Organic vs. Paid Search: and the Winner is…

By on July 11, 2011

Before we start, let’s play a game. Quick, answer this question in your head: Which would you rather have, a #5 organic search result or #3 paid search result? Read on and the answer might not be what you’d expected.

Just the fact’s m’am.

In order to answer the common question of organic vs paid search, one needs to know the median CTR (Click Through Rate) for organic results and for paid ads. Unfortunately, Google and the other search engines don’t release these results.

Lucky for us though, AOL accidentally leaked their user data in 2006. While not exactly current, the data from this leak is very telling, and can help to serve as a barometer.

The results of the AOL leak revealed #1 and #2 organic search results get more clicks than numbers 3 through 10 combined!

So depending on the traffic for your target keyword, if you aren’t #1 (42.13% of the clicks) or #2 (11.90% of the clicks), then there is a good chance the you aren’t going to see any significant impact on revenue. This reminds us that if you aren't willing to go full throttle with a well planned and coordinated SEO campaign, then you might as well save your money.

And remember that no one, and I mean no one, can guarantee you top organic placement. And even if you do achieve top placement, you can fall very quickly. Just look at JC Penney – they got caught with their pants down when their SEO company used nefarious “black hat” techniques, and plummeted in organic placement as a result.

And, through no fault of its own, the well respected IT forum DaniWeb took a lethal blow when Google released its Panda algorithm update.

So in the end, you could spend a ton of money and only end up at #5 (resulting in 4.92% of the clicks). From an ROI perspective, that might not be a gamble worth taking.

Finally, to complicate organic search further, many people see personalized results based on their previous searches. This is bound to increase in complexity as time marches on. That means that even if you are #1 for a particular keyword, your target customers may never see you because you aren’t in their personalized results.


How Paid Search Compares

The CTR for paid search advertisements is lower than organic results… but hold on… what’s the full story?

First, let's look at the data Accuracast collected data on CTR by ad position for over 1 million paid search ads.

AdWord Click Through Rates

The #1 paid search ad gets 8% of the clicks. That beats a #5 organic click, which you’ll recall only receives 4.92% of clicks.

In fact, #1 paid search also beats #4 organic search and is nearly even with the CTR for the #3 organic result. And, better yet, paid search gives you control over your ad content, and you don't pay unless a customer clicks and visits your website. This way, you have a better chance of getting the customer in the door, and you don't risk paying for nothing.

So if you want immediate, reliable gains, and don't have the time or resources to pursue the long tail of organic SEO, paid search is a clear winner.


Engaging the Customer

The key to making paid search ads work is to make sure you take the time to finely tune your ads so that you appear in the top results AND, more importantly, that you have a plan for the prospect that clicks through, such as a customized landing page with a clear call to action.

Whether in paid or organic results, if you don’t fully engage the customer when they reach your website, there’s a good chance that they won't make it past the first page or engage with your business.

Ridge Marketing is an NJ Web design firm that works with clients to determine which tactics fit best for their unique situation. We identify their winnable keywords, look at the competitive landscape, and plan the right mix of SEF, organic SEO, and well executed paid search. We never take a one-size-fits all approach, and instead focus on the bottom line and how best to increase revenue... not just clicks and impressions.

Make sure that your web design shop or Internet marketing firm is seeing all of these angles – and if they aren’t, get in touch with us to learn the full story.


About Ridge Marketing

Ridge Marketing is an agency that specializes in crafting creative digital assets and using websites, search, advertising and email to ensure that the right prospects interact with your brand and become loyal customers.