Paid Search vs Organic Search: Which Is Better?

By September 4, 2018 February 5th, 2020 Marketing

Search engine optimization – once an afterthought when compared with other marketing strategies – is now at the forefront of inbound marketing success. The value of having your site show in the search results has been shown time and time again, especially if you can land a high spot on the front page. According to Search Engine Watch, websites that rank at the top of Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) win 36.4% of search traffic.

There are two ways to land yourself on the front page of the search, though, which is a fact that often confuses people. Paid search and organic search are both valuable ways to ensure that your company is one of the few that shows up at the top for your target keyword and market, but which is best?

When comparing paid and organic searches, instead of asking which is best, it may be wise to ask which is best for you. Both have unique advantages and disadvantages, so it’s a matter of knowing which will work best for you to get the most out of your marketing dollars. Often people find that using a combination of the two gets the best results, and understanding the differences can help you decide when and how to use which method to maximize your success.

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Organic Search

Organic search results are the ones that appear below the ads. They naturally occur in the search results page because their content is relevant to the searched term, according to the search engine algorithm, and therefore organically add value to the people searching for them. When it comes to the benefits of organic search, the numbers are truly astonishing.

The first 5 organic results on the front page of Google, for instance, account for 67.60% of all clicks, while 6 to 10 account for just 3.73% (Zero Limit Web). The remaining searchers are clicking on the paid ads, trying a new search engine, or giving up entirely.

Numbers aside, here are some of the pros and cons of organic search:


  • Trust: When you’re searching for something on Google, which results are you most likely to select? The top ones, undoubtedly, and that’s because as searches we’ve grown to trust the results. When we’ve clicked on top results in the past, we’ve likely been satisfied, which is going to make us all the more likely to do it again. This perception of credibility works well for your company if you’re at the top of the results because more people are guaranteed to click through to your site.
  • Long-lasting: So long as your content remains relevant, your page is likely going to remain at the top, which simply means more beneficial exposure over a longer period of time. You can think of it as a “set it and forget it” kind of marketing plan because once you put in the effort and resources upfront, you never have to do it again – but you’ll reap the benefits long-term.
  • Click-throughs: If you’re comparing the click-through rates of organic versus paid search, organic makes up nearly 68%, especially for buyers who have interest but not necessarily an immediate purchasing intent. This is especially important for many B2B businesses that have a longer buying cycle.
  • Compounded ranking: Each time you rank high on the search results page, you increase your chances of ranking high again. By ranking high, you not only build trust with users, but you also build a good reputation with search engines. The more authority status the engines give you, the higher you’ll rank over time.


  • Initial investment: At the heart of great organic search results is great content; content can be anything from articles and whitepapers, to videos and infographics, but the best content utilizes Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics and can take some time to produce. Whether it’s internal staff or outsourced contractors, someone will have to take the time to research and create the content, which means that it will inevitably be a lofty investment.
  • Time: On top of that, ranking for highly competitive keywords can take months or even years, so there’s a good chance your marketing team will be at it awhile. If you’re able to stick it out and see your efforts through to achieve high ranking, the return on investment is almost a guarantee, so stick with it and try different methods until you find the one that works best for you.

Paid Search

In essence, paid search results are advertisements for your company. Generally speaking, you associate an ad with certain keywords, and when a user searches for those keywords your ad displays at the very top of the search results, in a section marked as “ads”. If the user clicks on your listing, you pay a small amount, which is why it’s called Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising. The placement of your ad compared with your competitor’s ad depends on the amount that each of you bid for a certain keyword, as well as a few other factors.

The pros and cons of PPC advertising have some similarities and differences to those of organic search:


  • Time: Paid search rankings show at the top of results as soon as you pay for the ad placement, rather than after months of time and resource investment. You simply decide the keywords you want to rank for, the message you want those searchers to see, and define a budget for the search engine to work within. It’s fast and can be very effective.
  • Success after click-through: Paid search is geared toward the more serious and eager buyer. Though it accounts for much less search traffic than organic results, the actual revenue amounts for each search time are quite comparable.
  • Targeting: Paid search is tailored to reach certain audiences, so if you’re targeting correctly, you have a high chance of getting your message in front of the people you want to see it. Not only can you target by keyword, but you can filter even further and segment by location, marital status, education level, and much more. It can take a bit of effort to discover which combination of factors is best for your exact audience, but honing in on it can have great results.


  • Cost: In general, PPC advertising can be quite costly for a few reasons. First, bid price is based on keyword, so the more competitive the keyword, the higher the price will be for each click on your display ad. And, paid search advertising requires a high level of expertise and understanding to be successful, so you’ll have to find a knowledgeable person or team to manage the campaigns.
  • Short-lived: As soon as you stop paying for PPC ads they go away, so they don’t have the same long-term effect that organic search content can have.
  • Lack of trust: Drawing on the example from the organic search results section, users tend to select organic results before they’ll click on the ads at the top of the page because there isn’t the same level of trust. People know that they’re paid for ads, so there can be a certain suspicion over how relevant the information might actually be. Though numbers vary among studies, it’s generally shown that roughly 10% of clicks were the result of paid listings. The organic listings simply have more credibility among searchers, so they’re more likely to get selected.

When it comes to best practices for SEO and ranking on SERPs, generally a combination of organic and paid nets the greatest results. Utilizing both ensures visibility and also increases credibility, secures everlasting search results, and targets buyers at multiple parts of the buying cycle.

Mix and match how you utilize search for your marketing strategies, making sure to track the results so you can improve things as you go and try new tactics when the current ones aren’t working. Search engine optimization takes time and effort, regardless of which method you use, but the results are always worth it.

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