Is Organic Traffic Really "Better" Than Paid?

First, there is no such thing as free traffic, as most retailers already know. Everything has a cost. Even organic traffic doesn’t magically visit without retailers paying someone¬† 30, 40, 50, 60k a year for content development (graphics, copy, etc.), SEO, interactive landing page development, etc. Sure, a one person shop might mean the owner/merchant is doing all that, but it’s extremely time consuming, and time is money.

At the dawn of the ecommerce industry e-merchants had it easy: great domains were cheap and plentiful, keywords were easy to rank high on Google, and competition in niche industries was almost unheard of. It’s very competitive out there now, and gone are the days of finding many truly unique niche businesses to start online. If you do, ramp up quick, because the competition isn’t far behind.

Increased competition is good for search giants like Google, since it means not everyone is able to rank on the first few pages of Google for high value product keywords. And most large companies we’ve talked with are buying Ad Words (more every year, as organic is dropping off with each Google update) from Google, The intense keyword bidding naturally drives costs up too–supply and demand again, folks).

When it comes to comparing paid vs. organic traffic, we have seen where organic traffic generally performs better than paid traffic, but usually only slightly better, and that is the case among two large data samples we reviewed.¬† They show paid keywords lagging about 5-10% behind organic traffic performance. We’re talking fairly large data sets here too, nearly a million visits per year.

However, in a third case, paid traffic performed better, so much better that it beat organic in every category; twice the on-page duration, twice the amount of pages viewed per visit, half the bounce rate, etc. (more on that in a moment). Why? As we mentioned, paid traffic usually performs just under organic traffic, it is targeted after all so there should always be parallel performance, everything else being equal. It’s easy to assume that in the case where paid traffic performed so much better than organic, it was because the paid traffic campaign was more brilliantly executed.

Digging deeper, we found the likely culprit, and it turned out to be that organic traffic was being landing on a corporate page (non-ecommerce), and then diverted to the shop from there, whereas paid traffic linked shoppers directly to the product page for which they were searching. So the question isn’t always which is better, but remembering that every step in the purchase chain should be audited for design or development flaws.

In the game of paid vs. organic, which are you seeing performing best? And why? Comments appreciated!

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