Paid vs Organic; Digital Marketing’s big debate

paid vs organic

There are two ways to gain increased brand awareness, perception, website traffic, leads and sales: paid and organic. But what are the differences between them and which is better for you?

In today’s digital world, many businesses are aware of the phrases, ‘organic’ and ‘paid’, in relation to digital marketing.

But a question we often get asked is, ‘Which option is best?‘.

As the digital marketing landscape changes so rapidly; with new platforms, ideas and technology meaning the industry never stays still, we thought we’d highlight the pros and cons of paid vs organic advertising.

So read on to find out exactly how the two techniques can work for you and your business.

Before highlighting the pros and cons of paid vs organic, it’s important to understand what each option really means, and how the can make a positive impact on your advertising efforts.


So, how do we classify organic content?

Organic marketing is all about generating results through your creativity and time.

Organic advertising can be deciphered as any type of content that isn’t paid for.

Gaining increased Brand Awareness via Social Media is all about understanding the needs and concerns of your buyer personas and what they will engage with.

Once this is achieved, you then have to get creative.

To make a start with organic advertising, you’ll need to create the appropriate content, including images, gifs, blogs, videos etc, and share it far and wide on all the relevant online platforms.

This can include YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, etc; anywhere where your target audience is most likely to hang out.

And did you know, you don’t have to always invest in paid advertising to ensure rankings on Google?

Organic search traffic means your content is optimised sufficiently so that it can generate clicks from search engines, without having to pay for the privilege of being there.

You do this by making sure that your website has great UX on all devices, including ‘complete’, relevant content with high quality inbound links from other trusted websites.

As you can probably tell, this all takes a lot of time, creativity and know-how.


Paid advertising is slightly clearer than organic.

This is defined by whether or not you have had to pay a publisher for your content to appear; whether that be Facebook, Google etc.

Paid advertisements on Google and Facebook tend to sit alongside organic results and purposely appear in a very similar format to organic results and posts.

You will also see them at the top of search engines or in your feed on Social Media, usually with text stating Ad or Sponsored, which is a clearer way of understanding that payment has been used to secure that spot.

Google will show your paid advert based on the search terms that you define and the amount of money you are prepared to pay per click (PPC).

In terms of social media, you will be seeing certain ads because the advertiser deems you to be their target audience.

You could have been targeted for a specific ad due to your age, sex, occupation, behaviour, interests etc.

As you’re investing in paid advertising, you may think it’s easier and less time-consuming than trying to generate results organically.

But, paid advertising is still an art, and takes some serious experience to make sure your ad campaigns run profitably.

Although these ad platforms are very intelligent, they are also fairly complex.

(Learn more about Facebook ad targeting).

The pros and cons of paid vs organic advertising

So, we’ve highlighted the definitions of both paid vs organic, but how do you really know which option is the one you should be investing your time or money into?

Well, the main benefit of organic marketing is the fact it can be implemented by the smallest business, with no marketing budget needed.

Typically, companies will use the free features a platform can offer, such as publishing tweets on Twitter in order to grow a consistent following.

The only real investment would be your time, and unfortunately, that is the main downside. Organic advertising requires a lot of time.

In most cases, you will need to spend at least a few hours per week on social media, alongside the time it takes to write interesting blog post content and drive SEO.

On top of this, you will have monthly activities. This includes email marketing, the analysis of data from Google Analytics, Google search console and the upkeep of your social media platforms through scheduling tools.

But although it’s time-consuming and a lot of hard work, your efforts will all be worth it when you see the results.

On the other hand, the greatest benefit of paid advertising is the control you have.

You are able to choose what messages are published, who can see it, and when they see it.

This allows a company to be much more targeted and obtain instant results from their branded messages. This isn’t typically available in the case of organic advertising.

However, paid is out of reach for a lot of small businesses and even those that do have the budget can easily waste it by not understanding the workings of Google Ads or Facebook ads fully.

Unlike organic advertising though, which is a long-term plan, paid advertising can help you to get the rewards quickly.

As soon as each platform, including Google and Facebook, has your bank card details, your adverts are then intelligently inserted to the search results and social media feeds.

Ideally, it’s best to combine the two.

If you require instant results and have the required budget, you may be better off starting the organic strategy with a paid campaign side-by-side, until the organic strategy achieves results and therefore less need for paid.

When is it good to go for paid?

  • Your website is live and working- there’s no point being top of Google’s searches if your website doesn’t convert, test first.
  • Sales Periods – If you have products you would like to get rid of quickly then Google ads are a great route to market.
  • New product/brand launch – If nobody knows about your product or brand then social media ads are a great way to get known and Google ads are a great way to target those searching the problems your brand solves.
  • You have the budget and have significant short-term sales targets.
  • Researching new products or services would be helped by promoting these via Social Media (cheaper) to see what engagement and response it gets before investing more money in stock or Google ads etc.
  • Generate a customer base from nothing, to then resell for far more profitably, via Email.

When is it better to generate attention organically?

The short answer is always.

If you’re just starting out then you might be put off by the thoughts of waiting 6-12 months before getting any real leads from social media or organic rankings.

But if you are persistent and continue with your organic strategy then this will pay off massively further down the line and will snowball.

“If you can generate leads and sales organically, you will have massive cost advantage over your competitors.”

The Barcelona way

You may wonder why we have brought Barcelona FC into this debate.

Damian Hughes recently published a book discussing how they changed the focus of the club from having three of the most famous expensive strikers, to getting rid of them and building the right culture within the club instead.

Barcelona FC won 14 of 19 possible titles while their long term superstar rivals Real Madrid were left wondering why their massive spending had failed.

Barcelona chose to invest time and effort to ensure everyone within the club represented their chosen brand values.

This has not only produced results, but it has made the club the most admired in the world.

Money can’t buy this, Real Madrid won plenty of titles beforehand.

But they never won the admiration of the entire footballing planet.

Which is better, Paid vs Organic?

In simple terms, neither is better than the other.

When choosing how you wish to market your brand online, it’s not a ‘one or the other’ sort of decision.

Organic and paid are capable of working together to create an effective marketing strategy.

Paid advertising is amazing because it allows any business, at any stage in their development, to boost their traffic or brand awareness.

Your business can then run organic search marketing campaigns in the background which would help improve a more cost-effective presence over time.

So is there really one you should choose over the other?

The choice is up to you and your business, what suits your situation best.

However, even if you do have all the money in the world, we suggest you have a proper Organic Digital Marketing strategy alongside your paid campaign to ensure you build a brand for a long term profitable future.

Paid vs Organic; Digital Marketing's big debate 1

Paid vs Organic; Digital Marketing's big debate 2
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