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Paid Versus Organic Search

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Digital Marketing - Study Notes:

What is search engine optimization?

Here’s a definition by "Search Engine Land," which is a leading search engine news website:

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of getting traffic from free, organic, editorial, or natural search results on search engines.

Let's have a look at the differences between paid and organic search.

Difference between paid and organic search

When we say organic search, we mean SEO (search engine optimization). We sometimes call it natural search. And we're going to compare that now to paid search. So that's where you advertise on search engines.


One of the key differences is the time factor. So, with paid search, it's near instant results, and often in minutes. Whereas, with organic search, results can often take weeks, months, and sometimes even years. So we really do have to play the sort of medium to long game with organic search.


When it comes to paying, well, as the name suggests, paid search, you're actually paying on a pay-per-click basis, and this happens on a cost-per-click basis. That means that if you want to appear for a keyword, you have to pay the search engine a particular amount for that keyword. For organic search, it's actually "free." And we've got free in quotes, and that's because it does require resources and time, and so there is an investment element to it as well.

Return on investment

In terms of the return on investment (ROI), it's actually much easier to measure with paid search. That's partly because Google actually provides more keyword data that you can capture in Google Analytics. And for organic search, it is a little bit harder to measure and sometimes, initially, the return on investment for organic search sometimes doesn't appear to be that good, and that's because it takes time.

It takes weeks and months for your SEO to actually progress. Over the long run, organic search can have a very good return on investment. And when it comes to the share of traffic, roughly 20% to 30% of searchers click on paid results, and that compares to 70% to 80% on SEO results. Most clicks are actually on the organic or the search engine optimization results.

If we look at the top box "A” below, that is the paid results. So, we sometimes call that pay-per-click or cost-per-click.

And then below that in the "B" box, we've got the search engine optimization results, which we sometimes organic or natural.


Let's just have a little look at the similarities between the two.

Keyword research

We're using a search engine for both and it requires a user entering in a keyword. So we'll need to do some keyword research for organic search and we're going to do some keyword research for paid search.

Landing pages

In order for those pages to provide a good result to the user, we're going to need to create landing pages. And that's really just another way of saying that we need a page that has content that targets the keywords.

For SEO, a landing page needs to be connected on the website, so it needs to be linked to from the website. And for paid search, it can be the exact same page as organic, or it can be a completely separate page that sets off the websites.


When it comes to traffic, that's obviously a big goal as well.

Now, let's assume that we've done a good job with our SEO. We've optimized the landing pages around the keywords, then we can expect to start getting relevant traffic. And that's the same for paid search as well.

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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:

Joe Williams

Managing Director and SEO Trainer at Zen Optimise

  • Founder and SEO Trainer at Zen Optimise with 10 years’ experience in Search Engine Optimization
  • Zen Optimise is a London-based digital marketing training company
  • SEO consultant and trainer for hundreds of small, medium, and blue chip companies including Qantas Airlines, Sky, Eurostar, EasyCruise, and Anti-Slavery

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


    SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
    Joe Williams
    Skills Expert

    This module begins with the fundamentals of SEO and how search engines work. It explains why it is vital to align SEO objectives with overarching business objectives and how to use keyword and competitor research to build an SEO content plan that brings the right kind of visitors to a website. It also covers how to boost online conversions to help stand out in today’s fiercely competitive online marketplace and ensure the best possible ROI.