Thanks primarily to Google, online search is a broad and complex domain. Over the past 20 years, as Google has developed, different search specializations have emerged. While novels could be written about the nuances of search, the basic concepts are relatively simple. The two primary subdomains within online search that we'll explore in this article are organic search and paid search.
What is organic search?
Organic search refers to the unpaid search results that Google returns to the user. In other words, it is the search results you see that come at no cost to the respective business or organization. You can think of organic as a synonym for free.
Organic search results almost always show up below paid search results. You can see the organic search result in the blue box below:
How does my business excel in organic search?
To excel in organic search, companies need to invest in search engine optimization, or SEO. There are three key components of SEO:
- Having great content
- Having a technically sound website
- Having a strong backlink profile
What is great content?
Having great content means that your content is the authoritative piece of content on the entire internet for its intended topic. If you search online for an article to help you understand how airplanes fly, the content that provides the best explanation of airplane flight is the authoritative content on airplane flight. This is the content that will perform best in organic search. Authoritative content differs based upon the topic, but in general it’s probably well-written, detailed, and includes appropriate forms of rich media.
What is a technically sound website?
From an SEO perspective, a technically sound website is one that loads quickly, includes all the proper HTML markup on each page, and has clean site architecture. This means that the site is secure, there are no missing HTML title tags, images have proper alt tags, there are no broken links, and the site navigation is intuitive and effective. This is sometimes referred to as on-site SEO.
There are software tools that can help you identify technical issues and improve your on-site SEO. A simpler tool for this is Moz. Two more expensive and complex software tools that we recommend for on-site SEO are Deepcrawl and Screaming Frog.
What is a strong backlink profile?
Backlinks are links from other websites to yours. Google uses these backlinks as a signal of credibility — other websites should only link to yours because their webmasters believe that your site is a valuable resource for their audiences. The more backlinks you have from a broad set of high quality sites, the stronger your backlink profile will be. Sites like Google, Facebook and Wikipedia have unbelievable backlink profiles and therefore extremely high domain authority. Sites with better domain authority rank better in organic search.
If you are interested, Moz and ahrefs are two good software tools that can be used to analyze the backlinks pointing to your website.
What is paid search?
Paid search refers to search results that are returned to the search engine user for a fee. The owner of the website advertised in the search listing has paid Google a certain amount of money in exchange for being featured. You might think about paid search as buying real estate on a search result page.
The paid search result is highlighted below in the blue box. In general, you can identify paid search placements by the Ad text that is shown next to the advertisement.
It is worth noting that there are many different types of paid search campaigns. The text ads above are the oldest and most prevalent type of campaign. However, in recent years, Google has launched and continued to invest in Shopping Ads. The Shopping Ads in the previous image are the modules that show images and prices of various red shoes.
How does paid search work?
In contrast to organic search, advertisers are paying Google money to be featured in paid search placements. To do this, they are use tool called Google Ads to create their advertisements and bid on their desired advertisement placements.
For keyword-based campaigns, this means they are picking target keywords (what a user types into the Google search box), calculating what they are willing to pay for a person to click on their ad and visit their website, and then launching their campaign. If you are interested in learning how to set up Google and run a paid search campaign, you can read our guide to running your first paid search campaign.
For shopping ads, the advertiser must upload a product feed with information about all their products into Google Merchant Center. Once the product feed upload is complete, the advertiser can set bids and launch the campaign.
How does my business excel in paid search?
Like most paid marketing efforts, winning at paid search comes down to finding the advertisements with the biggest delta between what you invest, and the value you receive in return.
In practice, this means finding keywords that are relatively cheap, and perform very well for your business. Unfortunately, figuring out which keywords to test and which perform best for you is as much of an art as a science. SEMrush is a software tool that makes it far easier to find promising keywords. If you're interested, we recommend reading about SEMrush's Keyword Magic tool in our SEMrush review. Ultimately, finding the keywords that work best for you also requires you to invest money experimenting with live paid search campaigns.
We hope this was a helpful intro to the basics of organic and paid search, and that the software tools we highlighted are of value in your pursuit of online search excellence. Online search is a complex topics that takes years to master, but with some foundational knowledge and a small budget, it's possible to get started. While SEO takes months to pay dividends, you could invest money into paid search campaigns that drive traffic to your website today. For that reason, paid search is often one of the first place marketers start when advertising online.