When people become involved in Internet marketing one of the things that comes up are the differences between natural and paid search. Both strategies have their pros and cons and can be very effective as part of a marketing strategy.
Paid search is when your ad shows up at the top of a Google search or along the right-hand side of the results page. These are called 'sponsored ads' and are paid positions. Every you click on one of those ads the owner of the ad pays Google. This is also known "pay-per-click" advertising. The amount you pay is determined by several factors, including what you're willing to pay every time someone clicks on your ad.
Natural Search is when you type in a keyword. Links and descriptions shows up on the left-hand side of the search result page. You wind up on the first page by having relevant content on your Web site and links to your site from other relevant sites. Getting to page one can be a long process. There are many companies that claim to be able to get you on the first page of Google. That may be true if the search term is very specific and no one else would ever search for it but you or if they're using a "black hat" method that could get your site banned from the search engine.
The other way to get added to the search engines data base is to have the search engine software find you through a link to your site from another Web site back to yours. The software, known as "spiders," will periodically "crawl" your site to see if you've updated it.
One important thing to know is that each page on your site is indexed individually and each page stands on its own. The rankings are based upon the combination of correct meta tags, relevant content to the keyword they're trying to get rankings for and link popularity.
As long as the search engine can index the site, clearly read the meta tags and content, the better. An issue is when a site is built using Flash and little content (search engines cannot read or index "Flash" sites). Also, if the bulk of the relevant content is in PDF format, search engines cannot read the documents. If the search engines cannot index the relevant text there won't be any rankings.
The bottom line is this - paid search means you pay for your position. The benefit is if you have the funds you'll get instant traffic. Stop paying and the traffic dries up quickly. Natural search is free traffic but it's built over time. The advantage is that if done right, it can provide visitors for a long time to come.
Search traffic (paid or natural) is the BEST traffic to have because you are being found by folks who are specifically looking for what you have. It doesn't get any better than that.
Terry Stanfield is a search engine marketing (SEM) consultant with over 15 years of sales and marketing experience. His company, Clickadvantage, manages PPC and SEO efforts for his lead generation and ecommerce clients.
Original: December 18, 2008