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Paid Search Versus Organic Search: Using Your Budget Effectively

Paid Search Versus Organic Search: Using Your Budget Effectively

Should you focus your digital marketing budget on paid search, or organic search? Or maybe a bit of both?

We take a closer look at the pros and cons of pay per click (PPC) solutions and search engine optimisation (SEO) to help guide your marketing investment decisions.

A Brief Explainer

Let’s start with a brief explanation of what we mean by paid search and organic search. If you’re already well versed in the ins and outs of digital marketing, then you may wish to skip this section!

When you carry out a search using a search engine (such as Google), you are shown a set of results. Those results consist of various elements. Typically, you will see some results (links) that are marked as being “sponsored”. These are what are known as paid search ads.

The sponsored ads will often be in the most prominent positions within the search engine results page, frequently shown in the top few places on your screen.

Beneath the paid search ads, you have the “organic” search results. Essentially, the organic results have been created by the search engine scanning content across the web and then presenting you with the most relevant results for your query.

So we can see some key differences here:

  • Paid search ads tend to be most prominent on the search engine results pages
  • Advertisers have paid for positioning on those paid search ads
  • The organic results are typically lower on the page
  • Those organic results are determined by “relevance”, as identified by the search engine

Now that we’re clear on the terminology and the differences, let’s look at where you should be investing your money, if you want to drive quality, targeted traffic from the search engines.

Prominence and Timescales

When it comes to ad prominence and making a fast start, paid search wins hands down.

There’s been an ever increasing trend in recent years that sees that paid search ads placed in front of the organic listings. It’s easy to see why: Google and the other search contenders make their money from paid ads, so they want to make them as effective as possible for advertisers, while also ensuring that they receiving a high proportion of clicks.

Most of the paid search platforms (notably including Google Ads) will allow you to get your ads live within a matter of hours too, albeit that it takes longer to create optimised campaigns.

On the SEO front, things are somewhat different: since listings are shown beneath the paid search results, they typically tend to receive a lower proportion of the clicks. It will also take many months to actually get a decent organic ranking on any search term that is remotely competitive.

So paid search is great for providing rapid results and helping you to jump to the front of the queue. But there’s a cost here too: you typically pay for each click that you receive on a paid search ad, whereas the click itself is free for an organic listing.

Cost Considerations

As mentioned above, you pay for each click (usually) on paid search, hence the style of advertising here as sometimes referred to as Pay Per Click (PPC).

With an organic listing, you’re not paying for each visit. So, at this level, it’s undoubtedly the cheaper option.

There is, however, something of a misconception that SEO is free. If only this were the case! In reality, your competitors will be trying to rank for the same terms as you are. This means that you are in a competition to prove that your site is the most relevant.

How do you demonstrate relevance? Ultimately, by producing an authoritative site that contains great content and that attracts attention from other reputable publishers. As you might imagine, this takes time and money.

So SEO is free on a per click basis, but you might face a considerable bill to both obtain better positioning and to maintain that positioning.

Where Should Your Budget Be Spent?

In reality, there is no “one size fits all” answer to this question. If you need results today and you’re not too worried about the cost, then paid search will be the right option for you. In fact, organic search won’t be an option at all!

But if you’re looking to build over the long term, without any urgency, then SEO can be a better option.

For most business owners, the solution will be found in a combination of the two: you’ll use paid search to get off to a quick start and because it can drive volumes of traffic and sales. But SEO will help to drive additional sales over time and the two channels work in unison to produce enhanced results.

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Keith Barrett
With more than 15 years of digital marketing experience, Keith Barrett is a fully Certified Google AdWords Partner. Offering insights into the world of PPC marketing in the UK, Keith is a Senior Consultant here at Search South. If you'd like to hear more of Keith's thoughts, then you can subscribe to our newsletter.