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Paid vs. Organic Search

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Digital Marketing - Study Notes:

Similarities between paid and organic search

Paid search and organic search have a lot of similarities. And it’s important to be able to differentiate between the two.

So generally, our paid search results are at the top of the page. They will contain a tiny little note saying ad or something like that. So you can easily identify what is actually an ad, because even though we don’t sometimes consider digital marketing as advertising, it is an ad. Your paid search results will have a little ad icon just underneath the clickable headline, but there are a lot of similarities now between paid search and organic search.

Search results:

  • Have clickable headlines
  • Have non-clickable body copy
  • Have clickable site links (the small links underneath the main ad area)

So there are lot of similarities but they can be distinguished in the results by using something like that little ad feature. And then there will be other enhancements that we’ll talk about. And these are part of the benefits of paid search around map extensions and other things you can do to make your ads a lot more interesting. And these will be other features that aren’t available in organic search. And that’s also a key identifier. But just as best practice, it’s important to be able to distinguish between the two.

Difference between paid and organic search

Now that we can see the similarities between paid search and organic search, let’s look at some differences.


Paid search is a method where advertisers pay to serve the ads, whereas organic search, you don’t pay. That’s obviously the main difference between organic and paid search in the pricing model and how it will affect you, the advertiser, or you, your client, and your budget and different things like that.


Paid search is also a lot faster. It can take anywhere between two weeks to a couple of months for you to rank organically, whereas paid search can go live within15 minutes to half an hour. You can see your ad at the top of Google, Bing or Yahoo!, whereas it can take a lot longer with the organic results.


Paid search results are always at the top and there will be a couple at the bottom. They top and tail the organic, while organic is in the middle and less attractive. It’s less above the fold. People actually may not click those links because they’re too far down the screen and that has a major result on mobile. We will talk about that.


Paid search has a little ad icon. This highlights a challenge of paid search versus organic searches.

Organic search results will have a longer headline and a longer body copy, whereas paid search results tend to be shorter headlines and shorter body copy. And that’s a character limit restriction on paid search. So it’s now actually a challenge for you, the advertiser, or marketer, to get your message across in a much shorter character limit and then with that, make it snappier, make it more relatable, and so on.

Rather than seeing a drawback, look at it like a challenge!

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Cathal Melinn

Cathal Melinn is a digital strategist, lecturer, and trainer. He has over 15 years’ experience in eCommerce, social media, affiliate marketing, data analytics, and all things digital. He worked at Yahoo! Search in 2005 as a Senior Search Strategist for the UK Financial Services vertical. He moved to the world of agency in 2010 as Head of Search and Online Media. Cathal’s previous clients include Apple, Vodafone, Expedia, Virgin, Universal Music Group, Amazon, Compare the Market, and HSBC.

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    Paid Search
    Cathal Melinn
    Skills Expert

    This module begins with the key concepts of paid search and demonstrates how to set up a Google Ads account and create a paid search campaign. It explains how to manage a paid search campaign budget effectively and outlines the different methods that can be used to optimize your paid search campaign. It also covers how to measure and report on the success of a paid search campaign.