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Organic Search Vs. Paid Search — What’s the Difference?

Today, marketing efforts are a far cry from what they once were. While businesses used to pour most of their marketing dollars into television, radio, and print ads, the internet has forced the field to evolve substantially over the last several decades. That being said, 2023 will surely see its fair share of organic search vs. paid search debates.

Given the remarkable access to consumers that the internet has allowed organizations to cultivate, it makes sense that businesses are doing everything they can to drive more traffic to their websites. In particular, ranking highly on search engines has become a common — and in many ways vital — marketing method used by organizations and businesses worldwide. 

READ: eCommerce SEO – 6 Easy Tips to Drive Organic Sales

Understanding the difference between the types of search engine resources that organizations can invest in can provide a broader understanding of how companies utilize search engines to drive traffic to their websites.

Here is the difference between organic search vs. paid search.

Organic Search 

Put simply, organic search is content from a business’s website showing up on search pages without being paid for. For example, a silverware business may have a blog article about “silverware that’s perfect for BBQs,” on their website. When a consumer types in the keywords “silverware for BBQs,” the silverware business’s blog article may pop up on the first page of a search engine results page, making it more likely that the consumer will visit their website. 

This practice of bolstering websites to show up on search engines is called search engine optimization or SEO. While organizations may not be paying search engines for their links to appear on results pages, that doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t costs associated with organic search. 

READ — Determining Your Business’s Target Market – Why It’s Necessary and How To Do It

Organizations may have to hire SEO strategists, copywriters, web designers, and other professionals to engage in robust SEO practices that drive significant traffic through organic search results. In addition, SEO practices aren’t overnight solutions and may take months to start driving substantial traffic to an organization’s website. 

Though organic search results may not be free, they can be substantially cheaper alternatives to their paid search result counterparts. Given this cheaper opportunity to reach consumers, many savvy organizations have begun to consistently engage in specific SEO practices that make their websites more authoritative in the eyes of search engine algorithms. 

Some of these practices include consistently posting blogs that contain keywords that target consumers are likely to search for, rewriting homepages to contain relevant keywords, and developing relationships with other websites so that they link to one’s website. 

Paid Search

In opposition to organic searches, paid searches require an organization to purchase a placement on a search engine’s result page. Depending on the keyword that an organization is attempting to rank for, the price for paid search results can vary widely. 

For example, if a pizza restaurant wants to buy a search result on the first page for the keyword “best pizza,” it would likely cost them an exorbitant and unreasonable amount of money. However, there are practices that organizations engage in to reduce the cost of paid search results. 

One method that is often used is being more specific with keywords. Rather than buying a paid search result for the keyword “best pizza,” an organization may instead buy a search result for the keyword “Neopolitan pizza in Scottsdale.” The fewer organizations there are attempting to buy a specific keyword, the cheaper it will be to buy a search result on that page. 

One of the most significant advantages of utilizing the paid search method as opposed to the organic search method is the fact that results are instant. While engaging in organic SEO practices could take months to have an organization’s website show up on a specific results page, a paid result could have it on a results page immediately. 

Having the ability to time when search results appear can make it easier to combine search engine marketing methods with other marketing methods when rolling out a specific campaign. The immediacy and greater degree of control of paid search results are some of the many reasons that this marketing method is a favorite among many marketing communication managers. 

Organic Search and Paid Search can Both Be Effective 

While each method has its pros and cons, both organic search and paid search can be extremely useful and effective for organizations. Which method one engages in will depend largely on the goals, budgets, and time restraints of one’s specific organization. 

Though the world of search engine marketing may seem intimidating at first, anyone who takes the time to explore their options can surely find a way to make it work for them. 


Andrew Deen HeadshotAndrew Deen has been a consultant for startups in a number of industries from retail to medical devices and everything in between. He implements lean methodology and is currently writing a book about scaling up business.