Upside-Down Thinking by Patric Fransko
by Patric Fransko
February 20th, 2019

Organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) vs Paid Search (SEM) – Which is Better?

In 2019, I’m assuming most of you are very familiar with the concepts of organic search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search (SEM) campaigns like Google Adwords. Although they both serve to make your company or ad show up on search engines, they are like two sides of the same coin. This article will explain the differences and if, or why, you should pay more attention to one or the other.

First, let’s make sure we define these two distinctly different things. Organic SEO is derived primarily from the content on your website as well as a variety of other factors like relevant backlinks. This content, if managed properly, will enable Google and other search engines to understand what search words or phrases are relevant to the products and services you offer and serve up your listing in the search results. The better your backend SEO works, the higher your listings will be displayed for relevant searches.
Paid search (SEM), like Google Adwords, is also aimed at ensuring you show up when someone searches relevant words or phrases. With paid listings, SEO has nothing to do with where you show up on the page. Your placement is determined by how your campaigns are set up and often comes down to the highest positions being assigned to the highest bidders. The details of how these campaigns are set up is too complex for this article to cover properly, but the essence is you choose the words and phrases you would like to be displayed for and pay for that display listing.

Now that that’s clear, is one better than the other? One might be tempted to say organic is free and paid costs money, so organic must be better, right? Not so fast. Proper SEO to get good organic results often costs money also, so there really isn’t a free option unless you are very good and doing your own SEO. Even then, it isn’t free because you have to take the time required to do it. Like the saying goes, time is money.

The pros of organic can include long-term benefits from the time being spent or work being paid for. Once a website is constructed properly and the backend SEO is good, it will tend to perform well for a decent amount of time. To stay at the top, ongoing SEO will need to be done, but the foundation SEO work on your site will always benefit you. A con of organic is that it often takes time for search engines to begin populating your results higher based on changes that have been made. Your website will have to “work” its way up the rankings.

On the other hand, paid search can get you right to the top of desired search terms and phrases nearly immediately with a properly built campaign. However, you will need to pay for these results on an ongoing basis. The minute you turn your campaign off, the results go away.

So, what is the answer? The reality is they are both important for differing reasons. You absolutely want to have the SEO on your website done properly. You should also do ongoing activity to keep your site ranking high. Paid search can be used to get you immediate presence on search terms you want while you wait for the organic to begin taking hold. In an ideal situation, you could back off of paid search once your organic began to populate your listings high for relevant search terms.

Don’t be fooled though. To get your listings to the top organically and keep them there will take time and/or money. The positive thing about organic SEO work though is that you own the work once it’s done. Paid campaigns stop working the minute you stop paying. For that reason, we advise a combination of both with a mindset to wean a client from being as reliant on paid search as the organic begins to produce desired results.

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  1. We’ve had clients that have said, “We don’t need organic, we only do paid.”

    Something to consider is the type of searcher. Some searchers will click the first results that pop (aka paid). Others are more skeptical and will skip the ads altogether. Several sources we have researched and our own testing estimates this to be about 51% or more of searchers.

    If you don’t do organic, you are leaving at LEAST 51% of your traffic sitting on the table.

  2. I agree Jordan. An ideal marketing campaign would go after both SEM and organic SEO. Thanks for commenting.

  3. I agree one needs both organic and paid adds. They are both very specialized to get the best results. For advertising and content to offer real value one needs to understand the game to get the” best bang for your time and buck”Experience helps but experience always cost money…….it is very difficult to find these gurus ….Leon Levy Klingshield South Africa/

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