Paid Traffic vs Organic Traffic: How to make the right choice?

Paid Traffic vs. Organic Traffic - How to make the right choice
April 21, 2021

If you’re reading this article, chances are that you have been, somehow, in the internet marketing industry. Then you must have heard that there are two major ways to generate traffic to a website: paid traffic and free traffic.

In this post, we’ll see when and why to choose either paid or free traffic and even both.

What is Organic traffic?

Organic traffic refers to visitors coming to your website as a result of free (unpaid)  search results.

Typically, organic traffic visitors find your website through search engines while doing a search. These search engines can be Google or Bing (the main search engines are listed in the table below). Organic traffic also means that the visitor has not been ‘referred’ by another website.

These visits are considered “organic” because the website owner didn’t pay to show up high in the search engine results; rather, they showed up naturally.

Talking about organic traffic is equivalent to talking about Google traffic since Google represents over 85% of the search engine market.

Worldwide desktop market share of leading search engines 2010-2021

Paid and organic traffic : Global market share of search engines 2010-2021

To gain visitors, the website owner will have to deliver quality content that is helpful for visitors. Indeed, what do you normally search online? A solution to a problem you have. A website that answers to questions of its audience will obviously get visitors … and clicks.

The website owner will have to consider Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in addition to relevant content.

The graphic below shows the importance of the ranking factor in search engines results. As you can see in this graphic, the #1 result 31.73%) in Google has a 10x higher CTR than the #10 result (3.09%).

Organic traffic CTR per position

The above image shows the following:

1. The #1 result in Google’s organic search results has an average CTR of 31.7%.

2. The top 5 results get almost all the clicks, that is more than 98%.

3. To attract organic results, you’ll have to rank on the first page, and within these results, in the top result.

How to improve your ranking and thus your CTR

We’ve already mentioned that you need to meet your audience’s needs to rank higher. Let’s see this in more details:

To optimize your website and increase your traffic and clicks, hereafter the main factors that influence your ranking in Google search results. If done well, you increase the likelihood of your website appearing on the first page and even among the top 5:

1. Write quality content

Deliver quality and relevant articles to your audience by providing thorough answers to their queries.

Google insists on the following:

  • Make pages primarily for your audience, not for search engines.
  • Don’t deceive your users.
  • Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging.

2. Increase the loading speed of your site.

In 2017, Google announced that page speed would be a ranking factor in its mobile-first index. Website performance has a measurable impact on conversion rates, making page speed a critical factor in driving results. The Google algorithm assesses whether a page provides a good experience to the user and deserves to appear on the front page.

Organic traffic – page load impact on user experience

Paid vs Organic traffic - page load impact on user experience

3. Include Video & Images.

Users report that images play an important role in their search experience. Google provides guidelines for leveraging images to get higher traffic to your site and improve your Google search click-through rate by drawing more attention to your page.

4. Back Linking

Backlinks (also known as “inbound links”, “incoming links”) are links from another website to your site.  Setting up a link-building strategy to build links from reputable websites to your site will boost search engine ranking and increase traffic to your site.

The image below shows a direct relation between the number of backlinks and the position in Google ranking position.

Organic traffic – Google result position per number of backlinks

Paid vs Organic traffic - Google result position per number of backlinks

5. Social media

Feedback and review of your brand and products on social platforms will increase your site’s visibility.

Organic traffic – Correlation between social media and Google result ranking

Paid vs organic traffic - Correlation between social media and Google result ranking

Following are the 10 reasons why Social Media is important in SEO:

Paid vs Organic - Reasons Why Social Media is Important in SEO

These steps are compulsory if you want your content to rank high in Google (and other search engines).  We know there are many more factors that Google uses to analyze your website and decide how high your content should appear in search results. Even though no one knows exactly how Google uses them, the above criteria are among the most important ones, especially the quality of the content you deliver to your audience. If you want to know more about these factors, you may want to refer to this post from Backlinko or  Google’s guidelines.

Indeed, when Google’s algorithm recognizes that your website is quality and relevant source of information, it will rank it high in search engine results, which will drive traffic to your website.

Organic traffic is a scalable marketing channel with a low upfront investment; Google takes time to rank a page, but once it does, it usually keeps it for a while.

Advantages of organic traffic

  • Free visitors on your website
  • Good conversion to customers without investing in the sales funnel. There is a higher trust factor when visitors reach out from organic search and are more likely to convert into customers.
  • An established online presence will result in a continuous flow of traffic. Generation of organic traffic takes time, but once successful, this traffic results in repeat and loyal customers.
  • Passive income. Even if you leave your website untouched for months, it will still get traffic and generate income.
  • Helps improve brand and authority. A good website is a valuable asset that you can sell based on the traffic it has.

Disadvantages of organic traffic

  • Building a website is a lot of work. It can take months or years to get significant traffic on your website.
  • Requires a lot of expertise in content creation, SEO, conversion (i.e. turning visitors into customers), etc
  • The benefits of attracting organic traffic from Google are almost entirely gained by the first ten results displayed on the first page, which is not much when you consider that an average query returns millions of results of which only 10 are displayed on the first page.
  • Not easy to scale as paid traffic

Paid traffic

Paid traffic represents the visitors you attract by paying for ads. After clicking on your ads, these visitors go to your site.

Paid vs Organic traffic – Top results usually gained by ads

Paid vs Organic traffic - Top results usually gained by ads

Paid traffic is like a traffic-generating faucet that you can turn on and off at your leisure. All advertising networks charge companies only when their target audience interacts with their ads, whether that’s a click, impression, or action.

Unlike organic traffic, which usually builds up more slowly and is difficult to control, paid traffic results in an immediate influx of visitors.

You’ve got a lot of paid advertising platforms available out there. Hereafter the most important ones:

Advantages of Paid Advertising

  • Your business gets instant traffic; quick and easy to reach your target audience.
  • Can potentially make money the same day you start your advertising campaign.
  • It is measurable, i.e. you know exactly the volume and quality of traffic  you get per dollar spent
  • Allows you to target a very specific audience by selecting chosen demographics like age, gender, education, origin, geographical region, parental status, household income, etc
  • Studies have shown that, when run correctly, businesses earn an average of $2 for every $1 spent on Google Ads (Google 2018).
  • Scalable by increasing the daily budget
  • No need to spend time and effort building an authority site with a lot of content.

Disadvantages of Paid Traffic

  • Paid ads can be costly. It’s a great strategy if your business generates significant margins.
  • Paid ads often require a lot of testing and tweaking to perfect. It can be an expensive learning curve.
  • The sales funnel needs to be streamlined to ensure that inbound traffic is converted into customers.
  • The moment you stop advertising, the traffic stops.
  • Does not help you to build trust with your audience or build authority with search engines.
  • If you’re completely new to paid marketing or have little marketing budget (or are working with lower commission programs), then you might need to think twice before jumping into it. Indeed, the risk of losing money is high due to inefficient advertising campaigns or poor visitor to customer conversion.

Organic vs. paid traffic: Which one to go for?

Despite their similarities and differences, organic and paid traffic are not antagonists but complement each other.

When you start advertising on Google, it’s advisable to invest in paid ads to speed up your results. Then you revert to working on your long-term SEO strategy.

You can then decrease your paid advertising and focus exclusively on organic traffic, or work with both simultaneously.

Paid vs Organic traffic - Comparative pros and cons

FAQ on Paid versus organic traffic

What is CTR?

CTR, Click Through Rates, stands for the ratio of users who click on a specific link to the total users who view a web page, email, or advertisement.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.

This article explains how to speed up your page.

See also Google’s Advanced SEO guidelines for the best practices for having your site show up and look its best in Google.

What is a Sales Funnel?

A sales funnel is a marketing concept that describes the journey a customer goes through during the purchase process. The model uses a funnel as an analogy because a large number of potential customers may begin at the top-end of the sales process, but only a fraction of these people actually end up making a purchase.

Refer to the section “Define your sales funnel” of my post “How to start an online business from home – The ultimate guide” for more details.

The takeaway

Building a website is an option if you have time, where paid traffic will be preferred when you have more money than time.

Whether you are new in business or are looking to grow your existing online store, a mix of both paid traffic and organic traffic will help you get some instant traffic while gradually building content and followers to increase your flow of organic traffic.

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