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Paid vs Organic Search: Do we have to choose just one when budgets get tight?

by Tug Agency | 30.10.2023

With talk going around about reduced marketing budgets, it’s no wonder the question of ‘Which is better: paid or organic search?’ has popped up. 

A study by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) surveyed 43 multinational companies, showing that 30% of advertisers were cutting marketing budgets in 2023. The reason? Budgets are currently under heavy scrutiny and investments in marketing will need to be justified. 

There is, however, some contradictory data going around. The Q3 2023 Bellwether report revealed that 21% of their firms actually increased total marketing spend, while 15.8% downsized their budgets. 

All this uncertainty has placed marketers in a tricky situation – either hope that next years’ marketing budgets remain robust or start preparing for cuts. 

Paid media is most likely to be the first casualty, as marketers work to reduce spend and maximise organic SEO efforts. But is there a way to leverage organic search without having to sacrifice paid at all? Let’s talk about it. 

How organic search continues to thrive

As a more long-term strategy, organic search can deliver great ROI when properly executed. 

Taking advantage of the search algorithm and creating content that is truly customer-centric helps your brand build a relationship with its audience. This long-term strategy can also boost your online presence and brand awareness. 

Ciara Fitzpatrick, Tug Senior Account Executive, explains how implementing campaigns fuelled by SEO insights can help clients identify opportunities and fill in any content or website gaps.  

“Client’s aren’t always fully aware of the potential their websites and content have. Working with us [SEO strategists] to implement SEO into their campaigns can help them see the bigger picture.” 

Ciara also makes the case for potential PR opportunities. “The value of links is really important. Especially when it comes to building links with external websites, and growing relationships for cross-channel success. The PR possibilities could render really good long-term results.” 

All this said, paid media also plays an important role in driving campaign success. 

“You need to know what you want from your content, and what direction you want to go in before spending money. Your SEO strategy can feed your paid strategy, and identify what opportunities you’re missing out on,” says Ciara.  

Making the case for PPC

With paid strategies, the results are more short-term. Paolo Rizzo, our Biddable Media Manager, sums it up perfectly:  

“Paid is like rented traffic, whereas SEO is earned and owned traffic. SEO is better for building a brand and educating your audience. With paid, you want to get something out of it, for example, to subscribe to something or buy a certain product.”  

Breaking down what Paolo means, paid campaigns are great when targeting specific audiences and driving new leads. Sponsored content and PPC efforts can offer instant insight into what your audience is interested in and can lead to highly informed paid campaigns in the future. 

What’s more, you can be picky when you want to implement paid campaigns. If you want to promote sign-ups to an upcoming webinar or encourage newsletter subscriptions, paid is the way to go. 

Paolo mentions that clients often expect paid to generate both sales and traffic, but it’s important to remember that only qualified traffic can be sent to a website. 

“Once they [qualified traffic] have clicked an ad and landed on the website, we have little influence on what actions they take while on the site, and this can be easily misunderstood,” says Paolo. This is where organic SEO can step in. 

Organic SEO works as the foundation to drive organic traffic and leads. You can’t really have just one strategy in place. “They [paid and SEO] work well hand-in-hand, and it’s risky to rely on just one as you’re at the whim of the market. Paid can become very competitive, very quickly, and your budget may get unexpectedly squeezed,” explains Paolo.  

Best of both worlds: Take advantage of organic search and PPC with SearchUncut

There’s no need for these two strategies to operate alone. When leveraging both strategies, brand credibility and visibility grows – customers are more likely to trust a brand they see in sponsored and organic search results. 

At Tug, we’ve been working on trying to bridge the gap between paid and organic search – without clients feeling like they need to compromise. 

SearchUncut is a tool we’ve created that combines organic and paid search signals, allowing clients to make real-time spending decisions based on competitor PPC activity and organic rankings. This means clients can drive more traffic at a more efficient cost. 

How does the SearchUncut tool do this? 

If you’d like more insight on SearchUncut and how the Tug team can assist your brand with SEO and paid campaigns, don’t hesitate to contact us.