Often businesses are confronted with the terms “organic search” and “pay-per-click advertising” when investigating how to increase their online presence. While these are two very different strategies to online marketing, both can be beneficial to a business. Determining what your goals are in your online advertising campaigns is extremely useful for deciding which is more important to your business. So what is the difference between organic rankings and paid advertisement?


Organic Rankings: The “Natural” Internet

Organic search results are those that appear ranked according to their relevance, as opposed to advertised results that sit at the top of the page because that position was purchased. Search engines show the most relevant responses to search queries based on the content of the web pages. In some ways, this can be extremely useful, particularly if you have a specific niche or local market to target.  Because organic search is content-driven, it requires both stellar content and metadata. Websites that are lacking in either of these areas won’t rank as well in search engine results and probably won’t make the first page. Sites which are properly targeted in their local markets can usually be found on the first page of search results for relevant keywords, giving them a very real advantage over their local competitors. Organic ranking, therefore, is based on rich, targeted information that leads customers to the most desirable results on a topic.

The drawback to organic ranking, however, is that search engines often discriminate against sites obviously trying to maximize their organic rank for advertising purposes. Another downside is the content itself: many businesses prefer to have relatively low-maintenance, low-information sites whose main purpose is just to direct visitors to the contact form. Without constant, dynamic updating of their metadata, their organic search ranking will eventually drop, making the business harder to find online.


Paid Advertising: The Good and the Bad

The good news is that search engines are very good at putting the right advertising in front of customers using paid search. In fact, sites with low ranking can often get a good deal of productive web traffic using a search engine’s own paid advertising services, which can often increase customer response and give business a healthy boost. Search engines are very friendly to paid web traffic and do their best to predict consumer needs and get your website out there first. Search engine advertisements are usually above the fold and can be extremely useful, especially for service-based businesses.

All that said, there are a number of downsides of paid advertising to consider. The first and most obvious is the cost. Paid search usually operates not on sales, but on clicks. As a result an ad can rack up significant costs very quickly, even before the results of all those clicks become apparent. Another problem with paid search is user “ad blindness,” a tendency on the part of the user to reflexively ignore advertising. Paid search works very well with low-information websites, especially when used in conjunction with a promotion, and have a fairly broad user “net” to cast. Sites with a national reach are good candidates for paid search, because these ads can reach the maximum number of users who have a need for the services or products they offer. But the returns of paid ads tend to diminish on a local level unless the service is significantly broad, such as auto repair or a family restaurant.


Organic or Paid: How About Both?

Used properly, both methods of online marketing will increase a business’s visibility online. Organic ranking works best for sites where a call to action is generally not needed: someone searching for local auto repair is already “hooked” and is likely just looking for competitive pricing or a juicy discount. Paid advertisements can stir up interest in a product and deliver your message to vast numbers of users, however, and shouldn’t be discounted, particularly during promotions or new product launches. In most cases, a combination of the two methods is often the best strategy.

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