March 2009: Search Optimization Versus Paid Search

Industry Stats & Data by eMarketer

eMarketer is "The First Place to Look" for research and analysis on digital marketing and media. eMarketer aggregates and analyzes research from over 2,800 sources, and brings it together in analyst reports, daily articles and the "eStat Database" the most comprehensive database of online marketing statistics in the world.

As the recession forces many companies’ existing customers to buy less or not at all, the trends push marketers toward winning new business—and search marketing is the best customer acquisition tool in the online space. Of course, customer retention remains essential, but that objective is not a search marketing strength.

The four basic search options are paid search, contextual advertising, paid inclusion—all three are types of advertising—and search engine optimization (SEO). While paid search gets most of the attention and money, marketers will look increasingly toward SEO as they try to acquire new customers.

SEO improves organic listings, which Internet users prefer over paid search. Furthermore, SEO is cost-effective. Optimization works across all search engines, and an optimized site does not drop off the first results page even when marketer spending slows or stops (as it does with paid search).

Marketers can select two basic search tactics—paid search and SEO—and those looking to optimize their search marketing pick both. Each tactic offers distinct advantages, disadvantages and qualities.

Paid Search

  • Results can be seen immediately through increased traffic. However, paid search results drop off the screen as soon as the spending stops.
  • Marketers have greater control over which keywords are most associated with their company, brands, products or services.
  • Additional metrics are available, which means more detailed Web analytics that yield sophisticated knowledge from the data.


  • Results are gradual. Improved organic rankings typically take months. However, those improvements do not vanish when a marketer’s budget is reduced or runs out, as happens with paid search. Instead, higher organic rankings tend to persist for months.
  • Searchers are more open to organic results, defined as the central section of any results page. They generally find them more relevant—or simply more acceptable—than advertising. Therefore, they tend to click on organic results more often than on paid search ads.
  • Marketers sometimes find the SEO process complex. Many call it a “black-box” technique, since optimization requires deciphering the hidden ranking algorithms of search engines. For some marketers, that means full-blown SEO efforts depend on help from an agency.
  • SEO becomes crucial for marketers that want to ensure their company is ranked high in results relevant to their brands, products or services—not to mention being ranked first for the company name itself.
  • While each search engine constructs its own method for ranking organic results, the SEO process tends to improve a marketer’s rankings across all search engines—one process, many results.

SEO might be an even greater bargain than paid search advertising—and thus a welcome option during these hard economic times. Stickiness is key to SEO’s value. As a site’s optimization takes hold, that improves its organic listings for relevant keywords. However, unlike paid search advertising (where regular payments are needed to appear in the search results), once the organic listing improvements take effect, they do not drop dramatically.

Find out more about eMarketer's digital marketing and the new report, "“Search Marketing Trends: Back to Basics"

For more information, visit eMarketer