Paid vs. Organic Search: The Building Blocks of a Great Digital Marketing Strategy

As a small-business owner, I know that every cent counts when growing a business. And when it comes to digital marketing, it's critical to get your website in front of people who are searching for companies like yours - and to get the most out of your time and money.

If you're still not sure about the ROI of digital content marketing, bear this in mind: Content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing, and it generates approximately three times as many leads per dollar spent. Digital content marketing is a great way to make measurable marketing decisions, and digital search is the perfect first step.

Why does digital search matter?

Search engines like Google are the most powerful way for people to find your website. Search engines are the biggest source of traffic to websites today, with more than one in three website visitors arriving on websites from a search engine. And Google dominates the search engine market: As of July 2019, over 88% of global internet searches happen in Google.

Ultimately, Google is a solutions provider: It is designed to return the most relevant information based on your search. It regularly crawls website content, matching key words and phrases to terms commonly searched by users.

Two types of content appear in Google's results: Paid and organic.

Paid search: The quick win

Paid search is built for quick wins. Using Google Ads, companies choose which search terms to target and then pay to skip to the top of the results page for those terms. (These paid results are marked with a green "Ad" badge.)

Paid search is a useful tool, particularly when launching a new product or are competing in a new market. Depending on how much money you spend and how competitive the search terms you're targeting are, your ads may appear at the top of the results page within a few days. But paid is only part of a winning digital search strategy.

Organic search: The long (smart) game

Unlike paid, organic search is not pay-to-play. To win with organic, you have to identify the search terms that are most relevant to your business and then create relevant content to attract users searching for those terms. The upside: Your great content will start to rank for free (organically), so you won't burn cash on paid placement. So how do you master organic search content to get your company to the top of Google's results page?

There's no way around it: Ranking organically in Google is hard, and it takes time. An organic campaign is unlikely to drive big results right away - there is a lot of organic content out there, and Google's algorithm will take time to evaluate and re-evaluate how your organic content performs over time. Google is also constantly updating its algorithm, meaning you have to keep refining even your top-performing content to stay ahead of the algorithm - and your competitors. The only way to win with organic is to understand your audience's needs and then create engaging, relevant content to meet those needs. (Google also evaluates the design of your website, but that's a separate article.)

Closing thoughts

Paid search is great - it helps get your company to the top of Google's results page and can add fuel to the fire of great organic content. But with the right strategy, great content, and a well-designed website, organic search is the strongest foundation for sustained, cost-effective growth.

•Ashley Logan is the founder and CEO of Yakkety Yak, a full-service marketing agency in Chicago. For more, visit

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