Organic SEO or Pay-Per-Click Advertising - Which Should You Choose?
Posted on October 11, 2006
By Scott Buresh
people hear about online marketing, they often think of two of
the more popular methods that a company can use to enhance its
visibility on the Web: organic search engine optimization and
pay-per-click advertising. In an ideal world, you would use both
strategically to maximize your site's profile. However, budgetary
constraints often make this impossible, and trying to do both
on a limited budget or with minimal resources can result in neither
campaign producing ideal results. In this case, it's usually better
to focus on one or the other. But which is best for you?
1) Organic Search Engine Optimization
Organic search engine optimization campaigns offer several distinct
advantages over pay-per-click advertising campaigns, as many recent
studies have shown. What follows is a brief listing of some of
Propensity to Click
Study after study indicates people are less likely to click on
paid search ads rather than on results from organic search engine
optimization. For example, one study found that search users are
up to six times more likely to click on the first few organic
results than they are to choose any of the paid results (1), while
an eye tracking study (2) showed that 50 percent of users begin
their search by scanning the top organic results. Other studies
have shown that only 30 percent of search engine users click on
paid listings, leaving an overwhelming 70 percent who are clicking
the organic listings (3). And a 2003 study found that 85 percent
of searchers report clicking on paid links in less than 40 percent
of all of their searches, and 78 percent of all respondents claim
that they found the information they we searching for through
sponsored links just 40 percent of the time (4).
Studies are beginning to indicate that the trust level for organic
results is much higher than that of paid results, and that paid
results are looked upon as a nuisance by some searchers. One study
found that only 14 percent of searchers trust paid listings, and
29 percent report being "annoyed" by them (5). Another study found
that 66 percent of customers distrust paid ads(6). Clearly, it's
not generally a good idea to upset potential customers before they
even click on your link.
Value of Visitors
Organic search engine results tend to be seen as non-biased, and
they therefore are able to provide visitors that are more valuable.
The overall conversion rate, or the rate at which searchers take
a desired action on a site, is 17 percent higher for unpaid search
results than the rate for paid (4.2% vs. 3.6%) (7). Trends also
have shown that more of the sales that result from search engines
originated in organic search listings (8).
Becoming More Aware of Pay-Per-Click as Advertising
As more and more people turn to the Internet for research and information,
more searchers are becoming aware of paid results as a marketing
tool. One study showed that not only are 38 percent of searchers
aware of the distinction between paid and unpaid results, 54 percent
are aware of the distinction on Google, which is widely recognized
as the most popular search engine (9).
Pay-Per-Click Costs Rising
Meanwhile, pay-per-click costs are rising steadily. Between October
2004 and December 2005, average keyword prices rose from around
$25 to just under $55 (10). And the cost of keywords can increase
by as much as 100 percent during the holiday season (11). These
costs aren't going unnoticed either; one study of problems experienced
by U.S. companies found that 57 percent of respondents felt that
their desired keywords were "too expensive," while 51 percent expressed
concern that they are overpaying for certain keywords (12). On the
other hand, when you outsource to an organic search engine optimization
firm, your costs will likely remain more stable than the prices
for pay-per-click advertising.
Long Term Results
While a pay-per-click campaign may produce results more quickly
than an organic search engine optimization campaign, organic search
engine optimization campaigns can give you results that last. When
the budget runs out for a pay-per-click campaign, or when your company
decides that the pay-per-click campaign should be terminated, the
results end as well. With organic search engine optimization, the
optimized site content and other changes made to your site can have
an impact on your search results until the next change in a search
engine's algorithm, or possibly even beyond.
Users also have rated organic search engine results as more relevant
than paid results. On Google, 72.3 percent felt that organic results
were more relevant, while only 27.7 percent rated paid results as
more relevant. Yahoo offered similar results, with 60.8 calling
organic results relevant compared to only 39.2 percent for paid
While the above statistics may make organic search engine optimization
seem the clear choice in all cases, in certain situations it actually
can make more sense to do pay-per-click advertising. For those looking
for fast results on a small budget, a pay-per-click campaign may
be the answer.
As previously stated, the results from pay-per-click advertising
are immediate. On the other hand, an organic search engine optimization
campaign may take up to three months or more for results to be apparent.
In this case, pay-per-click is advantageous for those who are looking
to promote an initiative that will go live in a short amount of
time, or whose business is seasonal in nature and who only do promotion
during certain months of the year.
Small businesses with extremely tight budgets may find that pay-per-click
is a better investment than organic search engine optimization because
a pay-per-click campaign will almost always cost less--good search
engine optimization companies simply do not work for $100 per month.
By limiting a campaign's keyphrases to highly specific terms relevant
to a company's business, there will not be a large amount of traffic
generated, but the traffic that is generated will be specific to
the desired result. Plus, choosing such specific phrases can make
them less expensive on a per click basis. Moreover, in niche markets
with a high average dollar sale, where there's not a great amount
of search activity because the prospect pool is limited, it may
not make sense to engage a quality organic search engine optimization
firm at several thousand dollars per month when you can instead
buy varying niche-specific keyphrases and generate traffic in that
Easier to Handle In-House
Non-complicated pay-per-click campaigns can be handled much more
easily in-house than an organic search engine optimization campaign.
Such campaigns generally involve business to business and high-end,
service oriented companies, not those geared toward a large consumer
base. Since organic search engine optimization requires a steep
learning curve and since there are so many questionable tactics
that can put a site at risk of penalization (the tactics that neophytes
to search engine optimization are likely to use), it may make more
sense to run a pay-per-click campaign. Since you are dealing directly
with the engine, i.e., Yahoo Search Marketing and Google AdWords,
you don't need to pay a middleman, and these sites offer helpful
tutorials on how to use pay-per-click marketing. Perhaps most importantly,
the concept of pay-per-click is much easier to grasp and understand
at the outset.
Most organic search engine optimization campaigns require a contract
of a certain length because SEO companies know that meaningful results
will rarely happen overnight. When dealing with an in-house pay-per-click
campaign, obviously a contract is not an issue. But in general,
even when you are dealing with an agency, you will not tend to need
to sign a contract because the agency instead makes money on a percentage
of the spend, although there may be a setup fee. Without a contract,
you are free to reallocate marketing dollars elsewhere if you discover
that the pay-per-click campaign is not providing the desired results.
Clearly, organic search engine optimization has some distinct advantages
over pay-per-click advertising. However, there are undoubtedly certain
situations and scenarios where pay-per-click advertising makes more
sense fiscally and strategically. With a high enough budget, you
would be able to have an effective organic search engine optimization
campaign running in tandem with an effective pay-per-click campaign.
But if you have to choose one, look into your unique situation before
Enquiro, July 2005
Are Corporate Web Sites Optimized for SEO? by Paul Bruemmer,
Search Engine Guide, August 2005
WebAdvantage.net 2003 Survey
eMarketer, April 2003
Marketing Sherpa, August 2005
Are Corporate Web Sites Optimized for SEO? by Paul Bruemmer,
Search Engine Guide, August 2005
Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2005
Jupiter Media, June 2003
iProspect, Survey Sampling International, WebSurveyor, and
Stratagem Research, April 2004
Scott Buresh is the CEO of Medium Blue, a
engine optimization company. Scott has contributed
content to many publications including Building
Your Business with Google For Dummies (Wiley,
2004), MarketingProfs, ZDNet, WebProNews,
Lockergnome, DarwinMag, SiteProNews,
ISEDB.com, and Search Engine Guide.
Medium Blue, which was recently named the number one
search engine optimization company in the world by
PromotionWorld, serves local and national clients,
including Boston Scientific, Cirronet, and DS Waters.
Visit MediumBlue.com to request a custom
SEO guarantee based on your goals and your
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