By now, I think it is safe to say that most of you are very familiar with the concepts of paid search (SEM) campaigns like Google Adwords and Facebook ads and organic search engine optimization (SEO). Although they both serve to make your company or ad show up on search engines, they are like two sides of the same street. This will attempt to explain the differences and if, (or why) you should pay more attention to one or the other.

First, let’s make sure we define these two distinctly different things. Paid search (SEM), like Google Adwords, is aimed at ensuring you show up when someone searches relevant words or phrases. With paid advertising, SEO has nothing to do with where you show up on the page. Your placement is determined by how your campaigns are set up and often comes down to the highest positions being assigned to the highest bidders. (Kind of why paid ads show up on the top of most search pages for the search terms you have selected.  In Google Adwords, for instance, they are marked “ad” to the left of the entry.) The details of how these campaigns are set up is too complex for this article to cover properly; essentially, you choose the words and phrases for which you would like to be displayed and pay for that display listing. 

Now that that’s clear, is one better than the other? One might be tempted to say organic is free and paid costs money, so organic must be better, right? Not so fast. Proper SEO to get good organic results costs as well, so there really isn’t a free option unless you are doing your own SEO and excellent at it!  And unless you feel your time is worth nothing or wouldn’t be better served at things for which you may be uniquely better suited, (running your business?) it still costs-either time, or money.

The pros of organic (SEO) search results often include long-term benefits much the same as farming, versus hunting.  It takes time from planting the crops to harvesting the fruits of your labors-the time being spent or work being paid for. Once a website is constructed properly and the “backend” SEO is good, it will tend to perform well, at least for a time.  It’s important to note, however, that the Internet is increasingly becoming like a river, not a pond-and a fast-moving one, at that!  To stay at the top, ongoing SEO work in the form of new content of ALL types should be constantly flowing to the site.  Like any structure, however, the foundation SEO work on your site will always benefit you. A so-called “catch” of organic search is that it often takes time for search engines to begin returning your improved results in the form of higher rankings based on changes that have been made. Your website will have to “work” its way up the ladder!

On the other hand, paid search can get you right to the top of desired search terms and phrases nearly immediately with a properly built campaign, directing you traffic at once. However, you will need to pay for these results on an ongoing basis.  Kind of like hunting, in that you can get instant “food” by hunting for it-BUT-the minute you turn your campaign off, (stop hunting) the results/food goes away!

So, is there a “right” answer? The reality is they are both important for different reasons, and different applications. You absolutely want to have the SEO on your website done in the most professional and expert manner possible. You should also have ongoing activity performed on  the site, so that terms you wish to be found as having expertise in continue to rank high. Paid search can be used to get immediate “hits” on search terms you desire while you wait for the organic (SEO) to begin to have its effect.  In an ideal situation, you strike a balance of results; the searchers who prefer to respond to organic listings for relevant terms will find your firm one way, and the other potential buyers will locate you through paid advertising. A perfect storm!

Don’t be misled, however. To get your listings to the top organically using SEO, and to keep them there will take time and a significant investment. The most positive thing about organic SEO work is that you own the work once it has been completed. Paid campaigns stop working the minute you stop paying. For that reason, we advise a combination of both with a mindset to advise a client based on goals and expectations as the organic begins to produce desired results.  It’s a great problem to have, when both organic SEO AND paid advertising (SEM) are paying dividends in the form of fantastic ROI!