Paid or Organic Search: Which Is Right for Your Business?

June 25, 2013 Bria Jordan

I recently met up with an old friend who is a small business owner. His business is built mainly by word of mouth and web traffic, and he was curious as to how he might increase traffic and conversions. With so much competition in his field, he was looking for a way to stand out. We’d discussed the benefits of Organic Search/SEO in the past, but we hadn’t had the chance to discuss the benefits of Paid Search.

If you’ve used a search engine, you’ve seen the paid search in the results. They appear in the small, shaded box above your search results. They’re directly related to the search terms that were just entered, and are an opportunity to increase sales and promotions, or even just click through rate (CTR).  They’re also shown in the side bars of SERPs and pages, and promote almost any type of business or service.  It’s generally the same with Organic Search; the only difference is well done SEO is more difficult to spot. Because Search Engines currently value more subtle, user-friendly practices, most users don’t notice a difference between a site that’s been optimized and one that wasn’t – and that’s the way it should be.

Of course, there are inherent differences between the Organic and Paid Search. We’re going to explore some of those differences in hopes that it will clarify some of those unknowns, and help you decide which one will be best for your business.

Cost

So where does money go in Paid Search? The costs involved are mainly based on Cost Per Click (CCP) – which can be influenced by day, time, and keyword popularity. But it’s not as simple as choosing a few keywords and throwing money at Google to make things happen: it requires a great deal of research, and often trial and error. So you’re not just paying for the CCP costs, but also to employ someone to closely monitor your account and make the necessary changes to ensure your campaigns are fiscally efficient and effective for users. You can either hire an in-house Pay per Click (PPC) professional, or hire an external agency to do it for you – but this would depend on budget and the digital marketing strategy. There is also the added cost of tools and software to increase the effectiveness of your ads.

What about Organic Search? Often, it’s a similar situation to Paid – you hire an in-house person or choose an external agency. Besides wages and fees, most of the costs associated with Paid tend to go towards data-mining tools and/or software. Depending on the toolset, these fees can be incurred on a monthly or annual basis – which is important to determine when setting out a budget for the project.

Time

With most digital marketing initiatives, you’re not going to see instant results in Paid Search. But more importantly, anyone considering utilizing Paid Search should consider the time investment it requires to create truly effective campaigns. This could be weeks, months or potentially over a year, depending on the size and complexity of a campaign.

Organic Search campaigns are very similar. I often advise clients that it can take several months to see results. You should be extremely cautious of any agency that promises instant results, as instant results are often procured with Black Hat techniques, which (more often than not) leads to penalties and a drop in search result placements. At minimum I encourage clients to look at six to 12 month campaigns: this allows for a true reflection of its effectiveness. I’m sure there are agencies that might do shorter campaigns, but I personally recommend against it.

Training

For most Paid Professionals, there is certification and training available from Google and Bing. Google offers AdWords certification and advanced AdWords training, while BingAds offers Accredited Professional training for their Ad networks. Generally, you should have confidence in any PPC professional that has at least one of these accreditations – most tests require 80% or better to pass. Trained AdWord professionals understand the environment more thoroughly: They might understand the importance of certain elements (like Quality Score) better than someone who is self taught.

It gets a bit trickier in the Organic world. Although there’s no technical certification or training for an SEO professional, those with a background in Communications and Marketing tend to excel in this field. Often, experience in Sales, Web Design/Coding and Advertising is also beneficial. Am I saying you should only consider candidates with this specific background? Absolutely not. What I am saying is that there is a certain skill set that benefits SEO campaigns, and people don’t necessarily learn them in school. Work experience is often an indicator as to whether or not a candidate can excel in this field.

If you’re still unsure about what will be best for you, take a minute and think about what your company needs. Are you looking to build a following with great content and social media interaction? Go with Organic Search. Are you looking to move product, increase clients or promote a new product? Paid Search might be the best for you. The bottom line is that there are benefits and drawbacks to both types, and it’s something that should be considered carefully when deciding.

About the Author

Bria Jordan is a Search Engine Optimization and Social Media consultant. A published writer for the last 14 years, she can often be found celebrating her off-time by bicycling through the city or cooking. She currently lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and two cats.

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