Search results, whether organic or paid, are how potential customers find your website and company when they are researching similar products or services.
There are several sources of traffic. Two of the most important sources your business can utilize are paid and organic search. While most businesses use a combination of traffic sources, we're going to break down the difference between paid and organic search as well as the pros and cons of each.
What is Organic Search?
Organic search is website traffic from search engine results that is earned, not paid.
Organic search results are populated based on relevancy to the user's search query, backlinks, and domain authority. In the following example, you can see the organic search results that come up include the H1 (or name of the page), url, and the meta description (a quick summary of the content on that page).
Organic Search Example
What is Search Engine Optimization?
Ranking organically is accomplished through search engine optimization (SEO). This is the practice of optimizing content so it can be discovered by a search engine with the goal of increasing the quantity and quality of the traffic to your site. This involves having keyword-rich content on your website and ensuring that it is presented in a way that a search engine can read it clearly and see value in what you are saying.
Developing a clear SEO strategy involves many factors, so it is imperative to know how the process works.
How to Create an SEO Strategy
Use Keywords Your Prospects and Customers Are Searching For
To improve your SEO efforts and organic traffic, you need to understand what keywords your target market is using to find your products, services, and business. Before selecting your target keywords, study your company's niche and speak with your customers on areas of interest. How would they describe your brand? What pain points have they felt that you have helped them solve? This will help you think from the perspective of your potential customers and gain insights into search intent.
How to Create A Keyword List
The search terms you select should be aligned with your objectives and ideally be segmented into different marketing funnels. Once you are clear on the main category of your brand, break it down further into smaller topic buckets and make a list of keywords you'd like to rank for within each category. Then use tools like Moz or SEMrush to refine your list of keywords and discover which ones users are searching for. Once you have a list of relevant keywords, you can incorporate those into the existing content on your website and create new content optimized with these terms.
Link Building Strategy
While keywords are a huge part of SEO, links also play an important role in ranking. The more high-quality, relevant links you acquire, the more credit the search engine will give your content.
How Do You Get Backlinks?
There a number of link building tactics you could deploy, some of which include:
- Report broken links and offer a link from your own site
- Spread the word about your business by contacting bloggers and influencers in your niche
- Ask for links from companies you already have relationships with
- Convert unlinked mentions of your business to links
- Write a guest article and link back to your site from the post
- Look at your competitors' link building strategies with tools such as Monitor Backlinks
However, these methods are most effective if you are creating high-quality content that others will want to reference.
Not all backlinks are created equally so it is important to determine which links you should go after in your link building strategy. Google Search Console's Webmaster Tool gives you a snapshot of your most linked pages and who is linking to you as well as quantity of links. You can also analyze the quality of backlinks through SEMRush's backlink checker which produces page scores for all of your links so you can identify the bad ones from the good.
Internal Linking for SEO
Internal linking is also important when building your website's authority. Internal links help a search engine index and understand the pages on your site. Links represent value to Google and a high amount of internal links pointing to a certain page will signal to a search engine that that page is important. This doesn't mean stuffing your content with as many links as possible, Google is smart enough to see this as spammy. All links should be relevant to your page's content and make sense to readers and search crawlers alike to provide value. A couple best practices include:
- put links high up on the page
- use keyword-rich anchor text for your links
- audit internal links in Google Search Console (1-2 times per year)
- add new internal links to old pages
Now, let's talk about the pros and cons of SEO.
Pros and Cons of SEO
Pros of SEO
1. Higher ROI
SEO is not free. There is a cost associated with optimizing your website and getting it to rank well in the organic search results. Fortunately, once the work is complete and your site is ranking, there is little to no cost to keep your website ranking.
Since the ongoing cost is very little, the ROI on your organically ranked website will increase even higher over time, as your website receives more and more visitors.
2. Improves Credibility
When your site ranks organically, that’s the search engine’s way of saying your content is valuable. Sites that rank on the first page of Google have outperformed hundreds of other websites targeting the same keyword.
Google users tend to stick with the first page of results when doing research. In fact, 91% view only the first page, and 50% do not go past the first three results on the first page.
3. Increases Brand Awareness
People use search engines to help them answer a question or solve a problem. They may have no familiarity with your business, and seeing it in the organic results is their first experience with your brand. The more someone sees your business, the better your brand awareness will be.
There are more than 3.5 million searches done on Google each day. That’s a lot of opportunities for businesses to get their brand in front of potential customers.
Cons of SEO
1. Difficult to Achieve
SEO is not easy by any means. Think of how many websites exist today, and how many of those might be the same or similar to your business. Every one of these websites is competing to rank on the first page.
How web users interact with the content on your website affects your organic ranking. This is where understanding search intent comes into play. Search intent is the user's purpose for conducting a search. This can include looking for more information on a topic, finding directions to a certain location, or looking to make a purchase.
To optimize for search intent, you have to understand and incorporate words and phrases in your content from their queries and most importantly provide a solution. For example, someone looking to learn about SEO would probably type something like "how to rank for keywords" or "how to rank higher on google." Your article should include quality content that reflects terms like this and answer them by educating them on the fundamentals of SEO instead of simply putting in high-volume keywords.
2. Less Initial Traffic
Because SEO takes time to perfect, your site will not rank on the first page organically right out of the gate. Your website content needs time to build credibility as it competes with other sites that have been around longer and have already established authority.
To increase specific keyword rankings and get more traffic to your pages, you must optimize your content with keywords and phrases in a natural way that is still centered on providing value to the reader. By creating content around key topics in your niche and by using focused, informational keywords you will attract people that will find your content useful and valuable. And if a user finds your content valuable, then Google will too and will reward you with a higher ranking. Focusing on quality, educational pieces will also get your content shared on social media platforms and garner strong, relevant backlinks, both of which are high ranking factors to Google.
Just because you rank on the first page of the search results one day, does not guarantee that you’ll still be there the next day. If you track your search ranking with tools such as Google Analytics, you may see your ranking go up and down repeatedly in a short time.
This can be caused by several things. Other websites are vying to make it to the first page organically, thus creating competition. Stay on top of your competitors's content tactics and link building strategies to predict their next moves so you can adjust your strategy if needed.
Changes to a search engine’s algorithm can also affect how your site ranks. Consistently monitor keyword rankings as well as impressions and clicks in Google Search Console for negative movement. You will be notified in your Google Webmaster account if the drop is caused by an algorithm update or a penalty from Google.
Be aware of any technical SEO issues such as page speed, redirects, and server errors that could be tampering with your ranking. You can pull a full report of your site's performance in SEMRush. Be sure to also pay attention to your linking profile in Google Search Console to ensure you have not lost any links.
Finally, create content with your user in mind. Users (and Google) will not find your content valuable if it comes with a poor user experience and may dock you in rankings if the reader's expectations are not met. Structure your content so that it is easily "skimmable" where they can easily find the information they're looking for. Users are constantly evolving so be sure to continuously update your content to match their intent.
What is Paid Search?
Paid search, also known as pay-per-click (PPC), means you pay for your site to rank in the search results. The most common paid ads are search engine text ads which look similar to organic search results.
Paid Search Example
How Does Paid Search Work?
Paid search ads appear based on an auction with businesses bidding on certain keywords that they want their ad to show up for. The closer your keyword matches the user's search query, the easier it is to rank highly. While the keywords you select are crucial, there are several factors that determine ad rank all of which are calculated into your quality score.
Your quality score refers to how pertinent and useful the ad is for the end-user.
There are three major components to your quality score:
- Landing Page Experience: The relevancy and usability of the page including mobile-friendliness and load time.
- Ad Relevance: Does your ad adhere to what the user is looking for?
- Expected Click-Through Rate (CTR): How likely your ad is to be clicked. This is estimated using your historical performance and competitors' performance, as well as the ad features you are using.
Programs like Google AdWords and Bing Ads have created easy-to-use tools so that anyone is able to set up a PPC account to create and manage their ads.
Pros and Cons of PPC
Pros of PPC
1. Increased Visibility
After setting up your PPC account and choosing the keywords associated with your business, your ads have the potential to show on the first page of the search results.
On Google, there are ad spaces above and below the organic search results. Depending on your budget, keyword competition, and ad rank, you could see your ads on the first page of Google within 24 hours of setting up your account, alongside organic search results that likely took months to generate.
2. Audience Customization
With PPC, you have some control over who your ads get shown to. You can select the geography, language, time of day, and interests that you want to target.
For example, if you are targeting small business owners then you may want to run your ad after working hours at night or on the weekends as they typically spend their time outside of work researching things that could help their business.
3. Ranking Stability
If your ad targets relevant keywords, has strong messaging, and connects to a keyword-rich web page, you can expect a relatively stable rank in the paid search results.
Just like with organic search results, PPC tools want to show the most valuable content at the top of the search results. The more frequently your ad is interacted with, the better it will rank. You do not have to be the highest bidder in order to achieve the top position in paid search results, but you do have to be the most valuable.
Cons of PPC
1. Ongoing Expense
Once your budget runs out, your ads will stop showing. In order to keep your ads showing in the paid search results, you need to maintain an ongoing budget. Unlike SEO where there is an upfront cost followed by little to no maintenance cost, PPC is never free.
The size of your budget helps determine how frequently your ads are shown. A low budget may result in your ads being shown only a few times a day. Alternatively, a large ad budget that isn’t optimized well could result in a big expense with few leads.
2. Ongoing Management
PPC is not a hands-off process. Sure, your ads can run on their own and generate traffic with little interference. However, the success of your ads and the utilization of your budget depends on your ads reaching the right people.
In Google AdWords, you can view the search terms that triggered your ad. It’s very common to see terms that are not related to your business at all. Regularly reviewing these search terms and adding negative keywords when necessary will help keep your ad showing to the right audience, and preserve your budget.
3. Requires Experience
PPC is very easy to get started with. However, for the best optimization of your ad account, it helps to have experience. Your ads may perform just fine even if you have zero PPC experience, but there are many tools and features you could be utilizing to help your ads perform better.
Google AdWords offers certifications to help users understand how to use their tools. The certification process does take some time to complete and can be overwhelming for someone with no PPC experience.
PPC and SEO Working Together
Used together, SEO and PPC can improve website performance, increase leads, and boost revenue. But it takes time to find the right balance of PPC and SEO that works well for your business. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.
If it all feels a bit overwhelming, we completely understand. Our team has dedicated PPC and SEO specialists to help our clients achieve great results without having to build the process themselves. You can learn more about our work in these two categories by scheduling a free 20-min marketing audit to discuss your businesses search result needs and more.