Organic SEO Versus PPC Marketing - Can You Get by Without Paid Ads?

When is organic reach enough to drive traffic to your website and when should you consider the cost of pay-per-click ads?
Yasmin Khan
by Yasmin Khan on October 10, 2016 in Visibility
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organic search versus ppc advertising

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

Sound like a familiar concern? Here’s the kicker - that famous observation belongs to a retailer from the 19th century.

Thankfully, the advertising landscape has changed over the past 200 years. Now, you can track online activity and can get an understanding of what is working and what isn’t. No guessing needed. But it can still be tough to allocate your marketing spend effectively.


Take paid advertising - you may be wondering whether or not it's worth the cost. Can your business continue to survive on organic marketing methods alone or is it time to branch out into the world of paid ads? Read on for a primer on all things PPC and see if it’s right for your company.

What Is PPC?

When it comes to digital marketing, there are two methods you can use to grow your online presence: organic growth and paid growth.

Organic growth happens just as it sounds, with web traffic increasing gradually as people discover your site through word of mouth, social engagement, and search engine optimization. Organic growth can be slow, but it costs nothing.

Paid growth, on the other hand, entails paying  for advertising in order to quickly bring people to your website. This often involves pay-per-click  (PPC) advertising, in which you pay each time someone clicks on your digital ad. Paid growth builds traffic quickly, making it a popular inbound marketing technique, but the costs can add up just as fast.

Running a PPC campaign

You may have looked into PPC advertising and been turned off by the expense. But who could blame you? Running a PPC campaign can seem a bit scary if you haven’t delved into the world of paid reach before. By following a few basic steps, you can start safely in the shallow end.

  1. Know what your goals are. What are your company’s primary goals? To sell? Get new subscribers? Attract more blog readers? Your ad and where you direct traffic should align closely with those goals.
  2. Define your budget. Know what you’re willing to spend before you launch a campaign.
  3. Choose and bid on keywords. The higher your bid (the amount you're willing to pay for a click) for a keyword, the higher your ad appears on the search results page. This doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to be at the top, though. Choose relevant keywords at a price you can afford and be mindful of the competition.
  4. Avoid overly broad keywords when possible. Common keywords can be more competitive (read: expensive) and they rarely bring  you the best traffic. Your ad will cost less and perform better if it uses specific keywords targeted to your unique audience.
  5. Know the cost-per-click (CPC). This is the actual price you pay each time someone clicks on your paid ad. The ad platform should provide you with that information. You will use this to adjust current and future campaigns, as well as evaluate your budget.
  6. Send ad visitors to specific landing pages. Particularly if the ad is for a specific goal or item, avoid dumping people on your website’s home page. When it comes to PPC, landing pages are your friends.
  7. Split-test the text in your ad. Create several versions of your ad and have them displayed randomly. Track the data to see which version of the ad is the most successful in driving traffic, then develop your campaign accordingly. The truth is, you're not going to know which is the better ad without split-testing. There aren't really any across-the-board rules for best practices here.

The key to successful PPC campaigns is to plan and actively test throughout the ad run. You’re paying for traffic, but that’s not all there is to PPC. You want to pay for ads that send you truly qualified leads, i.e. people with an intent to buy.

Organic Search versus Paid Reach

The  main difference between organic and paid reach is twofold:

Speed versus stickiness.

Paid reach is attractive because of the speed at which you can build traffic. You’ll see hits coming in almost immediately after your ad goes live. However, PPC ads can be expensive, particularly for competitive keywords. Also, PPC does not bring in traffic consistently - once you stop paying for the ads, you'll notice a significant drop in traffic.

Organic search traffic, on the other hand, doesn’t cost anything.

Organic SEO has one focus: to achieve a natural, higher placement when a person uses an online search engine. This means you are doing keyword analysis and then using the appropriate keywords to bring the right visitors to your site. You are also using various link-building techniques and writing relevant content to extend your organic reach.

The traffic that comes from it tends to last longer and is more qualified,  since it comes from visitors who are actual sales leads looking for what you are offering. However, the organic route takes much longer as traffic builds gradually.

When Is Organic Reach Enough?

Because organic reach has a lower price tag, it’s tempting to rely on it almost exclusively. In some cases, that might work. Organic reach is enough when:

  • You’re starting out and cannot afford a PPC ad campaign.
  • You’re still on a learning curve when it comes to content creation.
  • You don’t have a specific product or service to sell.
  • You do not know enough about your audience to build a strategic PPC campaign and you need to gather more data through organic reach.
  • Your audience is receptive to your content, finds it helpful, and wants to see it on social media.
  • You’re using social networks that favor organic reach (e.g., Twitter, which has allowed Google to index its “firehose” of tweets).
  • Your brand has strong word-of-mouth promotion and a well-known reputation.

Despite that list, however, organic reach for businesses can be pretty hard to come by these days.

The reason? There is so much content, both on websites and on social networks, that visibility and typical SEO techniques are extremely competitive. Everyone is chasing after the same keywords in their content.

In particular, organic reach on social media has declined. Consider that Facebook can detect posts that are commercial and prevents them from showing up in the news feed unless you pay for a social campaign. Between September 2013 and 2014, organic reach dropped by 50% on Facebook. What’s more, according to HubSpot, organic reach might now be as low as 2%, even for Facebook pages with more than half a million likes.

Social networks (Facebook, in particular) want their users to have an ideal experience. They are constantly tweaking their algorithms so that people only see content that’s relevant to them. But ,they also survive on ad revenue and want to encourage businesses to pay for reach.


All this results in a real challenge for businesses that rely solely on organic marketing methods. The answer? Mixing paid and organic reach.

Using Organic SEO with Paid Reach

Using an organic and paid approach together is far more effective than sticking to one technique.

Paid ads are built on carefully researched keywords - the same keywords you’re already using in your organic SEO. They quickly deliver traffic, as well as data on that traffic (what works, who clicks, etc.). The ads make your brand familiar to your audience in places outside of your owned properties. This means that:

  • You're discovering trends. You’re researching keywords for SEO and PPC and discovering trends, as well as observing the competitive landscape. Your SEO data may also reveal long-tail keywords you can use in future PPC campaigns, creating a loop in which your PPC campaigns are more finely focused.
  • You’re learning who your audience is. PPC traffic lets you quickly gather large amounts of data on new leads that end up on your website. With this data in hand, you can more easily make decisions on your campaign - and more quickly tweak it as needed.
  • Your SEO will help you rank. Of course, there are some expensive keywords you simply can’t afford in your PPC campaign. This is where SEO can step in and help you rank without the hefty price tag.
  • You’ll get more clicks with both. Nielsen research discovered that when a brand showed up in both organic and paid search results, it receives  92% of the clicks, compared to 60% for organic results only. Staying top-of-mind with your customers can pay off in a big way.
  • You can offset weaknesses. If you don’t fare well with organic search results for an important keyword, you can use PPC to patch that gap. Similarly, if your organic search for a particular term does well, you may not need to use PPC for that term.

Clearly, organic and paid reach are two parts of a whole. They feed each other and offset the other’s weaknesses.

paid social media ads

Finally, be sure to consider paid social media ads in your campaign. If you’re not yet ready to dive into PPC or you’re unsure of which keywords to use but still want that quick traffic boost, social media ads are a perfect solution.

For one thing, social media ads are significantly less expensive than PPC ads and they have the ability to target precise audiences based on the detailed demographic data social networks are able to collect. While organic reach on Facebook may be waning for business, setting up a Facebook ad campaign on the network is a highly effective way to reach your targets. Paid ads on Facebook can even boost the organic reach of those same posts for several days after the ads run.

Use your paid social ads alongside an organic search campaign, just as you would with PPC, for a stronger campaign all around.



Think of organic reach as the foundation.

You should strive to build your brand online with an eye toward organic SEO and great social content. But organic methods can only take you so far so fast. There comes a point where you’ll need to pay to keep your growth from stalling. And if PPC isn’t where you want to go yet, paid social media ads are definitely the next step.

Yasmin Khan

Yasmin Khan

Yasmin is the marketing manager at Bonafide. She loves writing, tweeting, and positive change. She's all about the big picture and the greater good.