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The difference between organic and paid SEO

Are you putting hours into content creation but failing to rank on Google? Are you pumping vast amounts of money into PPC (pay-per-click) advertising but getting poor return on investment?

This article looks at how search engines deal with organic and paid-for content and how you can use both to grow your business.

Here's what we will cover...

Organic vs paid-for: What’s the difference?

Organic search results are those that appear when you search for something in Google.

Even if your site isn’t well optimised, if Google is indexing it then your webpages will appear somewhere in the listings (even if it’s on page 50). They will stay there for as long as your site is active.

Paid-for PPC results appear at the top, bottom or side of search engine results pages (SERPs) and can be identified by the discreet green ‘ad’ sign. These ads only last for as long as they’re being paid for.

Apart from the obvious issue of money, there are important differences to how search engines deal with organic and paid-for content. This has led to different names being given to the techniques used for each strategy.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) covers the strategies and techniques used to help make organic content visible on SERPs.

Search engine marketing (SEM) covers the optimisation of paid online ads, for example Google Ads PPC (pay-per-click) ads.

Let’s start by looking at the pros and cons of both types of marketing.

Why organic search leads to long-term benefits

While organic results are free, in order to ensure you get those results for competitive search terms, you need to invest a lot of time educating yourself, or money in hiring a professional to do the job right for you.

This ‘SEO’ is an essential part of marketing a website and provides a solid foundation for building a successful online business. Whether you hire a professional or not, SEO requires patience.

Organic search can be thought of as a marathon, not a sprint. Progress can seem slow over the first few months as you steadily build your pace and gradually reel in the established businesses ahead of you on the track.

As time goes on, you will start experiencing small wins (receiving high quality inbound links; cracking the first page of Google for multiple keywords; reaching the top three results for your most important keyword, etc.)

The longer you stay in the game, the further ahead of your less-committed competitors you will get.

Even if you prefer to pay for online ads you should always be carrying out SEO if you want long-term results that will guarantee a continuous stream of traffic to your site.

How PPC can boost exposure

With so much potential traffic available for free through Google, you may find yourself wondering what the purpose of PPC is or when you should be using it.

To stick with the athletics analogy, a PPC campaign is like a sprint and requires a continuous input of energy (i.e. money) to sustain success. A successful Google Ads campaign will see your online ads placed prominently above all organic search results.

This kind of instant visibility is useful for many reasons – for example, if you’re running a time-sensitive special promotion, targeting a new audience or boosting visibility while your initial SEO takes root. The time not to use PPC is when you’re reaching for a quick solution to a problem that needs to be fixed through quality SEO work.

By the way, a successful Google Ads campaign is not the same as throwing more money into it than anyone else. While money certainly does play a part, Google still expects quality and you will need to carefully choose your keywords, create your ad text and optimise your landing pages to run an efficient campaign. This will ensure you not only appear higher on the page than your competitors but that you pay less to win each bid – making your budget stretch further.

However, as with all sprints, once you run out of fuel, you are out of the game. Once your budget runs out, or you decide to end your campaign, the traffic disappears. Your site’s visibility (unless you’ve also taken care of your SEO) will vanish for selected keywords and will only be found wherever it sits in Google’s organic rankings. Running a PPC-only campaign can be an expensive way to market a business.

Is PPC effective? Well, 2018 statistics from Hanapin Marketing show that nearly 79% of marketers rate PPC as a big driver of business with 62% planning to increase their budgeting in this area. This should show that if you’re not investing at all in PPC then you should at least consider allocating some of your budget to it.

In fact, a blend of organic and paid-for advertising is recommended for most businesses. Think of it as having both Usain Bolt and Mo Farah on your Olympics team!

Using both organic and paid-for traffic for optimum results

A strong marketing solution will use both organic SEO for evergreen performance and PPC for a few bursts of success.

This is because SEO and SEM work differently. For example, organic search results are skewed towards the researcher rather than the buyer. Google’s standards are very high and only content of sufficient depth and quality will have a chance of ranking well organically. An SEO team will also have to pay attention to back-end factors such as title tags, meta descriptions, URL structure, image tagging and more.

With SEM, keyword selection and performance analysis is critical. Selecting the wrong keywords can lead to your ad being flagged as irrelevant while a poorly designed landing page will fail to convert your leads when they get there. Keeping an eye on the best-performing keywords and campaigns will enable you to tweak your SEM for maximum cost-efficiency.

So both SEO and SEM are important but require different sets of skills. To do both SEO and SEM properly, you’ll need to invest in either educating yourself or in hiring the right people for the job.

Is Google still the best search platform?

Our SEO Training Course is weighted towards Google and with good reason. Since 2010, Google’s search market share has never slipped below 86% and, in 2019 (according to Statista) the tech giant is still hoarding 88.47% of the search space.

The battle for mobile-powered search is closer but Google still leads the way with a 63% share.

Although SEO specialists do keep an eye on Bing, Yahoo!, Baidu and the rest, it is still Google they aim to please!

How mobile is changing everything

One reason why Google is still leading the way in terms of search is how well they have adapted to changing consumer habits, in particular the transition from desktop and laptop devices to smartphones and tablets.

Google’s most recent changes, and the ones SEO experts and marketers need to be most aware of, involve differentiating between websites geared towards mobiles and those still stuck back in the early 2010s.

SEO marketers must stay aware of any algorithm changes and also use their own nous to ensure their clients’ websites are optimised for mobile. For example, the smaller screen size of mobile devices makes it more important than ever to rank highly since only the top one or two results are ever visible without scrolling.

Mobile search patterns also makes local search optimisation that more important. An ‘on the move’ customer requires a more dynamic set of search results which is why one of the key sections of our upcoming SEO Training Course is claiming and optimising your Google My Business page. We can’t stress enough how important that is!

Are you up to speed?

The SEO landscape changes so rapidly and so dramatically that it is very easy to lose touch. Hopefully this article has introduced you to the main principles behind paid and organic SEO but for a full understanding of search engine optimisation, we highly recommend booking your place on our upcoming SEO Training course.

We will demystify terms such as crawling, indexing and ranking; show you how to measure your search effectiveness; explain the impact of various Google algorithm updates (Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, etc.) and much more.

Reserve your space today; we look forward to helping you grow online.

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