Each day, Google processes over 3.5 billion searches, each with millions of results. When you run a small business, you know that you want your website to show up near the top for searches relevant to your industry. What you may not know is that Google search results pages include two separate sections where you could show up.
Paid Search Results
First, Google displays paid results, or pay-per-click (PPC) ads. This is the section where you pay every time someone clicks on the ad. Ads cost as little as one cent or as much as several hundred dollars for each click.
The advantage of PPC is immediacy. When you pay for ads, you will automatically show up in a search. If you do not have time to wait for higher rankings, PPC can be a great way to spend your marketing budget. You also can pay to show up for more competitive search terms.
On the flip side, ads usually are more expensive. And once you stop paying for ads, your ad immediately stops showing up in the ads section of Google.
Google changed the format for PPC ads. They removed right-column ads and instead added four paid results to the top of the page and three paid results to the bottom. This change made search results more streamlined and conducive to users scrolling up and down on their phones. (Most people don’t like moving a page from right to left on a mobile device.) The desktop results also changed to create visual consistency across mobile and desktop.
One exception to the “no ads on the right side” rule is Google Shopping. Merchants pay Google to be featured in this special section. When users click on a product, they are directed to a shop Google operates. Similar to PPC (the ads section of Google), you can pay for your products to show up or be listed within Google Shopping. However, your paid ads will show up in the main vertical section either on the top or the bottom. Your AdRank, a combination of your bid price, click-through rates, relevance, and landing page optimization, determines your placement.
Because of the recent changes to Google ads, I do not know the current click-through rates (the rate at which a person who sees an ad clicks on that ad) for the ads section. For any given search term, users historically click on the ads about 5% of the time with the other 95% going to the organic results.
Interestingly, the cost per click on high-volume keywords is less than the cost per click of more specific keywords with stronger buyer intent. For example, the keyword “attorney” has over 60,500 monthly searches and a suggested bid price of $8.77. A keyword like “car accident lawyer Salt Lake City” gets less than 50 monthly searches but has a suggested bid of over $350. The Salt Lake City keyword has a higher chance of converting a visitor into a client, and therefore, business owners will pay more for a search term that converts.
Organic Search Results
Next, Google displays organic search results. In the image above, the organic results are highlighted in blue. You do not have to directly pay Google to show up here. Google tries to provide the best and most relevant websites that fulfill the intent of the search term. However, you will have to invest time and money to rank for certain keywords.
With paid search results, you spend more on specific search terms. Organic search works in the opposite way. It is much harder and more expensive to show up for a general term like “attorney” because all the results are taken up by big-brand companies. However, as we discussed with ads, specific search terms with strong buyer intent will more likely to turn into conversions.
For example, a Salt Lake City lawyer could pay close to $700 if two users click an ad for the search term “car accident lawyer salt lake city.” If the same company showed up organically, each click would be free.
Say you do choose to optimize for organic results instead of pay for PPC ads. The main downside is the time and uncertainty of the results. You could pay thousands of dollars to build up your authority and never appear in the search results. For this reason, you need to hire a respected and prominent SEO company with a proven track record. SEO usually takes between three and six months for you to see results.
If you have some marketing budget set aside for the long-term success of your business, choose SEO. As you build up your website’s authority on Google, you will start to rank for more and more search terms. Even if you stop paying for SEO, you still have the authority and presence on Google.
In the long run, organic SEO increases incoming traffic and lead generation at a relatively cheap cost. Again, you have to put in the money before you start seeing results and visitors.
Which Should You Choose?
Both organic and paid results on a Google search present advantages and disadvantages (although, if I had to pick one, I would pick organic SEO because of the long-term savings). I recommend developing a strategy to show up in both sections for optimal results.
You could start on the SEO work to show up organically, and for approximately six months while you wait to rank, you could pay for ads. This principle works especially well with broad, competitive keywords because they take longer to rank organically and cost less with PPC.
Let’s say the main service you want to rank for is extremely expensive per click, you could instead spend your money on gaining a presence in the organic results.
When you use PPC and SEO together, you can maximize your search presence and keep your marketing strategy as cost-effective as possible. Both take time and money. Monitor your progress, cost, and success with these forms of marketing, and adjust your strategy as needed.