust them more.

  • Paid ads are seen as promotional. Users are more skeptical to click and convert.


  • Organic competition depends on niche and keywords targeted. Can still compete with quality SEO.

  • Paid competition is intense for high-value keywords. Budget size gives advantage.

Results Timeframe

  • Organic search can take months to see significant rankings improvements from SEO efforts.

  • Paid search provides instant results as soon as your ads are approved and you set a budget.

Ongoing Effort

  • Organic rankings require ongoing SEO work to maintain positions and fend off competitors.

  • Paid ads require ongoing budget funding and bid adjustments to maintain ad positions.

Landing Experience

  • Organic landing pages should match the user’s query and intent as closely as possible.

  • Paid landing pages can vary based on your campaign goals, like lead gen or sales.

When Should You Use Organic vs Paid Search?

Now that you know the pros and cons of organic and paid search, when should you use each?

When organic search is ideal:

  • Your #1 goal is long-term, sustainable growth
  • You sell high-ticket products/services
  • You want to build authority and trust
  • You have the resources to invest in SEO long-term

When paid search is ideal:

  • You need website traffic and sales immediately
  • You sell low-cost products/services
  • You want to test products, offers, or keywords before investing in SEO
  • You have limited time and resources and need fast growth

For many businesses, the best approach is to utilize both. Use paid search to generate short-term results while SEO improves your organic presence over time. The two strategies can work synergistically to drive growth.

Tips for Optimizing Organic and Paid Search Efforts

Here are some top tips to get the most out of both your organic and paid search efforts:

Organic Search Tips

  • Research competitor websites using SEMrush or Ahrefs to see why they rank and opportunities to outrank them

  • Focus on creating high-quality, in-depth content that targets relevant topics and long-tail keywords

  • Get other reputable sites to link back to your content to build authority

  • Use search analytics to identify your most popular organic keywords and double down on optimizing for them

  • Leverage social media to promote your new content and drive external shares

  • Start link building by guest posting on authority sites related to your niche

  • Check your site speed, mobile optimization, and technical SEO for any issues dragging down rankings

Paid Search Tips

  • Set specific campaign goals and start with small budget until you optimize for conversions

  • Use negative keywords to reduce irrelevant traffic that won’t convert

  • A/B test different ad copies, landing pages, and call-to-action to improve CTR

  • Segment your ad groups tightly around product lines, services, etc. to increase relevancy

  • Enable remarketing in your ads to target previous site visitors

  • Review search term reports frequently and add in-demand keywords with low costs

  • Use quality score tips to improve your ads’ relevance and decrease bid costs

The Best Approach is Combining Organic and Paid Search

As you can see from this organic vs paid search comparison, both have unique advantages. Like many marketing channels, the best results come from combining efforts for maximum impact.

Start with paid search to get immediate traffic while you work on improving organic rankings through SEO. Then reduce paid efforts over time as organic growth picks up. Reinvest some paid budget into SEO reinforcements too.

This unified approach enables you to capitalize on the unique benefits of both. Paid pulls in short-term leads while SEO grows long-term authority. Together, they provide compounded growth.

Just avoid thinking of them as competing priorities. SEO and PPC complement each other when executed properly. Keep this comparison in mind, and you’ll be equipped to drive website traffic, leads, and sales through strategic organic and paid search.

What has been your experience using organic or paid search? Which tactics have you found most effective? Let us know in the comments below!

organic search vs paid search

What is Paid Search?

Paid search results are advertisements on that appear on search engine results page (SERP). As is true for organic search, relevancy is still the major factor determining whether or not an advertisement shows up on the SERP, but an advertiser with a less relevant ad can pay to get their results on the top of the page over a more relevant advertiser who is paying less than them. In the PPC advertising model, advertisers generally bid on keywords and pay for each click their ad earns.

What is Organic Search?

Organic search (also known as “natural search”) is any search query result on a search engineSearch Engine A search engine is a website through which users can search internet content.Learn more results page (SERP) that is earned rather than paid for. Organic results appear on a SERP in an order determined by their relevancy: how closely the content of the result matches with the users’ search query. There are also other SEO organic ranking factors that influence the page you content appears on.

How search works: paid vs. organic search traffic – SEO tutorial

What is the difference between organic and paid search results?

You can see your ad at the top of Google, Bing or Yahoo!, whereas it can take a lot longer with the organic results. Paid search results are always at the top and there will be a couple at the bottom. They top and tail the organic, while organic is in the middle and less attractive. It’s less above the fold.

What is an organic search?

An organic search is when a user types a keyword into a search engine and finds natural results below the paid results at the top of the page. The website results below the paid results are natural in that the search engine algorithm found the pages and choose them for containing the most relevant information to your search.

Is organic search better than paid search?

Paid search offers immediate results and precise targeting, making it an excellent option for businesses with time-sensitive promotions and a larger budget. Organic search, on the other hand, delivers long-term benefits and is cost-effective, making it an excellent option for businesses looking to increase their visibility over the long term.

Why are paid ads better than organic search?

When they have a time-sensitive offer, like a promotion, paid ads are faster at getting content out to the target audience and driving results in a shorter amount of time. When they need ranking to be a priority, paid ads have rankings above organic search results.

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