Paid or Free Search

When people do a Google search, they’ll see two types of results. (OK, technically it’s a little more nuanced than this but for simplicity’s sake, we’ll say two.) There’s the main column, which takes up about two-thirds of the screen and there’s the paid column, which takes up the remaining third.

What’s the difference? Organic search results make up the main column. These are results organized by a number of variables, including the site’s copy and code, meta data, links from social media, and links from other sites. In the past few years, Google has also started throwing in results from its other properties, such as videos from YouTube or business listings from Google Maps/Places.

While you can influence these results through SEO best practices, you’ll never have full control over them. Paid search results, however, go to the highest bidder.

With paid search, you select the keywords you want to target and the cost you’re willing to pay per click. Results are based on your placement budget and displayed whenever anyone searches for those keywords; once someone clicks on your ad, you’ll get charged until the cumulative cost meets your daily budget. In some cases, paid results show up interspersed in the main column of results.

The ads set up for paid search can also gain additional exposure through Google’s ad network — an opt-in network where site publishers display ads to earn revenue. This model also has variations on social media networks.

Both organic and paid search provide results in different ways. Organic is a good long-term strategy that allows your site to take hold and establish itself. Paid works well for immediate results, such as for a new launch or special promotion. A sound strategy involves sensible use of both to deliver traffic based on the strength of each method.