As an inbound marketer, I believe that non-intrusive, organic traffic is at the core of marketing's future. It's the best way to become a thought leader in a digital, global society—and connect with prospects and leads at the various stages of the buyer's journey.
But I also see the many pros of relevant paid traffic efforts that lead visitors to high-quality content. Such advertising can be an undeniably successful part of a marketing strategy.
Paid traffic isn't about clickbait or spammy links. It can be a healthy method of reaching a new audience if you feel your brand and solution get lost in the spider web of the Internet.
So, in the debate of paid traffic versus organic traffic, which wins?
Basics of Paid vs. Organic
Paid traffic comes in many forms: Some of you may instantly picture spam popups circa 2004, others may think about affiliate links in blog posts, influencer marketing, or pay-per-click ads.
All those boil down to a simple concept: Via a "middleman," whom you pay, you place your marketing content in front of an audience that wasn't necessarily looking for you. That can be an effective tactic for reaching people who haven't yet found your site, or those who are shopping at competitors.
Organic traffic, on the other hand, to a large extent results from the practice of creating search-engine-optimized content (SEO) that earns high-ranking links in search results. You appear when prospects cast their "net" into the Google sea, looking for answers to their questions.
In principle, these two types of marketing often compete. In the case of one of our clients, they came head-to-head. Here's what happened when our technology client compared paid blog coverage and organic traffic in the same marketing campaign.
From Theory to Practice
Our client is a relatively new product branch of a multimillion-user global brand. It's in the early phases of building its own Web presence and gaining ground in the corporate data safety industry. While it invested in inbound marketing as a consistent driver of high-quality content and organic growth, it also wanted to test paid blog coverage or a "programmatic campaign" approach. It partnered with a secondary agency that would place them in the relevant links section of larger publications, like the Huffington Post.
Although team members knew this type of marketing action would focus mainly on driving traffic, not leads, they still hoped the thousands of new visitors would create at least a moderate amount of qualified leads. Instead, we instantly saw the website's overall conversion rate plummet. The handful of leads who did convert on the blog posts were largely unqualified or used fake emails.
At the end of the 60-day campaign, we had the following results:
- Overall website conversion dropped 86%.
- Paid blog traffic converted at 0.1%, while organic traffic converted at 2.0%.
- Organic traffic, although lower in absolute numbers, resulted in more leads than the paid blog traffic.
- The sales team also reported those leads from natural traffic were much more valuable, because nearly all the leads from the paid source were unqualified.
How to Test Your Strategy
We learned a few lessons in this campaign that can help you improve your paid marketing strategy and ensure success in your own testing:
- Most important: it is essential to see the two practices as less of a faceoff and more of a complementary fit. Although organic traffic takes time to build and to earn higher rankings, it is a core part of future successful digital marketing techniques. Paid traffic can be a bridge to help you gain ground in your space while you wait for organic traffic to kick in, and can even boost the number of eyes on your best-converting content. Marketers must start to test how the two work together, not ask, "But which one should I use?"
- Next: maintain an open mind as you start to test paid tactics. Your unique customer personas, industry, and content will all influence your results, and they require continual tweaking until you derive benefits from paid tactics.
- Also: do not abandon your organic progress in favor of a 180-degree turn toward paid traffic. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for a marketing strategy that combines paid and organic traffic. Start small with your paid search efforts, perhaps running a 30- or 60-day campaign that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, instead of investing all of your marketing budget into a method you aren't sure will work just yet. Better yet, weave your paid and your organic efforts together.
- Finally: be diligent with the details for your paid-traffic efforts. Make sure every piece of content you direct paid viewers to is relevant and has an engaging call to action. You may even consider creating a landing page form specific to these unfamiliar viewers. Consider not allowing those with accounts at free email providers (such as hotmail) to fill out the form; vet the leads with one or two more questions than you may typically ask an organic viewer. Force these likely less-qualified leads to provide real information, and weed out spam leads who haven't found you naturally. Learn to qualify your leads through the sales funnel.
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When you've found a rhythm and combination of paid and organic efforts that work for your business, stick to them (but do keep testing to make sure they remain in force). Instead of asking "Who wins the race, organic or paid?" let's ask, "How can our marketing win using both practices?"