The value of search engine marketing is undeniable. Search is so effective because it reaches people at the exact moment they’re looking for information. In 2023, organic and paid search combine to make up 80% of trackable website referrals.
But you’re limiting your impact if you choose one or the other. Paid and organic search each have strengths and weaknesses. When executed properly, integrated search campaigns get more efficient over time. They achieve results faster, improve efficiency through repetition, and take market share through competitive conquesting.
Before we talk about how to integrate them, let’s talk about the purpose of each.
Paid Search (i.e., Pay-Per-Click or “PPC”)
While both forms of search engine marketing (SEM) can get your content in front of your audience, paid search gives you more immediate results and more direct, predictable cost control. Since you set the bid for each keyword in order to show up in results, you aren’t reliant on things like domain authority, site experience, or historical efforts. For that reason, paid search can be a great way of kickstarting more search traffic to go after metrics like share of voice and, ultimately, market share.
The downside of paid search is that it does require hard costs to maintain, which can make the expense of this tactic seem more prominent than organic efforts that rely only on overhead expenses. The good news is that if you integrate your paid and organic search efforts, there are many keywords that you can eventually decrease and/or stop bidding on as they begin to perform better via organic.
Best Used For
- Gaining new leads with more directly controllable, optimizable cost metrics
- Establishing and increasing share of voice for prioritized topics around timely initiatives like events or product launches
- Going after new markets and audience segments where awareness is limited or non-existent
- Particularly effective in mid/lower-funnel product campaigns for quick conversion or in top/mid-funnel content marketing to generate leads by capturing people with relevant gated content for email nurture.
- Don’t forget to bid on your own branded keywords if you aren’t ranking for them and/or if your competitors are pursuing them. There’s nothing worse than having a great product and getting your warm leads snagged by competitors because they’re bidding on your own product name and putting their ads in front of your audience. It’s worth noting that with proper website optimization, costs for your branded keywords should be minimal, as search engines can correctly identify that your brand identity matches the user’s query.
- Some audiences heavily prioritize online communities for information gathering (e.g., Reddit, StackOverflow). If that’s true of your audience, it can be worth bidding on long-tail keywords that include the community name if you have something valuable to contribute.
Organic Search (i.e., Search Engine Optimization or “SEO”)
While paid search delivers immediacy, organic search delivers longevity. Through sustained SEO efforts, you can increase your search visibility and generate more organic referrals, improving long-term, cost-effective performance for your business. And by using SEO to improve your domain authority, you also boost your brand awareness to build a stronger reputation, which can have a cascading effect of credibility for your paid efforts.
In addition to the technical elements of optimizing your site, an effective SEO strategy relies on user-focused content. And to create that content, you need a thorough understanding of what your audience needs and how they think.
While there are overhead costs required to sustain SEO, there is a compounding benefit in that this search-optimized content can also be deployed via many other channels to improve the customer experience.
Best Used For
- Building a sustainable, long-term growth and brand defense strategy
- Demonstrating ongoing commitment and leadership regarding an industry or topic
- Ensuring valuable content is findable when people need it
- Write keyword-researched organic content. Focus on articles, blogs or thought leadership around terms users are searching about—key, timely industry pain points—and let your audience come to you.
- Retarget from that organic content to your website or to another relevant lead-generation page, and you’re more likely to turn that prospect into a lead.
How do paid search and organic search support each other?
Paid and organic efforts are strong on their own, but they work even better when they’re used to complement each other. Here are a few of the ways to use them in an integrated search strategy.
Content developed for organic search can be amplified by paid, extending its reach
- Get to the top of results quickly. The top organic result on a SERP is 10x more likely to receive a click – and has an average CTR of 27.6%, but organic content doesn’t rank overnight. Putting paid dollars behind your content can be a great way of generating search traffic right now while you wait for your SEO efforts to pay off.
- Go after more keywords by creating a healthy mix of short-tail, long-tail, and branded keywords. By adding paid search promotion, you can pursue new search queries that your organic content isn’t ranking for currently.
- Take traffic from your competitors. Bidding on your competitors’ branded keywords allows you to present your thought leadership and solutions to audiences who may not know you exist or are unfamiliar with your portfolio. It’s a solid way to encroach on an incumbent and/or defend your market share.
Organic search results help to take up more space on the SERP for your company below any ads you’re running
- Build repetition and perception of leadership. The more spots you take up in results, the more credible and relevant you look. That’s a great way to build your brand equity.
- Remove competitor potential. The more real estate you take up, the less real estate there is for your competitors.
Paid search can offset a temporary dip in organic search referrals after a website redesign
- When you redesign your website, it’s normal to see a dip in organic traffic, even if you do everything right.
- While these drops are often very brief, you don’t always have the luxury of time, especially if the new site went live right before/during a major initiative (e.g., leading up to an important event or launch).
- Bidding on the same keywords you’re targeting via organic will help you continue generating traffic and brand exposure while you wait for search engines to re-crawl.
An integrated strategy can offset the volatility of search engines’ frequent changes
- Search engines are constantly looking for ways to improve the customer experience with their results, which can significantly impact your referral traffic.
- If your organic performance drops suddenly due to an algorithm change, paid can pick up the slack until it’s sorted out.
- If paid drops due to a problem with ads, targeting, or approvals, a strong search strategy ensures your company doesn’t fall off the map.
Paid vs. Organic
Choosing whether a keyword is best targeted via paid or organic can be a challenge, especially when you’re focusing on many different topics and offerings. While there are many variables to consider, this table includes some basic guidelines to inform which deployment method is most suitable for each keyword.
Keyword tracker worksheet
In order to get started with an integrated search strategy, you need keywords. We put together this keyword worksheet to help you build your keyword lists. Following a series of prompts, you’ll identify keyword lists for your areas of focus and make decisions about which ones to prioritize. And since search algorithms and performance change over time, it’s important to revisit these lists and revise your strategy accordingly.