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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 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.

Data protection regulations affect almost all aspects of digital marketing. Therefore, DMI has produced a short course on GDPR for all of our students. If you wish to learn more about GDPR, you can do so here:

DMI Short Course: GDPR

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.

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

You will not be assessed on this content in your final exam.


    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.