Organic vs. Paid Search – Which is Better?

March 26, 2019

As content marketing becomes more and more important in 2019, we continually run into the argument of organic search vs. paid search.

Some of the first questions you may have are:

  • Which type of traffic is better?
  • Which one is more cost effective?  
  • Should you be using both for your business?
  • What results can you expect?

In this article, we will explain all of this to you and more.

After this, you will have an understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of organic search vs. paid search, and know how to work either type of marketing into your content strategy.

Let’s get started.

organic search vs paid search guide

What is Organic Search Traffic?

Organic search traffic is when people come to your website by searching for something on Google, seeing your result, and clicking on it.

Why is Organic Search Important?

This type of search traffic is essential to being able to increase the amount of leads that are brought to your site through searching the internet. Typically speaking, these visitors are more likely to convert or come back because they arrived on your website by looking for something related to your content.

Also, organic search is how you begin to build authority for your domain. Over time, building up your SEO profile by getting backlinks, creating content, and knowing how to write SEO friendly blogs will allow you to establish a strong brand and site that will rank higher in SERPs.

paid vs organic search

What is Paid Search?

Paid search is any number of paid advertising methods you can use on the internet in order to get people to your site. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Affiliate links
  • Social media advertising
  • Google Adwords campaigns
  • YouTube Ad Campaigns
  • Influencer Marketing
  • Sales Team
  • Etc…

Why is Paid Search Important?

Paid search is important for your business because it is capable of generating guaranteed brand awareness and clicks to your site. This allows you to get off the ground quickly with paid advertisements that drive people to your content regardless of how well you rank for a certain keyword.

This can be a very effective strategy if you know how to optimize landing pages, and have well defined and researched audiences that you continually monitor. This can be a way to get your new website off the ground, but can also be a way to continually drive highly qualified leads into your sales funnel. Just about every successful online business runs some form of paid advertisements.

Which is Better, Paid or Organic?

To be honest, both organic search traffic and paid traffic are essential to your business’ success. Without them, you will have to rely entirely on salesmanship offline, which is more or less a recipe for failure in the internet age we live in.

We wanted to give you a breakdown between the two types of online marketing based on 7 major factors:

Paid Search

Organic Search


Brand Awareness


Nurturing Leads

Creating Residual Traffic

Lead Quality

Social Interaction

Brand Storytelling

Now that we have briefly outlined each section, let’s take a deeper dive into paid search vs. organic search to learn more.

paid search vs organic search

1. Return on Investment

This is one of the most controversial arguments between paid search and organic search. Some people argue that paid ads have a higher ROI, while others argue that organic search holds that title.

Based on our research, organic search traffic has been shown to produce 62% more conversions for just one third of the cost.

When it comes to return on investment, the numbers are close, but organic search takes the cake.

Organic Search

The reason why organic search is so effective, and yields such a high ROI for your online marketing efforts is because it is driving people towards exactly what they are looking for.

On top of that, creating high quality content drives people who are looking to take action already to your site. When people search something broad, like “lawyers near me” and you are trying to rank for it with a paid search, perhaps some people will be price shopping, others won’t even know what type of lawyer they need, and the last one just wants to speak to someone for free.

But, if you take the same money, spend it with a content marketing agency who can develop you a content strategy geared towards answering your audience’s questions and attracting high quality leads, then you are much more likely to get a conversion.

For instance, if someone searched, “what to do if I am in a bicycle accident in New York City”, and an article on your site pops up in the results, they click through, read, and then you drive them to take action to call for a free consultation, they are much more likely to call your firm than a less qualified lead from paid search.

Here, the ROI of your content really all depends on a few factors:

  • How well do you know your audience
  • Where your content appears in the search results
  • How well do you guide them through the funnel
  • How good is your content at providing value
  • How good is your content at getting them to act

Essentially, the better your content is, the better it will rank, the more people it will help, and the more leads it will drive.

Pro Tip: If you want to learn more about creating content for your audience, check out this guide. If you are looking to learn about audience research, read this blog.

Paid Search

The return on investment you will get from your paid ads online all depends on a few factors:

  • Effectiveness
  • Testing
  • Retargeting

If you do not have all of these elements in your paid search strategy, you will probably not see a good ROI.

How to Improve Your Paid Search ROI

Effectiveness is important because if you pay for 100 clicks, but not a single one of them converts, you are just lighting money on fire. In order to create effective paid ad campaigns, want to make sure that you:

  • Research your audience
  • Create custom landing pages for each buyer persona
  • Upsell and downsell to people leaving your page

Understanding your audience will allow you to narrow down who is seeing your campaign, and really make your ad spend count. This is why customer research is extremely important for running paid ad campaigns.

Custom landing pages have been shown to increase conversion rates by over 86%. On top of that, there are plenty of techniques you can use to make the ultimate landing page. Check out our guide to learn how to convert on your paid ads!

Try to sell to them once they are leaving, this can be in the form of an upsell or a downsell, and you will find that it is actually very effective. Once you have made a sale, try to sell them again on something right afterwards.


When it comes to testing, you want to make sure that the people who are coming to your landing pages from your ad campaigns are converting. This includes measuring your content marketing KPIs for your campaign, and then editing them in order to see how it affects results.

This can be something as simple as a title change, or changing the layout of the entire page. Either way, it is essential that you mess around and find out what your audience seems to like best. Everyone will be different. Over time, testing your landing pages and your paid ads can help you increase your conversion rates by over 50% easily.

The beauty is you can also run multiple versions at once to your audience by split testing, which allows you to compare results from multiple pages and campaigns side by side and edit as you go.


If you are not retargeting people who have visited your paid ad but did not make a purchase, you are doing paid advertising extremely wrong.

You ever wonder why you see 15 of the same Chevy commercials every time you watch your favorite channel? You know why this happens? It is to get your attention and associate you with the brand, and associate that brand with a feel.  This is the process of repetition, and it is essential to building trust in a brand.

Much like sales calls, paid advertisements can take multiple before resulting in a sale. In fact, most consumers interact with at least 5-7 pieces of content before speaking with a representative, and B2B buyers require at least 8 touch points before converting.

This is why you absolutely need to be running retargeting campaigns with your paid advertisements, or you will likely be wasting your money and leaving a lot more money on the table.

paid search vs organic search strategies

2. Building Brand Awareness

Both types of online advertising help  you to build brand awareness, so it is hard to argue which one is more effective at it.

On one hand, organic search strategies produce high quality content that engages with users, is actionable, and shareable.

On the other hand, paid advertisements such as YouTube and Facebook ads can easily be implemented inline with this content in order to make for a strong hybrid between the two. This is arguably the best way to build brand awareness, in a funnel.

This allows people to come in at various stage, leave at various stages, and be guided gently and consistently through the funnel until the point of sale.

However, alone, your content will take much longer to see an ROI in most industries if you are not running paid advertisements to go with it.

For that reason, we voted that paid search is actually more important than organic search strategies for building brand awareness.

Paid Search

Some solid examples of building brand awareness through paid ads that we have seen recently are:

  • Kevin David
  • Billy Gene
  • Daniel Negreanu

There are plenty of other examples out there, but a few things I think that these brands do exceptionally well to build brand awareness in their paid search campaigns are:

  1. Take real world examples
  2. Utilize video content
  3. Have well produced campaigns
  4. Run great retargeting campaigns
  5. Have a wide variety of video ads they use
  6. Mentioning their name and brand early in videos

If you want to be successful at building traffic and brand awareness from your paid search campaigns, there is absolutely no better format than video. In fact, in one study, people reported remembering 95% more of what they saw in a video ad verses reading it.  

Organic Search

Building brand awareness is also possible through organic search strategies like inbound marketing. However, unless you are able to generate more of a social presence, you will likely not be able to meet the same brand awareness ROI out of organic search.

However, you do still want to make an attempt to educate people who arrive on your site from search on what your brand is and what you are about. Just be sure to do so in a non-salesy way that allows them to make the decision.

organic search vs paid search strategies

3. Creating Trust

When it comes to building brand trust, paid search strategies do have some value, but are far outweighed by organic search.

The main reason for this is that if someone is looking for reasons to trust your brand, they have probably already been considering it. This means that they are familiar with your message and offering, but need a bit more of a push in order to sign with you.

This push can only come from one of a few things:

  • Testimonials
  • Reviews
  • Consultations

Chances are, unless you are advertising on a review based site such as Avvo for lawyers, or Indeed for Recruiters, you will likely need to demonstrate this value to people on your site.

On top of that, if people type in your brand name or business name looking for reviews, you need to have an organic strategy for generating reviews and ranking your business on Google My Business.

This is especially important for small business owners and local businesses that are trying to work on their local SEO.

Pro Tip: If you are trying to improve your local SEO, check out this comprehensive guide. For small business owners looking to learn more about building brand trust, check out this guide to content marketing for small businesses.

 is organic search better than paid search

4.  Nurturing People Through the Sales Funnel

This was also a close call, but ultimately, we wound up choosing paid search as the winner for this category because it has a wider range, better targeting, and can continually be run in order to reach out to the same visitors multiple times.

Paid Search

Nurturing leads through the sales funnel with paid ads can be as simple as starting a funnel using ClickFunnels, paying for the traffic and selecting your targeting on Google AdWords, and then developing a custom funnel for each type of lead in your campaign.

From here, visitors who come to your site or who click on your ad are not only tried to be sold once, but given specific upsells and downsells based on their choices in your landing pages. On top of that, this is a great way for you to offer them something for free in order to create brand trust and even more awareness.

You would be surprised just how well this works. In fact, if you haven’t noticed yet, one of the main paid advertising trends in 2019 that is super effective is offering free books or downloads for people who sign up for a newsletter.

More often than not, these books cost about $10 for a company to ship to people, and then these leads being so qualified and interesting afterwords wind up purchasing hundreds of dollars worth of products or services.

This model works for Tony Robbins, selling his new book. In fact, for each $20 he spent on sending books to leads in his funnels, he generated about $80 of revenue. Not bad.

Organic Search

While organic search does not get the win for this category, that is not to say it doesn’t play a very important role in nurturing leads through the sales funnel.

In fact, many marketers would argue it is almost exactly as important as paid search. You can also be extremely accurate with your targeting for your blog content, especially if you are using a long tail keyword strategy.

For pieces of content that are organically ranking, you still want to do your best to structure the article in a way that people are likely to take action. This can come in the form of links, buttons, contact forms, recommended articles, and more.

One of the easiest ways to drive readers of your content to the next stage of the funnel is to try and get some form of contact information from them by giving them additional value. One great way to do this is to offer an email newsletter, ebooks, slide shows, case studies, etc…

The important thing to remember when it comes to driving people through your sales funnel with organic content is that you are not too pushy with your suggestions. People do not want to feel like they are being sold to, but rather that they are speaking with a mentor who has the answer to all of their questions.  

organic search vs paid search on google

5. Creating Residual Traffic

This category is no competition, organic search strategies such as content marketing are far more effective at creating residual traffic over time.

The main reason for this is that the second you stop paying for clicks, people will no longer be directed to your site. However, with organic search, you could create a piece of evergreen content years ago that still continues to rank high for certain keywords and consistently brings a steady amount of visitors to your site.

Essentially, you do not want to depend on paid ads for all of your website traffic, no matter how effective your paid ads are. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Organic search rankings make your paid ads rank better
  • Organic search should eventually drive most of your traffic
  • Organic clicks are far less expensive in the long run
  • Content marketing strategies can increase rankings for converting keywords
  • Some people never click on ads
  • A lot of your target audience may have ad blockers

Overall, it is not good to put all of your eggs in one basket. Paid search is important, but it cannot build a brand for you, or a community. That is something that can only be built with time, authenticity, and dedication.

paid vs organic search which is best

6. Lead Quality

This is another category that is very close, and the true answer of which is better, paid search or organic search really all depends on how well you structure your campaigns. Because a lead is only as good as your ability to close it.

Despite how close the two are, organic content takes the W for this category for a few main reasons.

Organic Search

Organic search helps you to get extremely qualified leads to your site. While they may be lower in quantity, the chances of you converting one of these leads is much higher as long as your continue to pursue them with additional marketing campaigns.

You cannot have the expectation for people to come to your site once and make a purchase, you have to be persistent. If you have this persistence, you will find that the quality of leads which organic traffic brings to your site is much higher.

Paid Search

While targeting for paid ads on many of the largest platforms has become extremely accurate and data driven, it is still not a perfect science. Particularly searches that are not video based.

If we are talking about video, the lead quality that you get is arguably far better than organic content. However, speaking about the entire online marketing strategy including AdWords, and other types of paid ads, lead quality is higher with organic search.

This is mainly because of the way that people find your content, and the reasons that they need it.

organic search vs paid which is best

7. Social Interaction

This category is a tie. The reason for this is that in order to make high quality content that people will want to engage in, you need a strong organic search strategy for your blog content and additional web pages.

But, in order to promote some of your best content and truly get a social network effect going, you need to run paid campaigns to get the snowball rolling. Without this gas to add to the fire, it is not impossible to create a large community that shares your content, but it is certainly much more difficult and time consuming.

The important thing to remember when trying to gain social shares and recognition for your content is to make sure that you have goals, and solid ways of measuring these goals. Perhaps the goal could be views, or unique views, shares, comments, etc… whatever your measure of success is.

Also, you will want to make sure that you are promoting your content on a platform that is where your audience hang out, and also that your content fits the platform that they are on.

organic vs paid search guide
8. Building A Brand & Telling A Story

Ultimately, what keeps people coming back and builds a community is organic content produced on a consistent basis. It’s like the saying you can’t buy friendship. You cannot buy brand loyalty, it is something you have to earn from your audience over time, like trust.

For this reason, organic search is a clear winner for this category, however there are quite a few ways that you can use both together in order to build a very strong brand and tell your story along the way.

Organic Search

Eventually, even though it will seem like forever away, you will begin to build organic search traffic for your website over time. This will be your base. These are the people who love tuning into your blog, and who love watching your new video guide every week when you come out with it.

These are the people that build the foundation for a very strong brand. In order to reach them and make them loyal, you need to be persistent, and always put their interest in mind above your own. The goal should always be to bring them the highest level of quality content that fits their needs.

Over time, their shares, comments, likes, visits, searches, etc… will begin to add up. As this happens, Google will begin ranking you better for other keywords and searches related to your service or product for a few reasons:

  • People clearly like your site and find value there
  • People are looking for content you cover
  • Your metrics are very healthy
  • You have been consistent

Paid Search

Paid search also plays a large role in building a brand and telling your brand story over time.

In fact, some paid ads provide extremely good examples of this effect, such as:

  • The Geico Gecko
  • The Coca Cola Polar Bear
  • Wendy’s Never Frozen Beef
  • Old Spice Deodorant

If you think about some of these products and industries, they are incredibly boring and similar, with very little differentiating qualities between brands. That makes it important to tell a story and build a recognizable brand.

You cannot see an animated Polar Bear without thinking Coke, the same way you cannot see the Gecko and think about saving 15% or more on your car insurance. The same way you know when you see Terry Crews with a shirt off and an angry look on his face, you are being sold some Old Spice product.

Not only does this create an association between brands and their symbols, but it also imprints a mood on each consumer that they associate with that brand.

This is the power of using paid search to build a story. If you can combine this knowledge with high quality content, and something that fits to your company image, you will likely build a band very effectively. One thing that immediately comes to mind for this is Dawn’s ads which show workers cleaning up animals hurt in oil slicks using Dawn.

Wrapping it Up – Paid Search vs. Organic Search, Which is Best for My Business?

Look, at the day, we are content marketers. We must tell you that we completely believe in the power of organic search traffic strategies, such as content marketing and other inbound marketing techniques.

We also know just how important content is becoming in the fight for search engine rankings, with content almost being a requirement for ranking these days.

But, we would be lying if we told you that behind every great organic search strategy, there is an equally successful paid ad campaign. And vice verse.

This means that you cannot ignore either type of online advertising when it comes to marketing your business online in 2019.

For people who are small business owners or just getting started out, you will likely want to focus on organic search strategies such as producing video and blog content for your audience.

For business owners, marketing managers, and people who already experience developing content for their site who are looking to also implement paid advertising methods into your content marketing strategy, it is important to consider all of your options and outline your goals.

There are a lot of ways to reach your audience both organically and paid. The important thing is to remember to do your research, stay persistent, and to constantly test your content and improve on it.

Lastly, you want to make sure that you are creating a marketing plan and budget that fits your goals, and evenly distributes your resources between paid and organic strategies.

If you are looking to learn more about how to produce the best content for your site, as well as how to create effective paid ad campaigns to promote your content, be sure to check out our Content Marketing School.

Here you will find resources for:

We drop daily video and blog content, and also have a paid Content Marketing Mastercourse that will take your from beginner to winner in 56 comprehensive lessons that teach you everything you need to know to become a pro content marketer.

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