Paid vs. Organic Traffic: Which is Better for SEO?


When it comes to ranking a website, businesses must choose how to focus their efforts on building traffic, using either pay per click (PPC) campaigns for paid traffic or SEO to build organic traffic or a combination of the two.


The right answer for your business depends on a number of factors such as your available budget, target audience behavior, and your marketing goals. Generally speaking, the answer is not choosing between the two, but creating a strategy that makes use of both. In our experience, clients who run both SEO and PPC find greater, more accelerated results.

After all, 87% of internet users rely on search engines to help them find local products and services. And most of those people will never look beyond page one of the results, so if you want people to discover you, you need to be ranking high in the search engines one way or the other. The results on page one receive 92% of all search traffic on Google, with traffic dropping by 95% on the second page. And 33% of clicks from organic search results go to the listing in the number one spot on Google.


If you don’t have the budget for search advertising, you’ll need to rely on SEO. That doesn’t mean SEO is completely free. Even if you attempt to keep it in-house rather than hiring an agency to assist you, there’s still time spent and writers with experience optimizing content to pay.

A downside to SEO is the time it takes to get indexed for various phrases. Even after you’re indexed, you’ll have to continually work on it to move up the ranks and see a traffic increase. Depending on what your competition is doing, you may find yourself in a long hard-fought battle to work your way up. If you don’t want to wait months before you start seeing results, then supplemental PPC is your friend.

Another consideration is Google constantly making changes to their ranking algorithm to ensure they deliver quality results to their searchers. If you’re focusing on creating quality content that’s useful to your site visitors, and building links naturally, rather than trying to game the system to rank higher faster, then those changes shouldn’t affect you much. However, if you’ve been up to no good with blackhat SEO efforts, then one small change in the algorithm could spell doom for your ranking.

Getting a steady stream of organic traffic to your website will take more time and effort today than it did just a few years ago, but it’s definitely worth it.

  • ¾ of users never go past the first page of search results.
  • 70-80% of users ignore paid ads in favor of organic search results.
  • Companies with blogs have 434% more indexed pages, and companies with more indexed pages get more leads.
  • Inbound leads cost 61% less than outbound leads. SEO is a great source of inbound leads.
  • SEO leads have a 14.6% close rate compared to a 1.7% close rate on outbound leads.


PPC ads are shown above the organic search results, and because you’re paying to be there, it can be a good way to jump-start traffic to a brand new website, if you have a budget to allocate to it.

Using PPC means you’re bidding for the chance to show up for any relevant queries, and you may or may not always win. Certain phrases will have much higher competition than others, which means you must be willing to pay more per click than everyone else to have the best chance of being displayed. Even though you’re only charged when someone clicks on your ad, it could add up fast if you’re in a highly competitive market. If you find that the cost per click is really high because of your industry and competition, you’ll want to lean heavier on SEO.

When executed properly, you can get a lot of targeted traffic to your landing pages much faster than you would relying solely on organic search. However, there’s a lot of room for error, and making mistakes can be costly.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is setting up your AdWords account without proper conversion tracking in place. One study showed only 29% of accounts have effective conversion tracking. Without it, you won’t be able to figure out which keywords are converting and which ones aren’t. Your PPC budget should primarily be focused on high-intent keywords you know are earning conversions. If you don’t do keyword research, you will have wasted ad spend that could be reallocated to the money phrases you know are working.

Let’s take a second do some math. Logic indicates if you have a 10% wasted ad spend, you’d have a 10% increase in cost per conversion, right? Well, unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Instead, for every 10% in wasted ad spending, you’re looking at a 44% to 72% increase in cost per conversion, increasing for every 10% of wasted ad spend.

If your cost per conversion is $10, and your wasted ad spend is at 30%, but increases to 40%, your cost per conversion will now be anywhere from $14.40 to $17.20. If you decide to start bidding on new keywords to bring in more traffic… but it doesn’t work out as well as you’d hoped and your wasted ad spend jumps to 76%, your cost per conversion jumps to anywhere from $53.79 to $120.20! Why such a big difference? Simple. The more you’re spending on keywords that don’t convert, the less you’re spending on the ones that do, which drives your cost per conversion up… and you’ll see this trend regardless of industry.

If the content on your website isn’t well written and designed to motivate your visitors to convert, you’ve paid for the traffic, but you may not be able to make the sales to justify paying for the traffic.


PPC and SEO will drive different kinds of traffic to your website, so the way you choose to lean needs to be based on what your traffic goals are. If you’re mostly interested in short-term conversions and testing, or product sales then PPC is the way to go. Half of the people that arrive at a retailer’s website from a paid ad are more likely to buy than visitors who arrive from an organic link. But, if you’re more interested in building a lot of traffic over time, and establishing credibility and trust with your audience? Then that’s where a solid SEO strategy needs to be your primary focus.


In the short-term, PPC is a good option. The minute your ads start running, you’ll start seeing results. But, when the money stops, so do those results. PPC can be costly over the long term, and that’s where SEO comes in to provide real value. You can get traffic using both, of course, but rarely will you be able to sustain PPC efforts in the long run without SEO. You’ll never be able to achieve high rankings overnight and, depending on the niche and competition, you may struggle to reach those higher spots. Investing time and resources into an SEO strategy (with or without PPC) is the real winner.

Both PPC and SEO have value and their place in online marketing. The comparison is not cut and dry, so it’s important to focus on the one that matches your goals and the reasons behind your campaign.

Not sure what your goals are? We’re here and ready to help you craft a strategy to bring your vision to life.

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