Paid vs. Organic Search: What’s the difference?

Search engines are a wonderful, powerful tool for discovery. Type in what you want to know, and within a fraction of a second, you’ve got a wealth of information at your fingertips, awaiting further exploration. Search engines are practically a staple of everyday life online. Think about it. How often do you use the phrase “Google it“? Upon closer examination, you’ll likely find that the search engine results page (SERP) contains a mixture of both organic and paid results.

What’s the difference between organic and paid search results?

Organic search results are those which come from the algorithm used by the search engine; paid results are just that – links that come from advertising dollars being spent to place them on the results page. Paid results may be annotated with “sponsored content” or set apart with a shaded box, or even placed into an area of their own, such as a sidebar.

organic vs paid search results

How do people use search results?

When it comes to search traffic, an overwhelming majority of users – 94% — prefer organic results to paid ads. And of the top results returned, the first result is the one that receives the most clicks. On the search engine giant, Google, the top result receives 33% of website traffic, based on the ranking alone. The second result receives 18% of web traffic, and traffic for the remaining results is a sliding scale dependent on position on the page as well as depth of results (source).

Receiving a full third of all web traffic for a search term can translate into any number of positives, the most desired of course being increased revenue. Obviously, companies aim for that top position. How websites rise to the number one position on search results is a larger topic for another time, but the bottom line is that higher ranking sites are there due to Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

But what about paid search?

Before you get too hung up on organic results, understand that sometimes paid search is more desirable. It depends largely upon the search terms, of course, but searches that contain keywords showing a more specific desire to purchase earn more clicks on paid ads than organic results. In fact, these “high commercial intent” searches of product- or brand- specific terms garner more clicks via paid ads than organic results, by a margin of nearly 2:1 (source).

Organic vs. paid – which is better?

“Better” is a matter of opinion, of course. The best approach for you will depend largely upon the type of business you have, the objectives of your web presence and your budget. High ranking results that are organic in nature carry with them a sense of authority and respectability, which is particularly useful if your company is service-oriented.  But for companies that are product- or brand-specific, paid ads can help to drive clicks and by extension, conversions.

Organic search results also have a more evergreen presence, meaning they have the continued opportunity to rank even after you produce the content. Paid ads; however, stop displaying as soon as you stop paying. It may even be that a combination of organic search engine optimization and paid search ads deliver the best performance for your targeted keywords.

I’m curious, do you use paid ads on Google or Bing to advertise for your business?

  • moovd

    The bottom line is that if you’re not on page one of organic you don’t exist – so you’re only choice is ads. Getting to page one as a non-branded item is easier of course, but all of it is food for thought.

    • What do you think about using content marketing strategies to try to develop organic results? If you had $1,000 to put toward your digital marketing, would you put it towards ads or content and distribution?