Organic vs Paid Search Ads – Are You Wasting Your Money?

Google Ads Vs Organic SearchDeciding between Organic or Paid Search Ads can be a tough decision for a business owner.

And like with any business decision, it really pays to understand what it is your are deciding between.

What kinds of costs are involved with ads, and what are the returns?

Is Google search the free ride we all think it is?

In this post I am going to show you in depth the kinds of things both choices have to offer.

Organic Search vs Google Ads – if they meet in a dark alley way, here is what would happen…


The Difference Between Paid Ads And Organic Search

The difference between paid search ads and organic search is that the paid ads appear at the very top and bottom, and have a small green “ad” graphic next to them. Also, paid ads cost you (per click) to display, whereas organic search is free, once you get there.

Here is what it looks like on an average search result (if there is such a thing anymore):

Google Ads vs Organic Search Results

You can see the ads dominate the top, but look almost the same (very cunning Mr Google) as the organic results below them.

Normally there are up to 4 ads at the top, and then some further ads at the bottom, with 10 organic results in between.

Now you know what each of these babies looks like, what is the difference between the paid and organic search, especially for the average business owner like yourself?

Paid Ads On Google Search

A lot of people want the excitement and satisfaction of instant results.

And that is why paid search ads are so attractive.

You pay,

you get clicks,

you get visitors,

and (maybe), you even get sales.

Yes, that is a maybe. Ads are no guarantee of sales. That is the first thing you need to understand.

One thing is for sure though, you are going to spend quite a bit of money…

(Below is what is going to happen at Google HQ when you turn on Google Ads on search)


Google is going to love you like a son/daughter they never had.

In fact, their ads team is one of the few ways you can actually get an answer out of Google about anything. They certainly know which side their bread is buttered on!

New Websites, Startups and Busy Business Owners (All Love Google Ads)

You are just starting out online and want instant traffic.

I get it.

Doing SEO instead would be like waiting for an amazing cup of coffee, instead of just whipping up that crappy cup of instant.

An Italian cappuccino offers a mouth-watering cup of coffee that only the strong can refuse, but who has the time, right?

(me, if I am honest)

I understand why so many small businesses opt for Google Ads on search, instead of wanting to earn their position at the top using SEO and content.

I have this discussion with many a potential client.


Have you looked at the numbers closely?

Google Ads On Search – What Does It Really Cost You?

First, it is worth understanding that you pay a lot for a click on Google ads.

How much exactly?

Here are the average industry prices per click from this year from Wordstream (thanks Larry and Co!)

Adwords CTR averages

The average overall is $2.32 per click on Google search ads.

How Many People Click On Your Ads Anyway?

It’s one thing to pay for the ads, but you also have to understand how many people will actually click on your ad.

Are there even enough searchers to satisfy your needs as a business owner?

Many Google searchers will ignore your lovingly-crafted ads.

Did you know that there is an average click through rate of 1.9% on ads. (So only 2 in 100 who see it will click)

So, you will want to make sure your ads are of Google quality, otherwise you won’t get many clicks at all.  After all, Google pushes your ad down in position if it sucks!

And, after position 1 and 2, the clicks disappear faster than donuts in a police station!

Check out what happens as your ad moves down in position:

Google Ads Search CTR

(thanks to Accuracast for the above chart)

There are two issues with Google Adwords for the average business owner (I know, you are better than average, but let’s look at an average one for now :>)

The first one we have covered: will anyone even click on your ads? (The chart above shows this is not always easy to achieve)

Maybe you to hire someone who knows what they are doing (more $$$) to help with your ads? Just saying!

The second…

What’s An Average Sale Going Cost You Using Google Ads?

Let’s take look at what an average sale would cost you with adwords. It’s a metric you should know (or will from now on!).


Below is a spread of the average cost per “action” (from Wordstream again). Cost per action in most cases means a sale (sometimes it can mean an email signup or contact form filled out):

CPA Adwords across various industries 2016

So an ad on Google adwords (on search) would cost you on average $59 for every sale you make. Presuming your ads work well, and your website sells well (and these are not always a given I can tell you).

If you are selling high-end products ($$$), that is perhaps not a bad deal. PPC certainly is a good bet for people with high profit margins.

If not, then maybe $59 is more money than your profit margin?

It is fair to say that these figures can obviously vary a lot too.

However, I can tell you from experience that it takes a lot more to “sell” to a customer if you are talking high end services (legal, design, construction etc). People don’t buy after one click!

You might also be paying someone a monthly fee to spend all your cash on ads on Google search too. You have to factor that in.

But of course, you do get instant results.

Now, let’s take a look at organic search results.

Organic Search On Google

A lot of people are scared of SEO or think it is not possible to get traffic from Google.

Well, as an SEO/Content guy I am here to give you the good news and the bad news…


The good news is that SEO (mostly Google) traffic is something that can last a very long time. Kinda like purchasing a Mercedes, instead of a cheap foreign import!

Mercedes tend to be built like tanks. And last like them too. At least until you sell it, or it ends up as a taxi in Morocco. Then it lasts another 20 years! (I was in one once, and it was a classic!)

Want an example of Mercedes content?

Take a look at a post I did back in March 2014. See that initial rise and then continuation of traffic until today!

Thanks Google!

SEO Google Traffic is Long Term Traffic

Let’s see you do that with social media or any other kinda traffic source.

That post has over 1000 page views a month almost every month (except where I broke my analytics last year :> in July/August 2015).

(Look at this amazing Mercedes below!)


The bad news: like saving up for a Mercedes, Google search traffic is something you have to work hard for.

Of course, if you are already blogging, then the extra work you will have to do is not as big a deal.

If you are currently only using ads, then it might be a big change.

But let me ask you this…

Which would you prefer?

The concain-like addiction of  Google ads. (You have to keep on buying it, otherwise you get a “morning after” low where your customers stop turning up).

Or an investment in long-term traffic that turns up day after day.

You can have both, but I would aim to ween yourself off the ads drug in the long run!

Google Search Results Click Through Rates (CTR)

While researching this article (yes, I don’t know everything :>) I was also stunned to see the difference in click through rates (how many people actually click per 100 views).

Google has worked hard to make ads look exactly like normal search results. So we accidentally click, and they make more money.

But despite this, the ads at the top only get between 2 and 7% CTR (click through rate) as we saw earlier.

While search results on the other hand, starting with the ones “below” the ads, get significantly more (sometimes 30+%).

Click Through Rates Google Search Results

It is not as black and white as the chart above, but you can expect 10% or more for the first 3 positions! That is a sweet amount of traffic. Especially when you compare to the ads (2-7% of people click), and remember, you are paying for those.

See how the advantages of SEO and content really start to stack up!

The Cost Of Organic Search

I am going to keep this short as it is a very difficult subject to get figures on.

If you are doing SEO/Content in-house (ie. you have a team or you do it yourself) then it is the cost of your time.

If you are paying an SEO company to do it for you, the figures range widely from $500 per month and up. It also depends on the payment model you use.

For example: I typically charge a monthly rate for link building (as this is a time consuming process) and offer other SEO services on a project or hourly basis. It varies from agency to agency.

So, in the end the cost per lead or client using SEO and content is very hard to calculate. If anyone has some figures, I would love to see them!

But the big difference is this. Once you earn a place in the top 10 of Google, it does not disappear once you stop paying your SEO bills. You keep on getting that traffic, often for years to come!

Which Should You Use: Google Ads Or Organic Search?

There is no right or wrong answer here, but it pays to inform yourself and stop taking the easy path – just because someone told you to.

Google Ads Pros And Cons

Google Ads are are a great way to get traffic fast. And for the kinds of searches your customers are entering in right Google now.

They are quite easy to set up, but to turn them into a money making machine requires expertise and fine-tuning. So, if you are doing it yourself, you might not be seeing the results you could or should expect.

On top of that, you have to keep paying over and over again.

Google Organic Search Pros And Cons

Organic Search is great because it can deliver non-stop traffic to your website, without continuously paying.

However, you do have to spend a lot of time (or money) writing to-notch content that is targeted to the keywords you want to rank for.

It is a long term play, but once it is working, you will not have to pay for ads ever again.

Can SEO And PPC Work Together

I don’t often like talking about things I don’t have experience with, but one of the lovely commenters on this post raised this issue: PPC and SEO can work well together.

I would say this is more the realm of bigger brands, but of course, without the experience I could be wrong.

However, don’t rule it out.

If you have the money, it is often worth covering both the SEO angle and PPC ads on Google.

If you want to learn more about this option: check out this post.

My Suggestion

If you need traffic now, give Google search ads a try. But don’t forget to start creating content and trying to rank on Google yourself.

That way you can, in the long term, stop paying for ads once you start to rank (and understand how to create awesome content).

If you have a huge budget, then crazy with the ads, but ultimately you are limiting yourself to ad clicks, ad keywords and the ads mentality!

Give content creation a go and learn to rank on Google.

Oh and one last thing, if you choose the path of good (ie. content creation and ranking on Google) why not join my new private Facebook group dedicated to helping you get more Google traffic from content.


About the Author Ashley Faulkes

Ashley is obsessed with SEO and WordPress. He is also the founder of Mad Lemmings. When he is not busy helping clients get higher on Google he can be found doing crazy sports in the Swiss Alps (or eating too much chocolate - a habit he is trying to break).

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