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Search engines are a primary source of traffic for most online businesses. But there are two distinct types of search engine traffic:

  1. Organic search traffic
  2. Paid search traffic

Organic search traffic is the stuff dreams are made of. This occurs when someone searches a phrase related to your business on Google and a link to your site shows up in the natural search results and gets clicked. This costs you nothing (to say nothing of the time and energy many companies put into search engine optimization).

The more organic search traffic your website is getting, the more success you are likely having.

Paid search traffic is different, mostly because it costs you money. This is the traffic that comes from paid listings on the search results page – ads that show up at the top of the page because you are bidding on searches containing a certain keyword.

If you are like most companies, you are likely aiming for both types of traffic. You would love to get us much organic traffic as possible, but you will supplement that with paid traffic in order to hit your marketing goals. But there’s a right way to do this, and a wrong way.

Too often we put SEO and SEM into siloes, and ignore their obvious overlap.

Here are three ways to fix that:

1. Pay for the words you can’t rank for.

The value in paid search is that it gives the advertiser more control. You control everything from the search terms you show up for, the headline and ad copy that gets displayed, and the user experience after they click. But if you are already showing up near the top of page one organically, there is less incentive to pay.

So you should make sure that your paid search team and your SEO team are in constant communication about target keywords. Spend your money on the terms that you don’t rank well for organically.

2. Use paid search data to instruct your SEO targets.

Just like the recommendation that you pay for those terms that you struggle to rank for organically, your paid search performance should inform your SEO strategy. Reports that show the true outcomes of certain keywords will help you determine which words and phrases to target with SEO efforts.

Your SEO team should be getting regular updates from your paid search team on keyword performance, costs, and competitiveness. Over time, one goal should be to lessen the dependency on paid search.

3. Report on both together.

More than simply reporting on both together, companies that do this well will incentivize these two activities as one. Search should be a domain in and of itself, with two branches thereunder. Instead of reporting on, and rewarding, each separately, bringing them under one roof ensures alignment between efforts and outcomes.

Paid search is essential, but should never supersede organic. If your company can attract quality traffic without paying for it, why would you?