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Paid Versus Organic Search

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Digital Marketing - Study Notes:

What is paid search?

Let's begin by looking at what actually is paid search advertising. It is advertising within the search results of a search engine. Essentially, you're putting your ad on the search engine in front of people who are actively looking for it. And that word active is really important. We’ll explore how user intent is the fundamental differentiator for search advertising, and how we can use it to leverage business objectives.

Search formats

Let's look at search as a whole. Now, search as a whole incorporates paid search and organic search or SEO. They look quite similar. There are a lot of similarities across things like site links, clickable headlines and different things like that. But there is a fundamental difference on the backend to how they're actually deployed.

Here, you can see that the search ad appears at the top. Generally, the search ads always appear above the natural listings or the organic listings, because from a search engine's perspective, they want to drive more traffic to clicks that they will ultimately get paid for. So search ads tend to be above the organic listings, but there are some other differentiators, which we’ll explore later.

Similarities between paid and search

There are a lot of similarities between paid search and organic search.

Both have headlines that are clickable, and both have site links. These are the links just below the ad, or indeed the organic copy, that contain a little snippet of information that will drive us deeper into the site, and they both contain descriptions, or meta descriptions as they are known in SEO.

So there are similarities but there are differentiators too. If you look closely at that search ad, you can see, at the very top there, you can see a little tiny icon on the top left hand corner that says ad, that in itself just indicates that it's an ad.

And there are other enhancements around phone numbers, around different rich snippets and other site links and ad extensions that will also differentiate it. Now we're going to go through all of that later. And as you become more familiar with the features of search advertising, it will be like second nature to you, to be able to pick out the difference in search and in the organic world and the paid search world.

Differences between paid and organic search

There are some key differences between the two search types.


With paid search advertising you're obviously paying for the traffic. So it's built on what's called a PPC model, or CPC model, which is a pay per click or cost per click as other people call it. Sometimes people refer to paid search as PPC. And PPC, it's become a synonym for paid search. So even though it is actually the pricing model, it is also another word for paid search.


In terms of speed and accuracy, we do find that because paid search is a more instantaneous medium, you can get up to the very top of Google or Yahoo or Bing, or whatever engine you're actually operating on far quicker than your organic optimization, which is really about driving content and links and website development. It can be a less controlled process than with paid search which is pretty much telling Google, "I want these keywords, this ad copy, and I want to appear in position one, and I'm willing to pay for it." So while there are differences and similarities between the two, I suppose the biggest and most obvious difference is the speed by which paid search kind of trumps the organic world, and that is really the key differentiator between the two.

Though they do serve different aspects of the consumer funnel, which we'll go into later, speed is something you should always have in the back your mind when considering promotions and different things like that. Bear this in mind when deciding whether you should deploy an organic strategy or whether you should deploy a paid search strategy, or indeed how the two can work together. And remember, they can work together very effectively to deliver amplified results across the marketing mix.

Strategic considerations

What are the key strategic considerations?

Fill gaps

Filling gaps with your organic results is a key facet of search marketing. You can very quickly understand what searches are not being served within the organic world or indeed being served on pages far lower than users are actually seeing.

So if there's a particular keyword or type of keyword that you want to serve on, you can very quickly fill that with paid search whereas with organic, it can take time to rank, to index, and to build the content, and the domain authority to drive the, I suppose, sufficient rank to get significant traffic for that keyword. So paid search can just fill the gaps left by organic search.


If you are ranking too low with your organic, you can push it up by paying for it with paid search. And that will just push you up higher and higher and higher. And it's a basic human factor that people don't scroll beyond maybe page one or two on the results page. They want the result there and then. And those who are willing to pay for it will get the majority of the eyeballs, will get the majority of the clicks, and ultimately, the majority of that qualified traffic with users intending to take action which is the most valuable thing around search.

Access to market

People are actively looking for the product. They're out there and they're thinking, "I have a need state. I need that resolved. If I go to a search engine and do a particular search, that will give me the answer." And we've certainly got access to a market that are looking for our product.

Device preference

And of course, they're not always searching on computers, people do use their phones to search for different products based on what they need there and then, it can be instantaneous need. Now the thing about mobile phone usage is that because you've got a screen and people are scrolling like that, the first result they see when they do search on Google or Bing or Yahoo or any of the major search engines is the paid search result.

And based on basic human behavior, people will more than likely click on result one which is paid, two which is paid, three which is paid, and possibly four which may or may not be paid. It actually takes a while on mobile search to get down to the organic results. So, with that in mind, device preference if your consumer is predominately mobile focused, mobile based, you need to be operating on paid search.

Because if you are allowing your organic listings within that, not only are you giving up space to your competitors, which can result in loss of business, you're relying on the fact that they will have to scroll down three or four or five listings just to see your results. So paid search is essential for any kind of mobile based target audience.

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Please note that the module slides are designed to work in collaboration with the module transcript document. It is recommended that you use both resources simultaneously.

Digital Marketing Resources:

Cathal Melinn

Cathal Melinn is a well-known digital marketing director, commercial analyst, and ecommerce specialist with over 15 years’ experience.

Cathal is a respected international conference speaker, course lecturer, and digital trainer. He specialises in driving complete understanding from students across a number of digital marketing disciplines including: paid and organic search (PPC and SEO), analytics, strategy and planning, social media, reporting, and optimisition.  Cathal works with digital professionals in over 80 countries and teaches at all levels of experience from beginner to advanced.

Alongside his training and course work, Cathal runs his own digital marketing agency and is considered an analytics and revenue generating guru - at enterprise level. He has extensive local and international experience working with top B2B and B2C brands across multiple industries.

Over his career, Cathal has worked client-Side, in digital marketing agencies and media owners with brands including HSBC, Amazon, Apple, Red Bull, Dell, Vodafone, Compare the Market, Aer Lingus, and Expedia.

He can be reached on LinkedIn here.

The following pieces of content from the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library have been chosen to offer additional material that you might find interesting or insightful. While relevant to this module, you will not be assessed on this content.

You can find more information and content like this on the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library


    Paid Search (PPC) with Google Ads
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    This module begins with the fundamentals of paid search and demonstrates how to implement and manage paid search campaigns using Google Ads. It explains the key concepts underpinning bid auctions, how to manage paid advertising budgets, and how to optimize paid search campaigns. It also covers conversion tracking and how to measure and report on the performance of paid search campaigns using Google Analytics and Google Search Console.