Organic SEO vs Paid Search: How to Know Which One to Prioritize?

A few months ago I had a call with a prospective client who wanted more visibility in the search engines. This local business owner was looking for better SEO and to be closer to the top for his keywords.

Prior to our call, I visited his website. Based on the design, I didn’t think it had been updated in well over 8+ years. It also consisted of about 6 pages with no blog. I then followed the link to the company’s Facebook page, which showed very minimal activity.

On the call, I asked a few standard questions about his company:

  • Did he have anyone who regularly did marketing for them? No.
  • Were they planning on redesigning the website? No.
  • Did he envision creating more content to educate his website visitors? No.
  • But he wanted better online marketing results? Yes.

While on paper this company sounds a little sketchy, the company was indeed an offline leader and expert in its space who had just always relied on word of mouth. They just never had the need for a top-notch online presence in their 30+ year history.

The answer here was uber clear, based on the above scenario.

If he wanted to results, he was going to have to pay for them. Paid Search, or PPC, was a no-brainer.

When Paid Search Is a Better Option than “Free” Organic SEO

First, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about one thing. Organic SEO is not free. Even though it allegedly doesn’t cost you anything to get to the top, there are one-time and ongoing resources (people, time and improvements) that need to be dedicated to organic SEO efforts.

People who have resisted AdWords often say that nobody clicks on the ads and instead they go straight down to the organic listings. While this depends on the industry and keyword, this argument no longer holds the weight it once did.

For one thing, check out the evolution of how the ads “look” in the SERPS:

Paid Search or Organic SEO - why PPC

For small businesses, I often find that Paid Search is a better channel to prioritize over organic SEO when these are driving factors:

  • Your industry is very competitive with big players – there is no way you’ll outseat the current competitors for your best keywords organically
  • You won’t be able to crank out high quality content regularly
  • Educational (top of funnel) keywords are limiting
  • You need results FAST
  • You have identified great “transactional” keywords that perfectly describe your services, products or business
  • People are turning to the search engines with a knowing need or pain point

Remember, regardless of whether you choose Organic SEO or Paid Search, your results and performance is going to be contingent upon the keywords and queries that are actively and frequently being searched on.

I believe that PPC is a great channel to test out, and certainly to be in while you’re diligently working on your Organic SEO efforts. You just have to make sure you’re putting the right strategy, parameters, controls, and optimization plan in place.

And that client I referred to above? We started driving traffic through ads, analyzed the results, ended up redesigning the website and landing page, implemented local and on-page SEO, and within 3 months landed a huge project through PPC that gave them an 8x ROI.

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Jenny Munn

Jenny is an independent Digital Marketer and SEO Consultant with more than 10 years of experience helping companies and content creators generate brand awareness, traffic, and conversions with SEO. She is a frequent speaker and is on the faculty for the AMA (American Marketing Association) and has taught SEO to thousands of marketers over the past 10 years.
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