For much of their existence, paid search and organic search have been treated as separate tactics within a much larger digital marketing strategy. But as digital marketing evolves, many marketers are getting results from incorporating both earned and paid search in their search marketing strategy.
In this post, we’re going to dive into the difference between paid search and organic search strategies and how to use them together. With a smart approach to digital advertising, you can draw more people to your site, highlight great targeted content, and provide value to potential customers—in other words, use paid search to give a boost to your inbound marketing strategy.
Table of Contents
- Paid search vs organic search strategies
- Using paid search to boost organic results
- Using paid search to support audience research
- Increasing product awareness using paid search ads
- Fill organic keyword performance gaps with paid search
- Use paid search to increase your market share
- Use paid search to drive and nurture demand
Paid search vs organic search strategies
Historically, the differences between paid search and organic search strategies have been pretty stark. SEOs—that is, search engine optimizers who work on the organic side of things—are typically concerned with longer-tail, higher-intent keywords that can fuel their content strategies over the long term. SEOs aren’t going to ignore shorter, higher-volume keywords on principle, but they typically won’t make them the focus of their efforts.
Search engine marketers (SEMs) on the other hand are typically interested in all keywords, but particularly the higher-funnel ones where they can cast a wider net. SEMs tend to focus on building paid search campaigns that can speak to users at every stage of the conversion funnel, using myriad tools available to them (like remarketing, email nurturing, and more) to help pull their audience along through the funnel.
As the traditional conversion funnel becomes more and more circular and marketers look at search as a holistic channel, the expectations of paid search and organic search are becoming more blended, and this creates a lot of opportunities for SEOs and SEMs to work more closely together to create a winning search marketing strategy.
Using paid search to boost organic results
For most sites, organic traffic brings in some of the most valuable visitors. But it’s not something you can just turn on and off. Even the sites that perform best in organic results may not be able to overcome the knowledge box, paid search ads, and the rise of zero-click searches—according to Power Traffick, the top three paid search ads get nearly 50% of all clicks on a SERP. While your SEOs build your brand presence over the long-term, a good SEM strategy can get you wins in the short-term and support overall marketing efforts.
Let’s dive into a few ways that paid search can be used to support organic search efforts more closely.
Using paid search to support audience research
Use Dynamic Search Ads to better understand your audience’s search behaviors
If your brand has been around for a long time and works in a very specific space, odds are that you have a strong handle on the search terms your audience prefers. But it’s more likely that your company hasn’t been around forever and that you work in various disciplines, which means that the way users search for your products, services, brand or competitors may vary based upon seasonal or industry trends. Keeping your search marketing strategy or content calendar current when targeting an audience whose search habits are inconsistent can be difficult, which is where Dynamic Search Ads come in.
Dynamic Search Ads are a paid search ad format allowing search marketers to write ad copy that accurately reflects your brand’s mission, offerings, or promotions without the added commitment of keyword research. Google (or Microsoft) does this via automated intelligence to determine the most relevant keywords for your brand in real-time. By allowing the platform’s AI to determine which keywords to serve your ads on, your ads will be more relevant to your audience, and you’ll gain lots of useful insight into the way your audience is searching for your brand.
Paired with custom audiences, dynamic ads may be one of the most valuable tools in your search marketing toolkit. Custom audiences like remarketing audiences are composed of former site visitors, so targeting people who have been to the site previously and who are still searching for your brand or offerings mean that you’re getting in front of people who are well-qualified for what you sell. And, it means that you’ll get a look behind the curtain at what these users are looking for in real-time.
Dynamic ads have the added benefit of typically being clicked on more frequently, costing less per click, and even converting more cheaply than standard search ads. While you’re gaining invaluable audience insights, dynamic ads are also boosting your performance and saving your company time and money. Why wouldn’t you want to use them?
Increasing product/service awareness
Using paid search to educate prospects about your solution
According to SearchEngineLand, more than 50% of the time people search, they don’t click on a single link. This can make it really tricky to educate your audience about your solutions via search—even the most well-written and optimized title tags and meta descriptions can only go so far, and by so far, we mean roughly 200 characters. With search ads, you have:
- 270 characters in your ad copy
- 380 characters from sitelinks (95 characters per sitelink times four)
- Roughly 100 characters from callout extensions
- 100 from structured snippet extensions
- Extra copy from location and review extensions (which don’t technically have hard caps on characters)
That’s roughly 325% more total characters you can use to educate prospects about the features of your offering, your brand promise, and anything else you might want to say, even if that prospect doesn’t click on anything on the page.
Creating awareness of a new product or service launch using paid search
Just as organic search results may not provide the same amount of real estate that paid search does, they also don’t appear in the same places. Paid search results appear before organic ones, meaning that if you’ve got big news—like a product launch or brand pivot or promotion—you’d be wise to promote it via ads. Some searchers might not even see an organic listing about it. After all, paid search ads can improve awareness by as much as 80%, according to Google.
SEO is a long play, which means that title tags and meta descriptions should be optimized for the most valuable searches to your brand. You don’t want a title tag that reads something like “New Fall Clothing Line Launches 8/10” or “Buy One Get One Free Designer Glasses Ends 6/30” because they’re not great for SEO. However, they’re perfect as headlines in ads, where people expect to see deals and limited time offers pop up, and they’ll be more likely to click on them as a result.
Fill organic keyword performance gaps with paid search
How to use organic landing pages to improve conversion capture
Many clients tell us that their strongest conversion channel—either in terms of lead volume, quality, or both—is organic search. People who typically come to the site via an organic search are more knowledgeable about their needs and/or the client’s brand or services. But, it may also be because the pages they land on provide those users with more information and opportunities to convert.
The typical paid search landing page is light on content and has a prominent form, urging your audience to convert when they might not be ready. It’s possible that the pages your audiences land on organically do a better job of establishing authority and trust, and therefore may be better optimized to convert lower-funnel users.
There is, of course, no reason you can’t use corporate site pages (i.e. not default paid landing pages) as the target pages for your search ads. It may not be best practice to do so, but if you have reason to believe that you’ll convert more users that way, set up an A/B test and try it. Just don’t send high-funnel traffic to comprehensive corporate site pages, because it’s likely that those users aren’t ready for that depth of information and engagement yet.
How to use paid search to bridge organic performance gaps
If you’re using Google Search Console, click into the Search Performance report, which shows organic keyword impressions, clicks, and average ranking. It’s a great place to diagnose performance issues on core organic keywords. Doing so might also indicate an opportunity to put some money behind a keyword (or two, or 10) that aren’t ranking as well organically as you’d like them to.
Use paid search to increase your market share
Use paid search to target your competitors brand and products/services
One thing that you absolutely don’t want to invest time and energy into is optimizing your site for your competitors’ terms. But you can bid on your competitor’s names, products, service offerings and core non-branded terms with impunity using paid search. Doing this strategically and not to committing a ton of budget to it can be a way to get some low-funnel users to make the switch from a competing brand to yours, if your message, ad copy, and landing page are all strong enough.
When creating a competitive conquest campaign, your costs for those keywords will typically be higher. Your site isn’t optimized for them—nor should it be—and your click-through rates will typically be much lower. You shouldn’t be discouraged by this—any traffic you’re able to take away from your competitors is a good thing. The more you do it, the larger your remarketing and other audiences will become, keeping your brand top of mind.
Use paid search to drive and nurture demand
Here’s where you can use paid search to go beyond supporting organic search and really start to nurture leads. Anytime someone comes to your site, regardless of how they get there, use your CRM to tag and add them to appropriate remarketing audiences. Then use those audiences to serve them customized search, display, or even video messages. CRM tools like HubSpot are great at doing this. Anytime someone comes to your site and fills out a form, HubSpot can add them to separate audiences that you can use to fuel lookalike audiences not just in Google, but also Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Programmatic display, or any other campaigns you might be running.
Your remarketing audiences should be based upon the pages users are visiting and the behavior that they express once there. Ask yourself:
- Did they land on a blog post organically and bounce? They’re probably not ready to engage further with your brand. Consider adding them to a list to begin targeting in 30, 60, or 90 days, depending on the length of your sales cycle.
- Did they land on the homepage from a referral source, then visit the contact page, but leave without submitting a form? They probably have some reservations about engaging with your brand, and you may want to create a video remarketing campaign to help nurture them.
- Did they land on a blog post via email, view a key page on the site and download a content offer? They should be used to fuel a lookalike audience, because this type of user is typically well-qualified, interested, and may be ready to purchase.
Audience segmenting and remarketing takes time, forethought, and a good CRM to be successful, but when done right it may be the single most valuable tactic in your marketing arsenal. Ignore it at your own peril.
While paid search can, and has been used to make up for lapses in organic performance over the years, that’s no longer the only use for it. Paid search can be used to improve your market share, increase engagement, drive more demand and most importantly, to nurture your existing audience and prospect base.