Paid vs Organic Search: Which to Invest in

Weighing up whether to invest in paid search engine ads or the ostensibly cheaper organic search results as part of your marketing strategy can be tricky.

Reaching the widest audience possible at a reasonable cost is the goal – and these two channels can offer different benefits.

So is it better to invest money in paid search or should you invest your time in trying to rank naturally?

What is paid search?

We’ve all seen a paid search ad, whether we notice the little ‘Ad’ marker or not. The top results of just about any search term on Google will be paid ads. The company’s business model is advertising, meaning that it rewards those sites that pay to appear.

The same is true for most other search engines, but since Google is the most popular, it’ll be our main focus.

Search engine paid ads are usually run on a pay per click (PPC) basis, where an advertiser pays each time a user clicks on their advert.

You can manage your site’s paid ads using Google Ads, formerly Google AdWords. The platform allows you to view all your campaigns and see what’s performing well. It shows you how much you’re spending, which campaigns and keywords are costing the most and how many clicks you’re getting on your ads.

What is organic search?

The rest of the search engine results page (SERP) is made up of organic – or natural – listings. To get your site into the top organic results – which can include featured snippets, local packs and other rich results – you need to focus on optimising your website using search engine optimisation (SEO) methods.

It can be cheaper to invest in your organic presence, since it effectively comes down to providing a positive experience for your users. However, certain elements of SEO do come with a price tag, particularly if you go down the route of digital PR.

There’s also the cost of the time you need to spend on getting your site to a standard that search engines will reward.

Google may rank your page highly when you provide a good experience for users through techniques such as:

  • Boosting site speed
  • Effective internal linking
  • Producing helpful and comprehensive content
  • Regularly updating that content to ensure relevancy

This obviously takes longer than paying for PPC ads, which give you an immediate advantage in the SERPs. However, there’s a benefit to taking the time to reach for top organic results.

According to Backlinko, the top organic result is 10 times more likely to receive a click than the site ranking 10th.

Measuring whether your paid strategy is working

To measure how well your paid search strategy is working, you should look to your key performance indicators ( against your paid search strategy targets.

As with any facet of your firm, if your KPIs are being met then it usually means your paid strategy is working. If they aren’t, identifying the areas that require improvement should be your next action.

Google and Microsoft score you on how well optimised your PPC accounts are and provide a view of how well you’re adhering to best practices.

First4Lawyers’ senior PPC analyst Charlie McIlroy recommends using “a test-and-learn approach”. This means that you should continually keep testing different ways to get the best results.

Charlie also advises that even if your results are positive, you should test regularly to prove that you’re engaged in the correct strategy.

Using both paid and organic search

In an ideal world, all traffic would be acquired free of charge. However, with how competitive the legal industry is, you may need to appear in paid ad auctions at the top of the SERPs as frequently as possible – otherwise, you risk losing valuable traffic.

Meanwhile, a strong SEO strategy can get you a top organic place, which can mean potential clients see your firm as authoritative and trustworthy. The other advantage of organic rankings is that you won’t pay for each click to your site.

As such, we recommend using both paid and organic strategies together as part of your marketing efforts. One area can support the other by targeting certain keywords it doesn’t appear for, while taking up as much real estate on a SERP as possible will typically work in your site’s favour.

Getting started with both strategies

With both paid and organic strategies, you need to know your brand and user journey in detail to ensure you’re targeting the correct potential clients. Knowing where to find your audience is key to being able to target them.

With PPC, you need to then identify what you want your ads to deliver. This can be either performance-based, which looks at the results of your marketing, or brand-based, which looks at building your reputation.

Make sure that your tracking is set up correctly on Google Ads to ensure reporting on the results of your ads is as accurate as possible. This data can show what people are looking for, which you can then use to target your KPIs and scale up your strategy.

Tracking is also important for your organic strategy. Search engines and browsers provide tools like Google Analytics and Bing Webmaster Tools, which help you narrow down which pieces of content perform well. You can use this information to inform your strategy and plans going forward.

Which is right for your firm?

In our current age of digital marketing, investing in both paid and organic results can get you the best results.

Ranking organically takes time but can have long-lasting positive effects for your firm. Meanwhile, paid ads are a fast way to rank but can be expensive and once you stop paying, your ads stop appearing.

Each website is different and could see differing results for paid vs organic. That’s why it’s vital to keep track of these channels and what sort of traffic they deliver.

To hear our thoughts on enhancing your client acquisition strategy, just get in touch.


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