Outside of marketing circles, many people attribute anything to do with keywords to search engine optimization. This is only partially correct. SEO mostly focuses on the use of keywords to drive organic traffic to a website. However, so does paid search. This is the fundamental similarity that allows one strategy to feed into the other. So, how is SEO different from paid search? Is one better than the other, and if so, which one?


What Is Search Engine Optimization?

In its simplest form, this involves strategies that drive organic traffic to websites. Many businesses incorrectly view this as the free version of paid search, but that notion is false. Businesses do pay in time, money or both to have that content written, edited and optimized. That said, organic traffic is the gift that keeps on giving. Web pages and articles written even 10 years ago can continue to bring in high levels of traffic for a website today.

SEO helps search engines better understand a website and the value it may provide. Marketers use the term “search engine” to keep it general, but virtually all SEO professionals optimize their content with Google in mind. Google dominates the search engine market at 90.77%. This is what makes their search engine guidelines the best ones to follow.

Note that there are several different ways to drive organic traffic to your website:

  • On-page SEO involves the use of keywords to signal the relevance of specific pages on a website in relation to queries.
  • Off-page SEO focuses on a link-building strategy. This involves placing links to landing pages on other websites. Search engines view links from reputable websites as a vote of trust.
  • Technical SEO focuses on tweaking the non-content-related aspects of a website to improve search engine ranking. These include mobile optimization and increasing the speed.


What Is Search Engine Marketing?

Some marketers group both organic and paid search under SEM. However, it more accurately describes the use of ads to drive traffic to a website. The most common type of ads used for this purpose is pay-per-click. The platforms that provide PPC opportunities serve the ads to a target audience. The company then pays every time someone clicks on the link, whether it leads to a purchase or not.

By using paid search, companies can buy their way to the top of search engine results in the ads section. To achieve this, marketers must pair the most suitable keywords with the best target demographic. Google is the most common PPC platform, including its YouTube branch, but there are other options:

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Quora
  • Bing

How well the same ad performs across multiple platforms will depend on competition for that specific keyword. Where a company’s customers hang out will also play a role.


What Are the Benefits of Organic Results?

There are some benefits that you are more likely to enjoy from employing organic rather than PPC tactics. Here are a few of the most frequently mentioned.

1. More Cost-Effective

Generally speaking, organic search results cost less money relative to their return on investment over time. The ROI from one initial page or article over years and years far outweighs what a company typically receives from a PPC ad.

2. Better Click-Through Rate

Modern consumers are more tech savvy than their predecessors. They understand that businesses pay to bypass Google’s algorithms and appear at the head of search engine results. For the most part, high-ranking organic results receive better click-through rates than top-tier paid search results.

3. Stronger Credibility

Trust is one of the main reasons customers prefer organic search results over ads. There is the general belief that the high-ranking search result earned its position based on objective value. In contrast, any company with a big enough marketing budget can buy ad space.


What Are the Benefits of Paid Search?

While SEO provides undeniable value to a company, there are arguably even more benefits for a company with a big paid search budget. Here are the advantages it has over organic search results.

1. Immediate Results

The results from PPC ads are immediate. As soon as they go live, customers can start viewing and clicking on the ads with instant effect on your website traffic. This provides an immediate boost. If customers love what they see, they may keep coming back.

2.  Less Time Invested

The cliché goes that time is money in business, but few companies have both in equal shares. Businesses that have more money and less time on hand rely on paid search to give them a head start. This gets products and services in front of the target audience as quickly as possible.

3. Better Visibility

Google search results is not the only place PPC ads show up. They may also appear as sponsored posts on social media or run as audiovisual ads before a YouTube video starts. This allows companies to use sound and imagery to make ads more appealing. There are far less opportunities for this in organic search results.

4. Better Support

Google and most other PPC platforms take every possible opportunity to simplify the paid search process. There are usually step-by-step instructions and even live chat support. But when it comes to exactly how search engine algorithms work, companies guard this secret. SEO specialists usually learn how to work around this by reverse engineering what works and what doesn’t. This is why technical knowledge and experience is so important.

5. More Targeted

When companies use PPC ads, they have some control over who Google or other platforms serve their ads to. Marketers can filter for demographic factors that best suit a brand, such as location, age, gender and even income. Organic search results lack this level of control. For the most part, search engines ignore demographics and serve results based on the query rather than the person.


The Bottom Line

When examining SEO vs. paid search, there is no one best answer regarding which is better for a business. It all boils down to a number of factors. How new is the business? How much content does it already have piled up? Does it have enough time or money to focus on consistently putting out high-quality content in the form of articles, marketing copy and social media posts?

These are just some of the many questions a business will need to answer before it can decide which one to focus more of its marketing budget on. Note that SEO provides value to a company over time. However, it can take months and even years for a company to rise above competitors in search engine results. In the interim, a company may need to focus on PPC ads to help stand out in the crowd.

Over time, a company can then focus less on paid search and more on driving long-term, organic traffic with SEO. Search engine algorithms do change, but Google’s overall goal remains the same: finding the best answers to search engine queries. If your website consistently keeps this goal in mind, it will continue to rise above companies focused more on gaming the system with formulas and keyword stuffing.


Contact Us

Are you ready to get a head start on paid and organic search results for your website? We can help with the SEO portion of this! If you’re running your own business or agency and need help in delivering a quality SEO strategy to your clients, Boostability is the answer! Our white label SEO program provides partners with everything that’s needed for a successful SEO campaign. Get in touch with a digital marketing expert today to learn more about our SEO partner program and get your questions answered!


Colton is the former Director of SEO Strategy at Boostability testing and defining the products and processes that make Boostability's customers successful. He was part of Boostability for over 8 years. Colton loves hanging out with his family and gaming. He runs a personal blog over at www.coltonjmiller.com where he discusses gaming, life, and SEO.