Home Community The Great E-Commerce Marketing Debate: Paid Versus Organic Search

The Great E-Commerce Marketing Debate: Paid Versus Organic Search

by Ron Dod

The paid versus organic search battle has been going on for as long as e-commerce has been around. In an ideal situation, any marketer could choose both. But if there can only be one choice, the decision becomes much tougher — both provide benefits and obstacles of their own.

For instance, paid helps retailers show in top positions without spending the amount of time they would have to spend with organic. Building organic traffic can take several months or even a year to see significant results, while paid results can be seen within a couple of days.

On the other hand, paid — naturally — can be tricky with a low budget. If the cost per click (CPC) is too high, it may not be cost-effective to run campaigns if there is no ROI behind it, unless it’s only for brand awareness or market share.

There are also other factors to consider, such as usual purchasing journey, device, and user experience. With mobile devices, there is a much more limited amount of real estate that listings can take. This smaller space tends to give paid a prime spot, especially for shopping ads. For example, Google ads bring in more than 50 percent of all Google paid search clicks across devices.

Use this evaluation framework to find out which would option is the best fit for your business.

What is your goal and timeline?

Ask yourself this first. If you’re trying to test an MVP quickly to show investors that you have a valuable e-commerce business, paid would be your best choice. It will allow you test your product or idea in a short period of time and enable you to quantify your cost per acquisition to know how much investment you actually need.

For example, if you spend $1,000 in paid advertising and get 10 purchases, you’ll know that each new customer will cost you $100. From there, you can calculate the budget you would need to get x more leads.

On the other hand, if you already have a product that is selling and you’re just trying to increase your market share, organic may be the best choice. It will allow you to have multiple listings and take up more real estate than paid advertising. Keep in mind that this strategy will take longer to yield results.

What resources do you have at your disposal?

Other things to keep in mind are resources, budget and your level of expertise. Organic requires resources and patience. You’ll need to invest in e-commerce SEO and content marketing, such as writing blogs and optimizing website copy, all of which can be time-consuming.

A blog alone, for example, takes many hours to create; then it has to be revised, proofread, and published. That has to be done multiple times over the course of months to see any initial results. Without a writing resource or an SEO expert, it would likely take too much time away from the core activities of a single business owner.

Improving organic traffic with SEO also takes a certain level of expertise and careful strategy. You have to be on top of the latest SEO trends and learn how to do every single task in hopes of seeing some kind of results within weeks or months.

On the other hand, the issue with paid would be your budget — it may simply be too expensive to afford as a startup. It also does require a good level of expertise to get the most out of every marketing dollar. However, errors can be detected fast and less upkeep is required. Once campaigns are optimized, you can just spend a couple of hours per week checking that everything is running smoothly and you may not need extra help to handle it.

What’s the competition doing?

Last, but not least, analyze your competition. Are your competitors advertising heavily or just doing organic? If the latter, you may be able to gain the upper hand by advertising. Vice versa, if they are putting all their efforts into paid, you may want to invest more heavily in improving your organic rankings.

Also, consider your competitor’s resources and budget. If you’re competing with a big e-commerce company for products similar to yours, they’re always going to have more budget and resources. Therefore, you need to find a different product approach, or maybe a different advertising channel. For instance, if they are just advertising on Google Shopping, you can get creative with a social media campaign.

The final word

Keep in mind that, whether you use organic or paid efforts, there’s always going to be a monetary, time, and resource investment attached to it. Organic efforts don’t really end up being free, because they always require some type of other investment; your time can be more valuable than an advertising budget.

Personally, if I were to make a choice for e-commerce, I would go with paid. You’ll be able to get faster results, get a chance to test different targets, and increase your reach. But the absolute best results are obtained when both organic and paid are combined — if you attract a potential buyer through a paid campaign, but they are not ready to buy, you may convince them to come back to your online store with organic posts.


Ron Dod is the Chief Marketing Officer and Co-Founder of Visiture, a Charleston and Atlanta-based e-commerce marketing agency. Follow them @Visiture_Search.

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