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Our SEM Guide to Using Organic and Pay Per Click

The following document is intended to address the question”Why shouldn’t we put our entire online marketing resource into Pay Per Click?”

We will show that sensible medium to long term online marketing strategy requires a blended approach to address issues of:

  • Brand identity
  • Establishing market share
  • Website relevance and exposure
  • Addressing the broad audience
  • Reducing cost of client acquisition

Approach to Search Engine Marketing Strategies

There are a number of strategies that can be applied to online marketing. A non exhaustive list includes:

  • Organic Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
  • Pay Per Click (PPC)
  • Content network listing
  • E-Mail Marketing

The relevance of each technique is entirely dependant on which audience you are addressing and what the product is. However, there is a very strong argument that both organic search marketing and pay per click should be the cornerstone of your online marketing campaign. According to research by E-consultancy, the breakdown of marketing spend on search marketing in the UK shows that approximately 84% of spend is on paid placement (PPC and content network) with only 16% on organic search marketing. Why would this be so and what are the implications? Well, PPC is generally more easily understood by those in a marketing buying position in business. Evocative terms such as “Pay for performance” strike a chord as does the relative immediacy of the impact of a campaign. It also closely mirrors strategies for media buying in off line campaigns, you pay some money and an ad appears somewhere. However, this does not fully address understanding search behaviour. Various studies show that a searcher will click on the organic results between 60% to 80% of the time as opposed to clicking on paid advertising such as PPC. Other studies show that, dependant on the nature of the search, the organic search results gather up to 6 times more clicks than the paid advertising. Factors that contribute to this include the fact that searchers tend to trust organic results much more than paid advertising. We might surmise that this is a trust inherited from the brand of their search engine. People trust the Google brand therefore they also trust the results that Google generates naturally.

Eye Tracking on Websites

Faith in the efficacy of organic search results is also supported by an eye tracking study performed by US marketing firms Enquiro and Did-it in conjunction with the eye tracking firm Eyetools. Effectively there is a zone, referred to as the Golden Triangle, which is an F shaped pattern of scanning across search results. As demonstrated below


This clearly shows that the focus of the eye is on the organic search results as well as the top placed PPC results. Measurements of visibility of organic search placement show that attention on placement of a ranking is distributed thus:

Rank 1 – 100%

Rank 2 – 100%

Rank 3 – 100%

Rank 4 – 85%

Rank 5 – 60%

Rank 6 – 50%

Rank 7 – 50%

Rank 8 – 30%

Rank 9 – 30%

Rank 10 – 20%

Compare this with the visibility of right side placed Pay per Click (PPC) listings:

Position 1 – 50%

Position 2 – 40%

Position 3 – 30%

Position 4 – 20%

Position 5 – 10%

Position 6 – 10%

Position 7 – 10%

Position 8 – 10%

As an example, lets use the fairly straight forward but competitive search term”Free UK ISP”. This is a market we have some familiarity with as we run a number of ISP brands.


As you can see, the focus of the eye is very much squarely on the organic results, and the top PPC results. Pleasingly, our brand is the top ranked organic result and it achieves excellent conversion generating excellent revenue.

Research demonstrated by Overture a few years previously showed that achieving a combination of top 3 placement in organic search combined with a top placed PPC add would generate a 93% chance of gaining a click. In this case, Free UK ISP is clearly in a dominant position.

Interaction with Organic Search Results

We should also give consideration as to how searchers interact with the organic search results. Clearly being at the top of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for your key search terms is the absolute ideal. iProspect research showed that:

1. 81.7% of users will start a new search if they can’t find what they’re looking for in the first 3 pages (typically 30 results).

So, to some extent, it is a myth that if you are not in the top 10 you will receive no visitors – it depends on the quality and relevance of the listing also.

The detail: 22.6% try another search after first few results; a further 18.6% after reviewing the first page (41.2% cumulative); 25% after checking the first two pages (67% cumulative) and 14.6% the first three pages (81.7% cumulative).

2. Users tend to choose the natural search results in preference to the paid-search listings. According to a sample figures for selection of natural search were 60.8% for Yahoo! and 72.3% for Google. This figure increases for experienced users. This suggests that companies who concentrate on paid listings only are limiting their visibility.

3. Over half of Internet users search at least once a day, while around half use search toolbars from one of the main providers, e.g. Google, Yahoo! or MSN.

It is reasonably safe to conclude that not only from a traffic point of view, but also from a brand recognition point of view, it is vitally important to achieve organic search ranking over a variety of key terms.

It is also sensible to look at the relative costs of generating relevant traffic via both Organic Search techniques and also via Pay per Click techniques. As I have previously stated, 84% or UK online marketing spend is via Pay Per Click. The inevitable result is click cost inflation. More people are bidding for the same terms hence the cost of clicks will inevitably rise. We generally find that PPC campaigns are not well handled in that cost of acquisition of clients could generally be significantly lower. Considering the previous example of “Free UK ISP ” as a search term: when a searcher is using a term this brief, it is likely that they are in a “researching phase” as opposed to a “buying phase”. If someone were to use a phrase such as “Free UK ISP with anti-virus ”, they would be much closer to buying and the competition for that click would be much less and therefore cheaper.

Focusing on the benefits of organic search, it must be understand that achieving high ranking in the SERPs takes time and effort. Consider the outline process that needs to be gone through:

  • Keyword research: How are your audience searching for your services?
  • On Site Optimisation: Ensuring that the site can interact with the various Search Engines
  • Indexing: The Search Engines have to look at the content of your site and document it. This can take time
  • Generate links to your site: It can take time for someone to put a link on their site that links to yours and then that link has to be found by the Search Engines and accredited to your site.
  • SERPs update: The Search Engines update their rankings and view of relevance of a website on a periodic basis and with varying scale of impact.
  • Review and refinement: Once SERPs have been established the online marketer needs to constantly modify both onsite and offsite factors effecting SERPs

In summation, it takes time and effort to get seen by search engines, ranked by search engines and then for them to update your positioning in their SERPs. However there are many significant benefits to organic search ranking:

  • Clicks are free. You do not pay for someone click on a link to your site
  • SERPs tend to persist. Once ranking is established and with reasonable ongoing maintenance, ranking and therefore traffic tends to be maintained.
  • Organic ranking techniques tend to exploit the “long tail”. You will naturally develop traffic for search terms you won’t have considered as the content on the site is increasingly regularly indexed.
  • There is generally less paid competition in organic search marketing (16% of total online marketing spend). Organic search is generally not well understood by the decision makers in the client organisation therefore they tend not to choose that path leading to click cost inflation via Pay per Click platforms.

Costs Analysis

It is important to understand the difference in how costs apply to PPC and organic search marketing. PPC is an immediate cost. It brings immediate results and can be immediately quantified and analysed. However, traffic stops as soon as payment stops. Organic search marketing is a medium to long term strategy. It does not generate traffic in the short term however, in the medium to long term, positioning will persist and hence the effective cost per relevant click will reduce rapidly realising an excellent Return on Investment. In combination, Organic Search Marketing and PPC are particularly effective in that they propagate the brand and trust; organic results can generate effective presence and traffic on what would be expensive low conversion “head terms” and spend on PPC can be targeted on high conversion low cost “tail terms” hence either reducing overall PPC costs or increasing the efficiency of PPC spend.


Organic Search Marketing is clearly a viable strategy for any organisation wishing to reduce the cost of acquisition of clients over the medium to long term of an online marketing strategy. However, as we increasingly see click cost inflation via Pay per Click services, we anticipate increasing spend and competition in the organic search market. Early adopters are likely to benefit from establishing a leading position.

Simon can be contacted for all matters concerning online search marketing