SEO vs. Paid Traffic: Where Should a Company Focus its Effort?

“Keith, should I spend my marketing budget on organic SEO traffic or paid traffic? “

This is the number one question I get when people find out that I do digital marketing for business clients full time and manage SEO and Paid media / PPC campaigns.    I am more of an organic traffic SEO kind of guy.  I like SEO more because  despite online marketing’s best efforts to wax poetically about the utility of paid advertising, organic searches still drive better than 73% of traffic to business sites [1] [2] ( keep reading for stats breakdown) , so, perhaps putting your money into smart, current SEO strategies versus paid ads is still the way to go.

Organic Traffic vs. Paid Traffic the Great Debate

To remain as objective as possible, the truth is that the conclusive answer to this debate is not as simplistic as one source being better than the other.   To get to the answer you first must understand and clarify the question to your own companies’ goals and key performance indicators (KPI)

Understanding How to Best Reach Your Customers

To get a greater understanding that helps to inform your overall strategy for your business you must ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the demographic of our buying and potential buying customer base?
  • Where are our buying and potential buying customer bases on the web?
  • How can our customers be targeted and reached effectively
  • What is the least expensive way to impact them with the greatest ROI
  • What is the Companies expectation of the buying and sales cycle for a realized profit?

Now let’s look at some of the key differentiations between Paid / PPC and Display ads and organic traffic from SEO with a couple of different studies refer to SimilarWeb[1] for desktop traffic and the Merkle Digital Marketing Report [2]   for mobile traffic.

When search is performed from desktop machines to general merchandise business eCom sites is 94.58% from Organic SEO Traffic and 5.42% is from a combined paid sources… (see a visual breakdown of stats here)

If we were to combine the traffic break down percentages, from the 2 studies cited,  we would come to an approximate aggregate of 73% of all traffic to business sites from all users types (desktop / mobile / tablet) comes from organic search.

The Good Part of Paid Traffic

Generally speaking, paid traffic has a lot of strengths.  You can start to get traffic almost immediately.   You just load some targeted keywords, formulate your bidding strategy, pick your target geo locations, set a budget and you are off to the races.

The Bad Part of Paid Traffic

A couple of the weaknesses with paid traffic are that the traffic you do get is often from users that are far less engaged.   Bounce rates are higher, time on site is less, and number of pages per visit is less.   A lot of the traffic from paid comes from people that may have not been proactively searching for your product, or service and just happen to click on an ad that caught their eye while they may have been on the web for a completely different purpose.  You can also easily burn through an ad budget quickly if you are not careful.

The Good Part of Organic Search Traffic

SEO /organic search traffic has a lot of advantages over paid traffic.  Generally the visitor engagement is a lot higher.  You will have lower bounce rates, greater time on site, greater number of page visits per session and even higher conversions in some instances.   People who hit your site from organic search are a bit more engaged and qualified because they are already proactively searching for your product or service.   They are NOT just clicking on an ad that catches their eye.

The Bad Part of Organic Search Traffic

There are only 2 weaknesses to building organic search traffic through SEO.   The first is that it can take a long time to see any significant uptick in traffic from SEO especially if your business is in a highly competitive niche.   The other weakness is that you are at the mercy of search engine algorithms.    What may be an effective SEO strategy today to rank your website may completely change in an instant when the search engines apply an algorithm update.  Ultimately, this is why I advocate a holistic approach between SEO and paid traffic with more effort and budget being put into SEO.

The Jury is in, SEO for the Win

My advice is to split your digital marketing budget 70/30.   70% of your budget devoted to SEO constantly optimizing your site, both on-site and off-site optimization, to gain consistent organic traffic.

30% of your digital marketing budget should be devoted to a paid traffic strategy especially when you need a quick burst in sales or when you want to test and track the ROI of new product and service offerings.

Never forget, that you must constantly adapt your strategies as you go, as nothing remains the same ever.  Not in life and certainly not in digital marketing

Thanks for reading

Keith ‘Digital Keith” Gill

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