The difference between paid (CPC) and non-paid (organic) search results
Search engine optimisation (SEO) and cost-per-click advertising (CPC) are both forms of internet marketing and like all other marketing, their effectiveness is a combination of how much you spend, how competitive your industry is and how well crafted your marketing message is. You will no doubt have some degree of interest in this form of marketing if you have an website for your business, so this article is aimed to highlight the difference between these two forms of marketing: paid and non-paid listings in search results.
What is CPC advertising?
Cost per click (CPC) advertising is largely (but not exclusively) the 'Sponsored Links' or 'Ad' search results that you see on a page of Google search results when you enter a search phrase. These are run via the Google AdWords service and like the name implies, you pay for the advertising only when your ad is clicked. It is an extremely successful service and it responisble for almost all of the billions of dollars of Google's revenue.
Some will call this 'SEO', but I personally disagree. I think SEO is best described as the practice of increasing your non-paid search results via a combination of many techniques both on and off your website, while CPC advertising constitutes your paid search results. Both are forms of internet marketing and can be used together to compliment each other.
An example of the two types of search results
The image above (click to enlarge) shows the results for the search phrases "classical music store". At the top you'll see the advertisement served via Google AdWords which has a subtle orange box around it and a small 'Ad' in the top right corner. If a searcher clicked this advertisement, it would cost the advertiser $1.10, a price determined by the degree of competition for the search phrase.
Directly below the 'Ad' is the #1 ranking result for the 'organic' listings; organic simply meaning non-paid. You'll notice that the title of the result has been optimised for this keyword phrase, indicated by the bolded keywords. If a searcher clicks this link, it costs the website owner nothing.
You will also notice that the CPC result does not contain the exact keyword phrase. This is because the advertisements created in AdWords can be configured so that a number of different search phrases will trigger their appearance; or the reverse: a number of different advertisements can be triggered by the same keyword phrase. This is one very effective feature of CPC advertising and a key point of difference to organic SEO results.
Which is more effective?
The image below (click to enlarge) is a snapshot of the Google Analytics data for the 'classical music store' search phrase over a given period. It shows the comparitive performance of the AdWords listing vs the organic listing, which clearly highlights the CPC advertisement as the more effective listing in the search results.
Firstly, the CPC listing has over double the clicks. This is most likely attributed to the fact that the listing appears above the #1 ranked organic result. However, the real indicators of the effectiveness are the pages per visit and average time on site values being significantly higher, which tells us that visitors coming via the CPC listing are, on average, much more interested in the site. All this for under $100 ($1.10 x 90).
In the above example, why is AdWords more effective?
Each organic listing generally must contain the search keyword phrase, as this is integral to the optimisation of the page. AdWords listings, on the other hand, can display whatever text you choose and simply be triggered by the search keyword phrase. Furthermore, one can create a number of different ads and have them all triggered by the same phrase, thus having a broader scope for attracting clicks. In this case, I conclude it is the variety of wording in the AdWords listings that capture more engaged visitors.
Conclusion: not all search results are created equal
This is just one case study to demonstrate the difference between paid and non-paid listings. It is important that you review the effectiveness of your internet marketing to allow you to make informed decisions about how much to spend and what changes to make to improve your own marketing efforts.