Organic Traffic vs Paid Traffic: Which Should You Prioritize?

Hey there search marketers! If you run any kind of website or online business, you need visitors to achieve your goals, right? Well, you essentially have two main options for driving traffic – organic search or paid search. But which one should you focus your time and resources on?

This is a hotly debated topic in the digital marketing world. In this in-depth guide, I’ll break down the pros, cons, differences, and strategies for organic vs paid traffic. My goal is to help you determine the right balance and traffic mix for your specific business objectives. Let’s dive in!

Organic Traffic

First, what exactly is organic traffic?

Organic traffic refers to visitors who arrive at your site via unpaid search engine results. This happens when searchers on engines like Google look for relevant keywords and phrases, and your content ranks well enough to appear prominently in results.

If a searcher clicks your listing, you earn a referral visit without paying anything to the search engine. However, you do invest heavily in SEO activities like content creation, link building, and optimization to earn those rankings.

Here are some key advantages of organic traffic:

  • Free referrals – No cost per click like paid ads. Traffic is “free” once rankings are secured.
  • Consumer trust – Searchers consider organic results more trustworthy than ads. Higher credibility.
  • Brand building – Ranking for your brand and keywords builds awareness and authority.
  • Scalable channels – SEO gains grow over time as you build equity. Expandable.
  • Engaged visitors – Organic visitors arrived looking for your content, so tend to be more engaged.
  • Lasting equity – Unlike ads which stop when you stop paying, rankings provide lasting equity.

Paid Traffic

On the other side, we have paid traffic from search engine ads. With platforms like Google Ads, Bing Ads and more, you bid on keywords to show ads alongside organic results. Each click costs money.

Benefits of paid traffic include:

  • Speed – Get up and running quickly vs waiting on organic rankings.
  • Control – Choose the exact keywords, locations, and days/times you advertise.
  • Flexibility – Pause, tweak, or increase campaigns whenever you want.
  • Measurement – Clear performance metrics like CPC and conversion tracking.
  • Budget management – Set daily/monthly budgets and maximum bids per click.
  • Hyper-targeting – Target extremely niche demographics and searcher segments.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of organic vs paid traffic, let’s do a side-by-side comparison.

Organic Traffic vs Paid Traffic Comparison

Here is a detailed breakdown of how organic and paid search stack up across some key factors:

FactorOrganic TrafficPaid Traffic
Cost Per ClickFreeBid amount you set
Speed to StartSlower due to needing to build rankings over timeVery fast activation
Competition LevelHigh, fighting for top rankingsLower if bidding competitively
Day-to-Day ManagementLower maintenance once optimizedRequires ongoing bid adjustments and campaign management
Control Over VolumeIndirect by ranking contentDirectly control volume through bids and budget
Landing Page RelevanceHigh, visitors come to your page specificallyModerate, some paid clicks less qualified
Conversion RatesHigher thanks to engaged, targeted visitorsVaries significantly based on landing page relevance
Brand BuildingHigh value for branding and credibilityLower value, seen as interruptive ads

As you can see, both channels have very different pros, cons, and use cases. In most cases, a balanced approach utilizing both organic and paid together is best.

Next let’s discuss strategies for prioritizing one over the other in certain scenarios.

When To Prioritize Organic Traffic

Certain business situations lend themselves particularly well to an organic traffic-focused strategy:

  • Early stage startup – With limited budget, SEO provides free growth, branding, and equity.
  • Informational site – Sites publishing lots of knowledge content do well leveraging organic.
  • Local business – Local SEO drives targeted geographic shoppers.
  • Ecommerce retailer – High lifetime value shoppers worth the slower SEO ramp up.
  • Limited paid budget – Organic channels still accessible with zero ad spend.
  • Long term legacy – Lasting organic equity to pass down, vs ads stopping when paused.

Organic is also a smart priority if your products/services require lots of research before purchasing. Those high-funnel informational keywords gain brand trust.

When To Prioritize Paid Traffic

Alternatively, here are scenarios better suited to a paid traffic-first approach:

  • Need for quick revenue – Paid ads start driving conversions immediately to fund growth.
  • Transactional business – Businesses focused on purchases and conversions over branding.
  • Promoting time-sensitive offers – Paid ads perfect for deals, flash sales, and events.
  • High lifetime value products – Profit margins allow competitively bidding for premium clicks.
  • Low organic visibility – Paid helps lesser known brands get on the map faster.
  • Supplementing organic dips – If organic traffic dips, paid ads fill the gap.
  • Hyper-targeted reach – Paid expands reach to niche users hard to attract organically.

Best Practices for Balancing Organic and Paid Traffics

In most cases, the ideal move is finding an effective balance between organic and paid traffic based on your budget and objectives.

Some best practices:

  • Set specific target organic/paid traffic mix – e.g. 60% organic, 40% paid.
  • Have each channel complement each other’s weaknesses. Paid accelerates growth as SEO ramps up over time.
  • Use ads to test product validity and new content before investing in organic optimization.
  • Let SEO inform paid keyword selection and expansion.
  • Align landing pages experience for both channels.
  • Leverage analytics to optimize crossover between organic and paid.

Get the flywheel going by using paid to cultivate searchers and prime them for organic content and transitions. They work together when executed strategically.

Now let’s get into some tactics to help drive both organic and paid traffic.

Tactics for Driving Organic Traffic

If focusing on organic growth, here are some high-impact tactics:

  • Create in-depth, epic content around your core topics. Shoot for long-form, 3,000+ word guides.
  • Produce extensive content for full buyer journeys, like “yoga for beginners”, “yoga poses”, and “opening a yoga studio”.
  • Identify rising search trends in your industry and quickly create content while demand is high.
  • Build a master list of all related keywords – including long-tail opportunities – and create optimized pages for each.
  • Produce visual assets like infographics, videos, and presentations that attract backlinks and shares.
  • Reach out to earn high quality editorially-given backlinks from authority sites.
  • Leverage search analytics to identify your top-performing content optimizing for those terms.
  • Refresh and update older evergreen content targeting popular searches to keep it ranking high.

Tactics for Driving Paid Traffic

If focusing on paid ads, some key strategies include:

  • Set specific CPA and conversion targets you want ads to achieve based on margins.
  • Audit search terms driving conversions and expand bids and budgets on those terms.
  • Analyze high-funnel keywords cost-effectively attracting your target demographics for upper funnel nurturing.
  • Run aggressive promotions, discounts, and limited-time offers to incentivize clicks and conversions.
  • Test different ad placements beyond just text – try video, image, responsive, etc.
  • Test landing page experience by sending traffic to different pages and offers.
  • Leverage analytics for detailed conversion tracking and iterative optimization.
  • Make your ads stand out with compelling ad copy, rather than purely bidding high.

Wrapping Up

As you can see, both organic and paid search have their individual strengths and use cases. Generally a balanced combo is best, but allocating budget towards one vs the other depends on your specific goals.

The right channel also varies over the course of a business – for example, paid ads to gain momentum quickly, before shifting focus more to organic for longevity and branding.

Hopefully this guide provided a helpful framework for determining the right organic vs paid investment for where you are currently with your business. Use it to inform your channel prioritization and traffic strategy.

And remember – conversion-focused optimization is key for both organic and paid. Focus on delighting searchers once they click through to your site. This maximizes value regardless of how they found you.

Now get out there, drive targeted traffic, convert those visitors, and hit your business goals! Let me know if you have any other questions!

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common questions people have about organic vs paid traffic:

What produces higher ROI – organic or paid traffic?

It depends on the business model. Organic has near 100% ROI if you value branding and longevity. But paid can work out to higher ROI for conversion-focused efforts done right. Calculate ROAS for paid, and track goal completions for organic.

Can I completely replace organic with a paid budget?

It’s very hard to fully replace organic traffic long term with paid ads alone. The brand building and equity from rankings have major value. Aim for a balanced mix leveraging both.

Is paid traffic of lower quality than organic?

Not necessarily – it depends how tightly you target paid ads. With precise keywords and demographics, you can send highly qualified visitors, but expect to pay more per click. There is a perception of lower intent from ads.

Our organic traffic dropped – should we increase paid budget?

Potentially. Look at why organic declined, but paid may help fill immediate gaps. Be careful not to over-rely on paid long term. Analyze if it makes sense to increase budget there or focus on recapturing organic traffic.

I have a limited budget – organic or paid?

With a limited budget, organic is likely the better investment. You can do extensive SEO with minimal spend and earn “free” traffic. Paid requires large, ongoing spend which may not be feasible.

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