Organic vs. Paid Traffic: Which is Best for You?

Organic or paid? In today’s article, we’re going to be digging into the pros and cons of organic and paid traffic. And then, I’m going to ask you three questions to consider for yourself as a business owner in the case where you’re trying to make the decision for yourself.

Pros of Organic Traffic

So digging right in, let’s talk about what some of the pros are for organic traffic. So when we talk about organic traffic, really talking about taking a long term content marketing strategy and building up organic search to our site.

Pros of Organic Traffic #1: You’re actually creating an asset

One of the biggest pros in terms of organic traffic is that you’re actually creating an asset. It’s something in which, as you create more content marketing pieces, each one of those things are things that you can actually reuse in the future as well.

So let’s say, for example, you’re a lawn care business and you created a case study page in which you’re detailing exactly how you turned this atrocious backyard into a beautiful backyard. In this example, you might be targeting a long tail keyword phrase that is relevant to your niche while also educating your prospective buyers on the different ways that you’re able to help them and their respective lawns.

So when it comes to organic traffic, you’re able to create assets for your business. This can also be things like downloadables or survey results. But overall, this is in my opinion, one of the strongest pulls to taking an organic strategy to building up your traffic.

Pros of Organic Traffic #2: You’re actually creating an asset

The second thing that I really like about organic traffic is that it’s something in which you’ll invest it upfront in terms of the time and money that you’ll spend in it, but it will compound over time. In the paid situation, you’re often going to pay for eyeballs today, but you’re not going to get the benefit of those eyeballs tomorrow. Whereas in the case of organic SEO, what you’re really doing is you’re building an asset base of content for yourself. You’re building a content side to your site, and it really helps in a variety of different ways in that it helps Google understand what your site is all about as well as just build some overall authority and relevance to your prospects and showing to them that you know what you’re talking about as well.

Pros of Organic Traffic #2: You get a lot more data out of it

The third pro that I’d say when it comes to organic traffic, is that it’s really something in which you’re going to get a lot more data out of it. And what I mean by that is assuming that you have properly installed Google Analytics or whatever analytics tool you want to use, you’re going to get a lot of rich data that you’re going to be able to filter down into in different visualizations.

This is not always necessarily the case for paid advertising depending on the platform. Sometimes it can feel a little bit like a black box when it comes to paid advertising. And the last pro that I talk about when it comes to organic traffic, is that you’re able to convert more of your users more broadly in the user funnel.

What I mean by that is, in the case where they land on your content marketing piece on a particular topic or question that people are often asking in your space, you’re able to do things like show a targeted popup, asking them if they’d like to join your email list for whatever it is that you might be sending out.

This is not always the case in paid because sometimes in paid your campaign goals are to set up for a direct conversion for your product or service. And so when it comes to content marketing, you’re able to capture a higher level part of the overall marketing funnel because of the fact that you are covering a broader base of topics overall.

Cons of Organic Traffic

Now all these things being said, organic does not come without its cons as well.

Cons of Organic Traffic #1: It takes time

One of the biggest cons to organic SEO is that it does take time. If you see my other article here, you know, that it typically takes six to nine months for SEO to really start working. So organic is not something in which you can just kind of do it one day and then start expecting people to show up at your doorstep tomorrow, wanting to buy your product or service.

Cons of Organic Traffic #2: Google algorithm updates

The other thing that I’d mention about organic SEO is that oftentimes throughout the year, Google will make minor and major algorithm updates. The most recent one lately has been the one in May in which some websites were drastically impacted. The main insight that I’d share here though, is that having done organic SEO for more than a decade at this point, I’ve seen tons of algorithm changes and I’m rarely affected when it comes to my respective websites that I’ve worked on largely because I stuck to white hat methods.

If you stick to white hat methods and you focus on creating genuine value in your space, I find that these algorithm changes may sometimes impact your traffic in the short term, but in the long term, your traffic will still grow. I’ve seen this time and time again with a variety of different websites that I’ve worked at on different scales from just a few thousand views to literally millions of page views every single month.

Cons of Organic Traffic #3: Google’s highest SERP rankings

And the last con that I’d mentioned when it comes to organic SEO is that Google has been taking a lot more of the higher SERP rankings nowadays. So in other words, when you’re searching something into Google, Google themselves is taking some of the higher spots as opposed to leading them to other websites.

And it makes sense because ultimately the way that Google makes money is by keeping you on Google. And so this is something that I have noticed as a trend in the last few years that you want to be mindful in the case where you’re thinking about applying an organic strategy.

Pros of Paid Traffic

Now we’ve gone through all things organic, let’s flip the coin and take a look at paid traffic. And what are some of the pros and cons there? So really there’s three big pros that I can think of when it comes to paid traffic.

Pros of Paid Traffic #1: Quick wins

The first one is that you can get some really quick wins. Paid does not take a lot of time in terms of setting up an initial campaign and starting to spend your ad dollars and seeing whether or not you’re going to get results.

So as opposed to organic, where you’re spending that six to nine-month time period paid, you can sometimes have results within a couple of days. It’s all ultimately going to come down to your tracking mechanisms and whether or not they convert, but in most situations, for example, with Google ad campaigns, it’ll be attributed within a seven-day click period.

Pros of Paid Traffic #2: Flexible on and off switch

And then another big pro to paid traffic is that there’s a flexible on and off switch. When you set up a campaign for paid advertising whether that’s on Facebook or Google or LinkedIn, there is a clear start and finish that you can set in place, whether that is you’re limited by your budget or your campaign goals, this is something in which that’s not the case when you’re building out organic traffic.

When you’re building organic traffic, you have to scale out an entire content team. You have to create documentation, you have to do keyword research. You have to do all these sorts of different things. Whereas when it comes to paid traffic, you’re a lot more focused in your work and you can clearly turn things off if it’s not working.

Pros of Paid Traffic #3: Clear ROI

The third pro that I’d say about paid traffic is that there is a really clear ROI. It is really clear which keywords are working for you as well as which keywords are not. It is much more of a science as opposed to something in which when you’re looking at content marketing or organic SEO, that is something where it can be a little bit more nebulous in terms of the true benefits of your content marketing.

Oftentimes, small business owners struggle to think about how to calculate the true ROI of their content marketing efforts when it comes to organic efforts, just because it can be so difficult to track exactly what it is that they are measuring results on. Is it just the leads that we’re generated from your content marketing or is it also the broader awareness or general Goodwill that you’re building in your space? Or another question that people might ask is what is the value of an email subscriber to me, if I am getting email subscribers through my content marketing?

Cons of Paid Traffic

Aside from those three pros though pay does have its drawbacks.

Cons of Paid Traffic #1: It can regularly change

One of the biggest cons to paid traffic is that factors can regularly change and evergreen campaigns can go from being super profitable to being completely unprofitable. A few years ago, I was in a regular group of founders that would meet talking about the sorts of ways that their businesses were generating leads.

And one of my cohort classmates was spending tens of thousands of dollars on Facebook ads, and it was working really well for about six months, but then there was a major Facebook algorithm change, and all of a sudden he had no leads to his business and he was caught pretty much with the rug having been pulled from under him.

And so this is one of the biggest concerns with paid advertising is that things can change just as much as it can on our organic side. And it’s something in which, when that does change, you really have none of that benefit of having built up an asset, like an email list or something longer term in terms of a content base that you could repurpose in other ways.

Cons of Paid Traffic #2: Traffic can be a lot colder

Another con that I’d say about paid traffic is that sometimes the traffic can be a lot colder, if you haven’t validated your ad group yet. And what I mean by that is yes, you can definitely target campaigns to just the buyer intent keywords in your space, but that will often be really expensive in terms of the cost per click.

And so it’s really important for you when you’re looking at paid advertising to consider which ad groups are going to be profitable for you and which ones will be way too cold of traffic. One time I set up a paid traffic campaign in which it was just sending people to get a freebie download from my website, but what I realized was that the traffic from that was way too cold and way too irrelevant to me. And that wasn’t something that I figured out until I had spent a couple of hundred dollars on that campaign.

Cons of Paid Traffic #3: You don’t own the traffic

The third con that I’d say about paid traffic is that you don’t own the traffic. And so what that means is that whatever platform you’re using for paid advertising will always be looking to get you to spend more. I can’t tell you the number of times that Google has told me to increase my budget on something. And that is not necessarily in the best interest of that respective campaign I’m running and the same goes for different platforms as well.

Ultimately, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google all make their money when you spend more money. And so naturally the recommendations that they’ll give you in the Ad Console are always going to be things that really will encourage you to spend more on their respective platforms.

3 Questions to Ask Yourself Which One is Right For You

Now, that we’ve gone over the pros and cons of both organic and paid traffic, let’s talk about three key questions that you should ask yourself as a business owner as to which one is right for you.

Question #1: What exactly is your budget?

If you’re only working with a couple of hundred dollars, you might want to go ahead and just set up a paid campaign because you’re going to get a lot more quicker wins with that sort of effort, as opposed to potentially investing in organic traffic and really building out some content marketing strategy.

The reason why I say that is because in order to execute a meaningful content marketing strategy, it will take your business at least three to six months on the fast end in order to start seeing results. And so in the case where you’re tight on budget, you might as well just spend it on some paid spend just to get some initial results and learn a little bit more about your space.

I’m assuming that if you’re in the situation where you’re exploring this sort of question, then you’re not even sure exactly what sort of traffic is out there in your niche. And so spending some on paid can help you start to understand a little bit more about your ideal customer profile.

Question #2: What is your timeline for ROI?

This naturally kind of extends from the first question, but in the case where your timeline for ROI could potentially be six plus months or so then you should definitely consider investing in an organic search sort of strategy. The reason why you want to do this is because you’re going to be able to start building up that sort of content pool that is going to gradually be compounding over time.

If a person invests a hundred dollars in the US stock market, they’re only going to make about 8% year over year, all things considered on both up and down years. And similarly, you need to think about this on the same sort of timeline when it comes to investing in content. If you have a longer time horizon, you might as well start investing in an organic content strategy. That way you’re gradually building up the authority of your site. And by doing so you’ll also be providing valuable assets and content for your customers, as well as your prospects to consume.

Question #3: What is your capacity?

In the case where you’re doing everything yourself, what I’d recommend is if you have the bandwidth in place to really spend the time to start writing SEO-optimized articles, then go the organic pathway. But in the case where you don’t have that capacity, then maybe you should go figure out how to set up a simple paid campaign. That way you can really just start to see some of those quick wins.

So in other words, when it really comes down to organic versus paid, it comes down to your own preference for timeline and payoff, as well as your own capacity. Obviously, there are other considerations that you need to keep in mind for your business. Every sort of industry is different. So a bonus question that I would ask yourself as well, is, are there others in your space that are doing one more so than the other?

If you notice, for example, that your five competitors are all doing paid campaigns, it’s probably a signal that you need to play the game as well. But in the case where all of your competitors are doing content marketing on the organic side, well, then that’s a signal for you to probably invest in that. And so that’s something that you want to keep in mind as well, is what exactly is the market telling you to?

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