Organic Vs. Paid: Where You Should Invest Your Budget

Dec 03, 2019

With millions of websites jostling for online supremacy, getting your business the attention it deserves is tough work.

What makes things even harder is the number of marketing strategies out there, all of which claim to be better than the rest at driving hordes of users to your website.

In this blog, I’m going to compare two of the biggest strategies out there: organic search marketing and paid search advertising.

With some help from our friends at Browser Media and Tutora, I’ll look at the pros and cons of each, showing how you can best implement them in your marketing. But before we get started, here’s a quick definition of what we’re talking about.

What is organic?

Organic search results are determined by search engine algorithms and are based on the merits of each site.

What is paid?

Paid advertisements sit alongside organic results and are bought rather than earned.

How soon can you expect results?

For the past year, Tutora co-founder Mark Hughes has worked to get his website seen online using a mixture of organic and paid marketing techniques. Here’s Mark discussing the immediacy of the results he generated.

“The holy grail is of course a steady stream of free organic traffic. However, this requires a serious investment in time, and can take months, even years, to bear fruit.”

“Paid traffic will of course cost money upfront, but it does have a key advantage over organic traffic: it’s quick. If you need to grow your topline quickly, this shouldn’t be overlooked! It also offers a way to get instant feedback on whether you are doing the right thing (hands up those who have spent months on an organic marketing campaign only to find out it was doomed from the start).”

Mark isn’t exaggerating, either. Search engines are so slow they make glaciers look rapid! Even if you magically ticked off every single ranking factor, your website might not move up the rankings for days, weeks or months.

If you can afford that investment of resources now for long-term results later, that’s brilliant but a lot of businesses simply can’t survive the wait.

How long does it last?

Good organic search marketing works by building permanent traffic sources for your website — guest posts on other websites, valuable content assets hosted on your site and so on.

If you write a successful guest post on a high traffic website, you’ll continue receiving referral traffic for as long as that blog is still live.

Below is a snapshot of the traffic we receive from one of our most successful guest posts.

Referral traffic ballooned in the months immediately after publishing the blog then fell to a steady stream.

Even if we completely forgot about that guest blog, never updating it or sharing it on social media, it will continue delivering traffic month in month out. That’s the power of organic search marketing.

Earlier this year, Russell Silver founded Fetch, a one-tap review system for websites built on Shopify. Like many startups, Russell has had to balance short-term viability with long-term growth, and, thus, decide between paid and organic marketing.

While organic marketing is undoubtedly effective, it is a long-term strategy.

It relies heavily on producing great content and having enough people discover it to build the top of your funnel. While they will often be stronger leads, this requires a lot of content (which is time-consuming in itself), and they could stumble across it a year or two later.

Paid marketing is all about getting the message out there now.

A real “strike when the iron’s hot” mentality. It is able to deliver a current message with measurable results, all aimed at converting customers now.

Like Russell says, paid search works well right now and the results of paid campaigns are largely based on how much money you put in. If you stop bidding for terms and stop buying adverts, your traffic will drop.

Here’s a snapshot showing what would happen if you turned off the advertising on a new website.

While your traffic probably wouldn’t die off completely — some paid users will keep returning — overall traffic will haemorrhage. Relying on that sort of traffic is super dangerous and can cause havoc if anything goes wrong.

Which costs more?

The cost structure of an organic and paid campaign is perhaps the biggest difference between the two.

A paid advertising campaign is a static and inflexible price. If it costs you £100 to acquire 100 new customers this month, it will cost you another £100 to acquire another 100 customers next month.

Organic marketing campaigns work by building on the work you’ve done before. The £100 you invest this month helps you acquire new customers this month and the next month and the month after that.

Unlike paid campaigns, you aren’t starting from scratch every single month. If you keep investing in an organic campaign, the results tend to snowball.

Here’s how the investment and return of a typical organic marketing campaign looks.

Like we mentioned before, the investment you put into organic marketing campaigns creates value that doesn’t disappear the next month.

The blogs you write will continue attracting new visitors, the testimonials you prise out of clients will continue building trust and the landing pages you produce will continue converting users.

So, should I invest in organic or paid?

Thankfully, the choice between organic and paid isn’t an either-or choice. You can run both campaigns simultaneously — in fact, we recommend businesses do invest in a mix of paid search advertising and organic search marketing.

Paid and organic campaigns can work together brilliantly, each one supporting the other and creating a much more effective overall marketing strategy.

Here’s how we’ve seen integrated campaigns work time and time again.

Paid advertising allows absolutely any business at absolutely any stage in their development to boost their traffic and instantly kickstart their business, generating the work required to keep things ticking over.

In the background, we run organic search marketing campaigns to help improve your presence in the search results. Over time, your organic traffic and revenue will grow to replace paid traffic and revenue, allowing you to gradually reduce your adspend and rely on your organic performance for lead generation.

Our approach isn’t unique in the industry either. Annie Hopkins from Essex-based Browser Media recommends a similar approach.

I would absolutely recommend a blend of both PPC and SEO activity, but this won’t be a static blend — it’ll depend on your business’ niche and website maturity.

As an example, PPC is great for a new website looking for immediate traffic. A well-targeted PPC campaign is great for instant visibility and quick wins, while organic is the long-game.

With ongoing SEO efforts, it may be that your website’s authority in search starts to improve, and so PPC budget can be reduced, or reallocated, and even dialled back to a simple brand campaign in order to dominate real-estate in SERPs.

So, should you invest in organic or paid? The simple answer is that most businesses need both.

A good starting point is completing an SEO Audit so you know where you stand. And to the great news — we’re giving out free SEO Audits to whoever needs a helping hand.