My colleague Marian used to own a small IT repair and services business in the Northern Colorado area.

When people went searching for IT repairs and related services in the area she served, she wanted her business to show up in those search results.

She used a combination of paid and organic search tactics to drive awareness and sales for her business.

If you’re not sure of the difference between the terms “paid” and “organic,” stick with me because using both can improve the chances of people finding your business when they search.

So what’s the difference? Let’s look at typical search results

When you type something into the search box, Google looks at the term or phrase, and through their algorithms, they try to return the results that best match the term you were searching. The search results page (or SERP) contains the results, both paid and organic, that are most relevant to your query.

Below is an example of what showed up when I did a search for ‘custom garage door broomfield.’ The page includes both paid and organic listings. At the top, you’ll see the paid ads. Below those results, you’ll see the natural or organic search results.

Paid vs. organic search results

If we define paid search, it’s when someone pays for an ad, like a Google search ads, to show up at the top of the search results page, increasing the chances of people clicking through and eventually doing business with them. In Google results, these paid advertisements are notated with the word “ad” in a green rectangle next to the website address.

Here’s a paid search engine advertising example on Google:

Google denotes a paid search add with the word “Ad” in a box.

Paid search marketing helps you compete in a busy marketplace to reach the top of the search results. In fact, 40 percent of clicks from search results go to the first three paid ads listed.

A paid search ad allows you to target the right audience through the most relevant keywords and phrases for your business and industry on a cost per click (CPC) basis. Cost per click means you pay only when some clicks on your ad.

Plus, you can reach people based on where your customers are located geographically which is especially important if you have a physical location. Google Ads are flexible so you can run them whenever you need to and with any budget you have.

What is a paid search strategy?

A paid search strategy includes a combination of aspects that allow you to reach the right audience through keywords and messaging that entices them to take action.

In order to set up a paid search strategy that works for you, it’s important to take some time to understand what you want to accomplish. For example, you might entice them to sign up to your email list to generate leads or make a purchase.

Having a specific goal helps you determine your target audience and other ad details. You want to understand their pain points and the reason for their search. This knowledge helps you to pick keywords and phrases that your audience is looking for.

Ad copy is also important. Ad text should be short and concise while catching their attention and inspiring them to click through to your website.

The last important piece is the budget. Google Ads allow flexibility to set a budget that works for you. You’ll only pay when someone clicks and your costs will be capped at a specific price so you won’t ever break your budget.

What is an organic search listing?

In the same search results page, below any paid ads are the organic or natural rankings. These non-paid results are determined based on algorithms for their relation to the keywords or phrases used in the search.

In some search results, people may see a “featured snippet,” also referred to as “position zero.” This organic result shows at the very top of the page, even above paid ads and it provides an answer to a specific question that the user is searching for.

While featured snippets don’t show up all of the time, they are a great way to answer a question and get your business in front of more people.

Below is an example of a “position zero” search result that answers the question “how to get my kid to go to bed?”

The result at the top of the page is know as a featured snippet or position zero.

Why is organic search important?

According to content marketing firm BrightEdge, organic search results account for more than half of all website traffic. Organic traffic to your website helps to improve your search engine ranking which also helps to show trust and credibility. Plus organic search results have staying power because they bring a more steady flow of traffic.

How do I get organic search results?

Ideally, you want your website to be at the top of the organic search results and you can use search engine optimization (SEO) to improve your natural ranking. While there are technicalities that go into SEO, at its core is providing valuable content and answers to the questions that people are already searching for.

Think about the questions you hear from your customers all of the time. These are the types of questions you want to answer in your content. Create a blog or a resource center where you’re constantly answering questions and providing helpful content as this helps to improve your organic result ranking.

As you can imagine, online search algorithms change constantly to better meet the demands of users.

A strategy that may work today for your business may not work tomorrow due to changes in algorithms and the way people are performing searches. Unfortunately, neither paid or organic search results are guaranteed.

It’s about focusing your time and energy to do both. Run some tests so you can see what works best for your business. Determine where most of your traffic is coming from and focus your efforts there.

Organic search typically helps while people are in the awareness stage. Paid results can help with this too, however, most of its impact is on those who are ready to make a decision.

Plus, when people see your business twice in the results, it only enhances your credibility.

While paid search ads can be valuable to drive traffic over time, they can also be used when you’re ready to boost your sales or even launch a new product or service.

Organic search results are important to generate a consistent stream of traffic. Don’t forget, always be testing as digital marketing tools are constantly changing.

When should I start using paid search ads?

If you’re just getting started with online marketing, it’s a good idea to build a strong foundation with your website first. That begins with providing great, valuable content on your website, by answering the questions your prospects and customers are likely to have in regards to your products and services.

Once you feel confident about your website and organic results, you can experiment with paid advertising to boost your results and extend your reach. A website is typically where you’ll want to drive people from your paid ad.

The good news is that there are a ton of resources out there to help you with both organic results through SEO and paid advertising. Plus, great tools like Google Ads by Constant Contact are built to save you time and take the guesswork out of creating an ad.

Marian’s company directed people to a landing page on its website from their Google Ad. They offered a coupon for their services and asked people to sign up with their email address. She says “a landing page is great to use for ads because it’s specific to what you want them to do. You want to have them do something.”

Just note that improving your organic reach through SEO and using paid ads take time to work. Marian says “it’s a constant process” to see what works and make adjustments to improve.

Understanding these basic concepts will give you a good foundation for attracting prospects when people are searching for a business or organization like yours.

Remember technology changes, so it’s not something you can set and forget.

Keep your website fresh and continually add valuable content to improve your organic results. Add paid advertising to your online marketing strategy to boost your reach for those who are ready to make a decision or a purchase.

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