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Organic vs Paid Reach

September 2017

The landscape of online marketing and advertising is littered with dichotomies between organic and paid reach. Is it better to push your business toward the top of Google search results through organic SEO, or through pay-per-click platforms like Google AdWords? Should you strive to get notices on external websites through outreach posts and other efforts, or should you use Google’s ad network to plaster your brand all over the web? Regarding social media, is it better to be super active, or to pay for sponsored posts on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter?

As you might expect, there are no easy answers to any of these questions. Organic reach has its benefits, but so does paid reach. In other words, the best “answer” rests somewhere in the middle.

Let’s look at search engine marketing as a case study. The traditional method for attracting traffic and boosting conversions through Google is organic SEO. By strategizing your use of keywords throughout your website and creating high-quality content, you can get your business closer to the top of Google’s search result pages.

On the one hand, this method is beneficial because it attracts people to your website and engages them. For instance, if you operate a law firm and want to convert Google searchers into visitors and then into paying clients, you need to offer a convincing argument that you deserve their business. The bread and butter of law firm SEO—FAQs, legal advice blogs, tutorials, detailed service pages, etc.—makes the argument for you.

On the other hand, organic SEO is a house that takes a long time to build. You need to conduct keyword research to find out what your target customers are searching for, generate quality content, and monitor analytics to assess the strength of your campaign. Gradually, as Google crawls your pages and users start visiting, engaging, and sharing them, your rank will increase. None of these things can happen overnight, which means that you can wait weeks or even months before you start reaping the benefits of organic search.

In contrast, paid search platforms such as Google AdWords make it possible to get your page and brand name to the top of Google’s search results right now. If you have a time-sensitive matter that you need to promote, this strategy might well be essential. The catch is twofold: 1) you have to pay per click, which can get expensive over time, and 2) if you don’t have high-quality content on your site, you are going to end up paying for visitors who don’t convert.

The best strategy, then, is to use both organic SEO and paid search at the same time. Focus on SEO for your long-term promotional plans, but use PPC intermittently or for time-sensitive matters to bring extra attention to your site.

The same strategy is also the right way to go for other situations where you are trying to decide between organic and paid reach opportunities. A mix of organic outreach efforts and paid advertising (provided it is well targeted) can deliver results that are far superior to using one or the other alone. As for social media, organic activity will allow you to engage with customers and build a loyal following, while sponsored posts will bring new eyeballs to your accounts and grow your audience further.