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Inbound Marketing

Organic Growth vs. Paid Growth Marketing: Which Is Right for You?

Dollars to donuts, what's best for your brand: organic or paid marketing? Let's find out (we'll give you a hint: you might want to double down).

13 mins read time
Bridget Deutz
Bridget Deutz

Oct 05, 2022

Organic’s what you get when you shop at Whole Foods, right? Sure, but in marketing terms, it’s worth even more. The term “organic” means something “occurring naturally.” And when it comes to marketing, it’s an invaluable way to attain long-lasting growth.

What Is Organic Marketing? 

But what is organic marketing, exactly? We’ll dive a little deeper into that, but for the purposes of this article, when we refer to organic marketing, we essentially mean any form of marketing that isn’t a paid placement (e.g., PPC, display advertising, paid social, etc.). 

One quick caveat, though — organic marketing doesn’t mean free marketing. While you aren’t going to pay for the traffic or clicks you receive, you’ll likely be spending your marketing budget to create and implement an organic marketing strategy. That might include an agency partner, consultant, tools, and software needed to achieve your goals. 

Benefits of Organic Growth Marketing

So, if organic marketing isn’t free, what’s so great about it? Organic marketing takes time. And if you’re saying, “Wait, isn’t this supposed to be about the benefits?” just stay with us. Yes, you’ll need to invest quite a bit of time (and some money) into your organic marketing efforts. But once you start making strategic decisions and testing out tactics to bring in traffic organically, you’ll find that the results are powerful and lasting. In fact, organic marketing is one of the foundational principles of growth marketing, which aims to deliver long-term, sustainable results.

Organic marketing is nothing new, but more marketers and brands are jumping on the organic bandwagon, especially when you look at organic marketing budgets over the last year.

marketing budget changes over 12 months

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Marketers are spending more on organic marketing…but what are they getting in return? Let’s find out.

Cost-efficient way to generate leads

More people visiting your website means more people entering your funnel. And SEO (which is a type of organic marketing) is one of the best ways to boost your traffic. SEO takes time, but when your strategy starts working, it will deliver consistent web traffic that doesn’t cost you a thing.

Sustainable marketing foundation

Sure, you’ll need to invest more time in organic marketing than you would in paid, but the payoff is potentially even bigger…and absolutely lasts longer. While paid advertising offers quick results, they evaporate once the budget is gone. With organic, you’ll continue reaping the rewards long after your strategy is implemented.

Higher ROI

So, we told you organic marketing isn’t free, but that doesn’t mean it’s not cheap — or at least cost-effective. With organic, you’ll usually have a bigger up-front investment in getting your team put together and creating your strategy. However, once your plan is in place, the results will start rolling in — and so will the positive ROI. In fact, SEO and content, two of the biggest types of organic marketing, are consistently ranked as having the biggest ROI in the industry.

marketing channel with best ROI

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Build relationships

When you run paid ads, your prospective customers become just one drop in a tidal wave of traffic to your website. When you put the time and energy into creating an organic marketing plan, you lay the groundwork for an authentic relationship with your customers. They follow you because they want to. And when they convert, it’s because they trust your brand enough to make the decision. 

Results don’t stop when you stop creating content

If we’ve worried you with all this talk about the time organic marketing takes, relax and take a breath because it’s not that bad. You don’t have to continually crank out brand-new content to be successful in organic marketing. Evergreen content will continue to drive results, while simply updating, refreshing, and repurposing old content is likely to bring in new customers. In fact, reusing existing content is the most effective way to organically grow results.

type of content best for engagement leads and conversions

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Reusing content is also seen as the most cost-effective approach and the best use of time.

Examples of Organic Marketing 

So what exactly qualifies as organic marketing? It is, as mentioned above, any type of marketing that “occurs naturally” — so, not paid. It’s also marketing that generally brings the prospect to you rather than you pursuing them. So if you’re familiar with inbound marketing, then you already know the basics of organic marketing. But to help clarify, here are a few examples:

  • Creating a viral Tik Tok video featuring an upcoming product launch
  • Writing regular and consistent blog posts (that are appropriately tagged, categorized, and promoted)
  • Featuring user-generated content on your website or social media platforms
  • Submitting guest posts to relevant industry publications or appearing as a guest on an industry podcast
  • SEO
  • Email marketing, like newsletters and nurture campaigns
  • Digital PR
  • Any and all content marketing

Basically, if you aren’t paying for ad placement, you’re marketing organically. Speaking of paying — time to shift gears and take a closer look at organic marketing’s counterpart — paid marketing.

What Is Paid Marketing?

If organic is natural, that means paid…isn’t. It’s a forced interaction between potential customers and your brand because you’re paying to appear wherever they happen to be — whether that’s on social, in their search engine, or on whatever sites they happen to be browsing.

If you’re old-school, paid marketing or advertising can refer to pretty much any paid media placement — think newspaper ads, radio spots, and television commercials. The basics are still the same (you pay for brand exposure), but the details have become far more nuanced with the rise of digital advertising. The audience targeting and in-depth data we now have access to has revolutionized the world of paid marketing. 

Overall, paid advertising offers much faster results, with less time needed to strategize and implement a campaign. In the long run, paid marketing is likely to cost more, but the results are pretty reliable. Just remember that when your budget’s gone, so are your wins. 

Still, while paid marketing isn’t perfect, it can offer a lot of upsides to many brands:

Benefits of Paid Marketing 

So, if paid marketing is going to drain your budget, what’s so great about it? Well, if you aren’t smart about how you build your strategy, how you allocate your budget, and how you make decisions to adapt your campaigns — not much. 

However, if you work with a trusted agency partner or consultant who’s knowledgeable in the ins and outs of paid marketing and can make informed decisions (and protect your bank account), you’ll find that paid advertising offers plenty of perks.

And you won’t be alone — ad spending around the globe is going up YOY. 

worldwide digital ad spend

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So what are the big benefits of paid marketing? Let’s find out.

Build awareness from scratch

One of the best upsides to paid marketing is that it puts you on equal footing with your competition, no matter how long they’ve been in the game. This means even new, unestablished brands and startups have the opportunity to get seen and, in some cases, even beat out the big dogs for top spots in search results. 

Easier to attribute sales value

Because paid ad results roll in almost instantaneously, it’s simple to trace your increasing sales directly to your ad campaigns. Real-time, in-depth analytics also make it easy to see how many people are clicking on your ad and how many people are moving through the funnel and ending in a conversion. 

Straightforward analytics and measurement

Speaking of analytics, with paid marketing, it’s extremely easy to track the metrics that matter most. You’ll want to have a firm understanding of ROAS (return on ad spend) and your overall ROI, plus the break-even numbers so you know exactly how many conversions you need to make back your investment and start turning a profit.

Full control of incoming traffic

Because of the granular targeting you can do with paid ads, it’s possible for you to control who sees your ads, plus where and when they see them. So if an ad is underperforming, you can tweak and test your targeting parameters to find what works better to get traffic to your page. 

Conversely, if you’re getting too much traffic (yes, it’s a thing), and it’s causing hiccups with your website, or your orders are coming in faster than you’ll be able to fulfill them, you can quickly and simply pull the ads, and all that traffic dries up.

Only pay for clicks

This is the biggie. With organic marketing, you’re investing time, energy, and marketing dollars in a strategy that may pay off somewhere down the line. You might write content that never gets used or put together a lead gen campaign that falls short of your goals. 

But with PPC and paid marketing, you only pay when someone takes the action of clicking on your ad. By doing so, they’re already interested and invested in your brand, product, or offer — so you’re more likely to turn that click into a conversion.

Paid Marketing Examples

Any ad you pay for is an example of paid marketing — but not all paid ads are created equally. You’ll need to understand your goals, your audience, and your offer before you decide which type of paid advertising is right for you. Here are some of the top examples:

  • Paid search: paying for your ad to appear at or near the top of search results (e.g. Google Ads) based on keywords
  • Social media ads: including boosted posts, images, carousels, videos, and more, depending on the social platform
  • Display ads: banners and sidebar ads that pop up across websites on a display network based on your targeting parameters and bids for the spots
  • Retargeting ads: ads that appear to someone who has previously clicked on an ad or visited your website
  • Native ads: a type of ad designed to look like an authentic element of a given website

So now that you have a better understanding of both organic and paid marketing let’s find out how each can contribute to your brand’s growth.

Organic Social Media vs. Paid Social Media Growth 

When it comes to social media, you might be wondering whether it’s better to focus on your organic strategy or launch a paid campaign. Ad spending is up across social media platforms, and while paid social is effective, there’s still some uncertainty around just how effective it is.

how effective is paid social media

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The key to most social media marketing — whether you pay for it or not — is to hang out where your audience is. So before you start spending or strategizing, you’ll need to put some time into understanding which platform will hit your target audience.

social media platforms used by adults

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Ultimately, what will drive the most growth for your brand is utilizing a combination of paid and organic social. While fewer users are seeing branded posts organically, it’s still a valuable way to stay engaged with existing followers and show potential customers an inside glimpse of your brand personality. Paid social ads are more targeted, with a clear goal that usually involves driving traffic to your site and winning conversions. Organic is all about engagement and awareness, while paid is about conversion and loyalty. Both are critically important to your brand’s growth and success. 

Organic Growth vs. Paid Growth ROI 

Now for the sticky subject of $$$. Which is a better value for your brand — organic marketing or paid marketing? That’s a tough question to answer for a lot of reasons. But, we can break it down to this:

Paid marketing can be more flexible because you set the budget and bids.

Organic marketing can be cheaper because, after your initial investment, you won’t have to pay as much to see results. 

Is there a better option? It depends. If all you want are some quick wins and instant short-term results, paid ads are a great bet. But if your only goal is future growth and sustainability way down the road, you’ll want to opt for organic.

But here’s the thing — except in very particular cases, most brands don’t want one or the other — they want both. So, if you’re the type of brand that wants quick results and long-term success, you’ll need to invest in both paid and organic marketing.

Whoa, whoa, whoa…

So now we’re asking you to pay twice?? Actually, yes. See, both organic and paid marketing deliver great ROI. Organic is usually seen as better because it delivers over a longer period of time. But you can spend months waiting for your organic strategies to take off while paid ads start producing results right away.

By investing in both, you’ll gain all the benefits of short-term wins and long-term growth. 

When it comes to pricing, you’ll need to factor in the following:

  • Third-party support: usually from an agency or consultant
  • Tools and resources: including software and management platforms
  • Time: organic marketing will always require a larger investment of time on the front end
  • Budget: paid marketing is flexible, but you’ll need to continue paying if you want to continue seeing results

There is no black-and-white answer here, except that often, the best investment you can make for your brand is to find a balance between organic and paid marketing and put both to work to achieve ongoing growth.

What’s the Difference Between Paid Growth and Organic Growth?

Still not sure which approach is right for your brand? Let’s dig a little deeper into the differences between paid marketing and organic marketing so you can determine the kind of growth you want to see for your brand’s future.

Paid is temporary, organic is evergreen 

For a lot of brands, it really boils down to this. Cash-strapped startups might look for ways to turn a profit quickly rather than investing in organic growth that won’t pay off for months (or longer). For them, paid is the obvious choice. But more established brands have their sights set on big goals and future success. In that case, organic is the way to go. But we have an even more radical idea — why not both, for success now and later?

Results are faster with paid growth but take longer with organic marketing 

As mentioned above, much of your decision will hinge on your patience level and general “good things come to those who wait” tolerance. Organic marketing methods like SEO and content can take anywhere from 9-12 months to show measurable results. With paid marketing, you could see sales rolling in within minutes. 

Organic is less expensive to execute than paid marketing 

As we said, it’s not free, but with organic, you won’t pay as much after the initial investment. That investment is often in a third-party agency that will help you get your strategy off the ground. If you decide to DIY it, that investment will be in the form of time — yours and your team’s. 

Either way, you’ll be on the hook in the early days, but once the strategy is launched and everything is in place, your only cost will be in ongoing maintenance and strategic updates, plus any analytics (which you’ll want to stay on top of to make better decisions and improve growth). Overall, organic isn’t exactly bargain basement marketing, but it’s usually more cost-effective than paid marketing.

Content drives organic growth 

As mentioned above, content really is the gift that keeps on giving. You can refresh, repurpose, and reuse content as often as you like, and it will continue to bring in new traffic and lead to more conversions. 

Whereas paid ads are all about the offer, organic marketing is about the quality of the content you provide. Once your offer has expired, what will make your customers stick around? If you give them great content, you’ve given them a reason. 

A Combined Approach Is the Best Way to Accelerate Growth

You might think that paid marketing and organic marketing are like night and day, and you’d be right. But, like all good things, opposites very often attract. And when combined strategically, these opposites will attract new leads and new customers to your brand. 

Go with paid marketing for:

  • Quick wins
  • Instant results
  • Flexible budgeting

Opt for organic marketing for:

  • Long-term growth
  • Sustainable results
  • Lower ongoing costs

Ultimately, you’ll probably want to choose both, so you can reap all the rewards and the best ROI. But we’ll be honest — you won’t want to do it alone.

First Page Strategy Builds a Holistic Growth Plan That Harnesses Paid and Organic Channels

You want to get the most of your investment — the most sales, the most savings, the most growth. So make sure you invest in a trusted partner like FPS, where we have a full team of experts in both paid and organic marketing, ready and at your service. 

As a full-service growth marketing agency, we understand the nuances of paid and organic marketing, and we know how to combine them into one comprehensive strategy that will always get the most bang for your buck — and the most success for your brand. Contact us today to find out how we can support your growth — now and well into the future.

Bridget Deutz

Bridget Deutz is an inbound marketing junkie. She has nearly ten years of experience in marketing and communications in both in-house and agency settings. Bridget has a Bachelor’s degree in Communication from The College of Saint Benedict & Saint John’s University. She is a digital marketing speaker sharing her expertise in content creation, marketing strategy, user experience, inbound marketing, and HubSpot software. In her free time, Bridget teaches piano and voice lessons, enjoys photography and hand lettering, digging in antique stores, musical theatre, and playing with her labradoodle Dolly. Above all else, Bridget cherishes time spent with her family and friends.

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