Digital Marketing 101 Series: What is SEO & Paid Search?


SEO and paid search can be complex and difficult to understand. In this article, we will cover the differences and similarities between the two.

Let's first get an understanding of what each of these terms means.

What is SEO?

SEO (search engine optimization) is used to increase a website's page ranking (visibility) and conversion value within the organic listings in the search engine results page. Having your website rank high within the search engine results page doesn't come easy. However, as there are a wide variety of competitor websites that are also manipulating components that help to improve page rank. Moz explained how this is done in their "Mozlow's Hierarchy of SEO Needs." In it, they explain that:

1. Crawl accessibility is the most important because if your website can't be indexed, then it can't be seen by Google or searchers.

2. You must have relevant, accurate & high-quality content on your website.

3. You should optimize your content with high search volume keywords that are accurate to what your website is about.

4. The website should offer a great user experience, from page load speed to ease of use.

5. Your website should include content that people will share or use in their own posts, websites, etc. This helps to produce links to your website.

6. You should optimize your page titles, meta descriptions, h-tags & more with specific keywords that have a decent amount of search volume that are relevant to what is on the web page.

7. Last are structured snippets. These allow you to stand out in the search engine results page.

What is Paid Search Marketing?

Paid search marketing ads use keywords to target a specific search intent but are paid for by the companies that are posting the ads. These ads are composed of carefully crafted headlines, 90 character descriptions & ad extensions.

What are the differences between SEO & Paid Search?

Now let's discuss the differences between the two areas of digital marketing.

Where Do Organic Listings and Paid Search Ads Appear on the SERP?

The first major difference is where and how each of the listings shows up on the search engine results page. Organic listings appear below the ad section on the search engine results page. Where they show up after the ads are based on a variety of ranking signals that search engines use within their algorithms. An ideal organic listing looks like this:

Paid search ads will normally appear in the top 3-4 positions on the page, if there is sufficient competition to warrant that many positions, and the bottom 2-3 positions. The ads rank (position on the page) and number of times that it is shown are determined by Google through something called quality score, which you can learn more about here, and how much each advertiser is willing to bid on the keywords. An ideal ad looks like this:

How Long Does it Take To See Performance From SEO and Paid Search?

Another major difference is the amount of time it takes to see an impact on website performance.

It can take 4-6 months or more after implementing SEO changes to see an impact on performance, but even this can't be guaranteed. While no one knows exactly how Google's algorithm works, we know that Google has to discover your new page content and analyze numerous other ranking signals to understand your page's authority on the topic versus all over pages on the web. This process takes time, and even after all of that, it can still be hard to see results since there are so many outside factors to take into account, such as competition, property changes, consumer reviews, and more.

On the other hand, paid search ads can show results the moment that you create them, just as long as there is a budget in your account. This is because ads are instant. They can instantly appear at the top of the search engine results page, are instantly accessible, and accurately track impressions, clicks, etc., back to the keyword that triggered the ad.

What are the similarities between SEO & Paid Search?

On-Page SEO & Paid Search Ads Share Messaging Components

SEO elements and paid search ads share similarities as well as differences when it comes to the actual content. A similarity between the two is that they should highlight key competitive advantages that your property has over its competition. This could include anything from an award-winning spa experience to the hotel's location. Maintaining a consistent, unified message across all channels is an important marketing strategy.

SEO & Paid Search Can Share Keyword Focus

Each of these marketing methods uses the same keywords, which are aimed at directing searchers to your website. Keywords used in Google Ads are implemented through headlines and descriptions that give you results almost instantly. Keywords used in SEO are implemented through page titles, meta descriptions, alt tags, etc., and as far as we know can take up to 6 months to show an impact on performance. This is where keywords from Google Ads can be helpful to your SEO efforts. You can test keywords in your ads, see how they perform and then use the best-performing keywords in your SEO. By doing this, you will also begin to match your keyword focuses on your page to that of your ads which improve your landing page experience and ad relevance. This, in turn, improves your quality score and helps you achieve a lower CPC.


Paid Search and SEO are two search engine marketing methods used to produce visibility for a given company's website by catching its audience's attention. Still, they also show up in different locations on the page and are monitored differently in terms of performance. Using these marketing methods hand in hand is a powerful tool, though, and should be used in order to improve a website's performance.