Paid vs. Organic Traffic: Which Generates More (and More Qualified) Leads?
When you are selling online, getting enough people to view your product or pitch is everything.
Without getting people to see your products, you won’t be able to sell, and your business is as good as dead. However, there is one problem.
The internet is vast and full of a lot of interesting things vying for users’ attention – so, how do you capture people’s attention and pull them in to check your website/content?
Some businesses and internet marketers spend a lot of time working on their website and their content to make it show up on the first page of Google, Bing, or any other search engine.
In other words, they do a lot of search engine optimization (SEO) to attract organic traffic.
On the other hand, some businesses skip that effort and decide to have their money work for them instead. They pay for ads on search platforms such as Google (paid to Google Ads). We call that paid traffic.
Most businesses that can afford it use both approaches: working on SEO while also paying for traffic. Combining the two approaches makes it easy for them to succeed online.
As a smaller business, however, you might not have enough resources to focus on both, forcing you to have to choose between the two. So, which of the two is more effective?
Let’s take a more detailed look into the two types of traffic.
Paid traffic is basically paying for advertising promotions to attract customers to your website or your social profiles. Paid traffic is applicable on a wide range of platforms.
Below are some common sources of paid traffic:
- Google Ads
- Facebook Ads
- LinkedIn Ads
- Twitter Ads
- Instagram Ads
- YouTube Ads
The two paid traffic sources that are very popular with internet marketers are Google Ads and Facebook Ads.
This is because the two are the most popular and dominant platforms in their respective categories: Google is the king of search engines, while Facebook is the king of social media platforms.
Whereas the success of an organic traffic strategy will depend on the level of skill, time, and effort you deploy on SEO, the success of a paid traffic strategy depends mostly on your budget. The bigger the budget, the better your chances and the longer you can enjoy the service.
Paid traffic operates on a pay to play basis. A paid traffic strategy only drives traffic to your site, profile, or products provided you continue paying for it.
If your budget runs out, or if you stop paying, the traffic dries up.
This is in contrast to organic traffic, which might continue driving traffic to your site long after you stop working on your organic traffic strategy.
One of the things most digital marketers love about paid traffic is its speedy delivery of results. Organic traffic can take quite some time before you start seeing results, and to make matters worse, it is quite hard to get right, especially if you are a beginner – you will stumble a number of times before you get it right.
With paid traffic, however, the results are almost instantaneous. If you start a paid campaign today, you will probably see an increase in traffic before the end of the day, depending on the platform you are using to drive paid traffic.
A lot of marketers also love the fact that a paid traffic strategy is quite easy to implement, even for beginners. Most platforms offering paid traffic are very straightforward.
Just pay and they’ll drive traffic where you want it. Of course, for optimal performance, you’ll still need to learn a couple of things, but the learning curve for paid traffic is not as steep as the learning curve of SEO, which is a core strategy for attracting organic traffic.
Even those who have mastered SEO experience hiccups now and then, for instance when Google changes its algorithm, forcing SEOs have adapt.
The best thing about paid traffic is that some of the most effective forms of paid traffic are is performance-based. This means that you are paying for results.
A good example is pay per click (PPC) advertising. With such forms of paid traffic, you pay for the results you gets. In other words, you only pay if people click on your ads.
However, this does not apply to all kinds of paid advertising.
For instance, if you contact a blogger to put up a banner ad of your business on their blog hoping to attract traffic, or if you pay an influencer to post your business on their page.
In this case, however, you’ll be paying whether people click through to your business or not.
Let’s look at the two most popular sources of paid traffic and how they work.
With Google Ads, you pay for your website to appear on the first page when people search for certain keywords related to your business.
In other words, Google Ads help people looking for products or services that you offer to find your business.
Your site will appear either at the top of the Google results pages or at the bottom, depending on your advertising budget.
To understand how Google Ads work, let’s search for a term like “ERP software.”
In the search results, you can see that the first three results are ads.
By appearing here, there is a high chance that someone searching for ERP software will click on one these results, thus driving paid traffic to the advertiser’s sites.
The beauty of Google Ads is that you are giving people exactly what they are looking for. They did not come across your ad simply because they were surfing the internet.
They saw your ad because they are actively looking for what you have to offer, either because they want to learn more about it or purchase it. They have intent, and that’s big in marketing (leads that have intent are much more likely to be influenced into a buy decision than leads who are just browsing.
This is why Google Ads is so profitable and the king of search engine marketing. To date, advertising is Google’s biggest income source.
Paid traffic from Google Ads gives you a chance to shine without having to do the backbreaking work of building up a mountain of content and links over an extended period of time.
It gives you the opportunity to leapfrog over the competition straight to the first position in search. Otherwise, it would take months of work to have a chance of appearing on the first page of Google.
Google Ads is basically set up like an auction where advertisers bid money for clicks. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the highest bid always wins.
Aside from advertising, Google is still a search engine that wants to offer its users value and ensure they find what they are looking for when they type something in the search bar.
Therefore, to ensure users get quality results, the highest bid will not always win, since Google also takes quality/relevance of the ad into consideration.
Therefore, to do well on Google Ads, don’t just throw money at it. Invest in a quality ad as well.
Google Ads has a learning curve if you want to be successful. In the beginning, you should keep your strategy simple. Work with a fixed budget and don’t spend a lot of money.
Exercise patience – it takes time to be wildly successful.
There are many businesses that have lost their money on Google Ads simply because they either spent too much or too fast or they quit on the strategy too early. Be patient.
That said, you have to make conversions. That means getting a new lead or sale or a subscription to your email list (depends on what action you want the visitor to take when they come to your website).
That’s because Google Ads are expensive – for instance, if you have about 10 different campaigns covering 10 different keywords, this could easily translate to a bill of $3,000 or more in the course of one month!
To regain the money you are investing on advertising, you will need to have a strategy for converting your site’s visitors into actual buyers.
While Google Ads is the king of paid search, Facebook Ads is the king of paid social media advertising.
Since Facebook has the highest population of monthly active users among all social networks, advertising on the platform has become a key component of many business’s digital advertising arsenal.
Paid social media advertising operates differently from paid search. Paid search helps businesses attract customers using keywords.
On the other hand, paid social advertising attracts customers to a business by helping social media users discover businesses that align with their [perceived] interests and their online behaviors.
Between the two, Google Ads is a better choice than Facebook Ads because of the popularity of the platform, the sheer number of daily search queries, and the fact that a large number of people who use the search engine are in fact actively searching with purchase intent.
However, the beauty of Facebook is in its ability to perfectly tailor and target ads to the user’s personality (perceived). People share a huge amount of information about themselves online.
For instance, if you are always posting about books, sharing book quotes, following authors, or uploading pictures of books you are reading, Facebook will [rightly] conclude that you love books and will start showing you book-related ads – like online book stores, author pages, publishing companies, and so on.
In this way, Facebook is able to help its customers (advertisers) find the users that are most likely to respond favorably to the ad.
This can be a great source of traffic for you. However, unlike on Google, most people aren’t on Facebook looking for something to buy – they are mostly there to bond with other their friends and acquaintances.
Therefore, it might take more effort to convert this traffic into paying customers.
Facebook also enables advertisers to create “lookalike audiences”. This is where an advertiser takes customer information from their database and uploads it to Facebook, which then filters it on the basis of its own data and on information acquired from third-party brokers.
In this way, Facebook is able to match actual users to the information uploaded by the advertiser, which effectively creates a lookalike audience which exhibits similar interests and consumer behavior to the advertiser’s existing customer base.
With the lookalike audience, the advertiser has a high degree of confidence that the people seeing the ad have a higher chance of getting converted. Effective advertising is all about targeting.
Facebook Ads provides a way for advertisers to get closer to their ideal customers.
Furthermore, Facebook ads feature powerful visual content that make them more eye-catching than their text-based pay-per-click counterparts.
Advertisers can therefore make their ads more persuasive using images – a mix of powerful copywriting and an attractive visual makes an ad extremely compelling.
Organic traffic is the complete opposite of paid traffic and there are several social networks driving organic traffic to your site.
With organic traffic, you do not pay for any promotions or advertisements in order to bring traffic to your site or your products. Instead, people find your site, profile or products during the course of their normal browsing.
For instance, when you search for something on Google and find a result that is not an ad and click on it, you’ll be said to have found the content organically.
Organic traffic is all about search engine optimization (SEO). In other words, in order to attract organic traffic, you need to optimize your content and your website to rank highly on search engines.
Remember, most internet users rarely go past the first page of search engine results.
Therefore, you need to do everything it takes to make sure that your content or site appears on the first page of search engine results pages (SERPs).
Optimizing your website and content for search engines is not an easy or quick process. Getting your site to appear on the first page of Google search results might take you anywhere between 6 to 12 months of work, sometimes even more.
Therefore, if you are looking for a quick way to attract traffic, organic traffic might not be the thing for you.
Attracting organic traffic through SEO also has a very steep learning curve. You need a ton of expertise and know-how.
You need to apply multiple strategies at once in order to rank highly on search engines.
However, if you do not have the expertise, you have the option of paying an SEO guru to help your site attract organic traffic.
Just to give you a taste of the work involved, here is a list of some of the things you need to work on for you to rank organically on Google and attract more organic traffic:
- Optimize meta descriptions
- Ensure you have high-quality content on the site
- Fine-tune your keyword research
- Optimize titles
- Get high-quality backlinks
- Optimize your URL structure
- Set up directories
- Improve site speed
- Increase your social shares
- Optimized your in-site linking
- Set up SSL security
- Ensure the site is mobile-friendly
- Set up social media account for your site (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn …)
- Fix any broken links
- Create a Google Analytics account
- Create a Google Search Console account
- Install Google Tag Manager
- And so much more…
So, why do people go to all this trouble if you can take a shortcut by opting for paid traffic? And for those without the expertise needed to optimize your site, why pay an SEO guru to optimize your site instead of paying directly for traffic?
The beauty of SEO traffic and organic traffic is that once you have laid down the groundwork, your site continues attracting traffic on autopilot.
For instance, if you manage to get a piece of evergreen content on your site on the first page of Google, that single piece of content will continue driving traffic to your site for years without you having to do anything else.
Therefore, the ROI for organic traffic is definitely higher than that of paid traffic.
However, the fact that it is possible for your content to continue driving organic traffic to your site long after you put it up doesn’t mean that attracting organic traffic is a passive affair. SEO is highly competitive.
There are many other site owners trying to rank for the same keywords you are ranking for.
In addition, the parameters Google and other search engines use to rank sites might change at a moment’s notice and undo all your previous work.
Just because you got 10,000 visitors to your site today doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get the same number tomorrow.
Therefore, to keep attracting organic traffic, you have to keep learning, testing, monitoring and tracking.
It’s good to note that organic traffic is free insofar as we are talking about the traffic itself.
However, you might have to invest some money purchasing professional tools to optimize your site for search.
You will also need to put in a lot of time and effort in optimizing your site.
Of course, these also have a dollar value. And for those who do not have the time or skills to optimize their site, they might have to pay someone to do the work for them.
PAID TRAFFIC VS ORGANIC TRAFFIC: WHICH IS BETTER?
Having looked at the basics of both paid and organic traffic, so which one should you go for as a marketer? Below, let’s see how the two compare in various aspects.
It’s not easy to measure the return on investment of SEO, though you can do it if you have extensive Google Analytics knowledge.
On the other hand, ad metrics are automated, easy to understand, and you can easily track them, which means it is easier to measure the ROI of paid traffic than organic traffic.
Being able to measure ROI is very important in business. The more measurable a process is, the easier it is to predict and plan for it. SEO is rather unpredictable and non-linear, subject to ups and downs.
Here, organic traffic has the upper hand. SEO continues to deliver results over the long-term, though these are subject to fluctuations because of competition from other sites and sporadic updates of the Google algorithm.
Furthermore, organic traffic does not need much capital investment from you. It only requires time, effort, and skill, which makes it a more sustainable model in the long run.
On the other hand, paid traffic is basically ads that only bring results as long as you are paying.
This is not sustainable for the long-term, considering that your business can fall on hard times, forcing you to direct most of your advertising budget elsewhere.
Besides, paying for traffic will only make sense if that traffic turns into sales. If you are not converting enough of your paid traffic into buyers, then it might be difficult to justify spending all this money.
Paying for traffic is great in the short run, but in the long run, organic traffic wins hands down.
3. Return on Investment
Business owners and marketers try to attract traffic to their sites for two reasons – two generate leads, and to convert these leads to paying customers.
Therefore, when evaluating the ROI of both paid and organic traffic, we should look at two things: which strategy attracts more leads, and which strategy attracts more qualified leads (those who are more likely to convert)?
When it comes to generating more leads, paid traffic wins in the short term. This is because the results of paid traffic are almost immediate.
On the other hand, it will take several months for your SEO effort to start bringing in organic traffic.
However, over the long term, organic traffic will generate more leads, since it keeps driving traffic on autopilot long after you optimize your content for search.
When it comes to conversions, organic traffic still beats paid traffic.
People are wary and less trusting of ads, and therefore, people are more likely to trust and buy from your business if they find it organically, compared to when they find it via an ad.
According to Search Engine Journal, leads from SEO have a 14.6% conversion rate, while only 1.7% of paid leads convert.
The cost-effectiveness of the two strategies is relative – it depends on factors such as tactics, budgets, the industry, and even the time of the year.
It is, however, worth noting that organic traffic based on SEO provides a sustainable, long-term return on investment for a mere fraction of the cost you would have paid on ads. SEO is the best option for strategic, enterprise marketing programs.
On the other hand, paid ads are heavily dependent on competition and on the season (such as Christmas shopping).
When a new, big competitor comes into your market, or when the peak season turns up the heat (competition), ad spend can become highly expensive, as you have to spend much more to get the same ROI as before.
Paid and organic traffic both have their advantages and disadvantages.
If you are looking for quick results, and if you have the budget for it, then paid traffic is your best option.
However, if you don’t have the budget for paid traffic, or if you want more sustainable results, you should go for organic traffic. In addition to driving more traffic over the long term, organic traffic also attracts more qualified leads who are more likely to convert.
However, it’s good to note competition is fierce on the internet, and if you want to achieve the best results (and if your business can afford it), you should combine the two strategies.
Since organic traffic is more sustainable and has a higher ROI in the long term, you should have it as the foundation of your digital marketing strategy, while supplementing your efforts with paid traffic.
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