I’ve Heard That: Excuse Me, Are These Search Results Organic?

by | Last updated Jun 21, 2022 | Podcast

In this episode of the I’ve Heard That podcast on the Hurrdat Media Network, host Meghan talks with SEO Director Ross Allen and Paid Search Director Allie Burkey about the difference between organic and paid search engine results and how both can be used as part of a comprehensive search engine marketing strategy.

How can you tell the difference between organic and paid search results?

Allen: It used to be that the organic links were the ten blue links that you would see on a search engine results page, and the ads down the side of the page were paid. But over time, things changed, and new features were added like map packs, image carousels, video carousels, and FAQs, which are generated from the organic side of things. So the results page is now different, with organic results showing up in a less prominent way than before.

Burkey: As of now, the first three or four entries on a search engine result page are ads, which you can see since the ad label is denoted. But now, they really want to try to hide it as much as they can. Paid ads can also be found at the bottom of the page, in a map pack if you’re using location extensions, YouTube, and on the display network. They’re everywhere, even if you don’t notice.

When should you put ad spend behind something versus investing in your site?

Allen: Paying for things is expensive, especially some of your keywords, which isn’t sustainable over a long period of time. Think of SEO as the long play, and PPC marketing is kind of the shorter game. SEO takes time—it could take several months for the SEO strategy you implement to actually help you work your way into results and for Google to evaluate and rank pages. During that time, that’s when you can utilize paid ads and get your brand and links in front of people.

Burkey: It really depends on the advertisers’ goals, where they think their audience will be, and their budget. You want to be smart in how you’re investing in paid campaigns because you want to be sure that they can play into the larger SEO strategy. And when it comes to your budget, you need to be more strategic. If you’re in the service industry, launching a CPC (cost-per-click) campaign may run over your budget because of the chances that you receive more clicks for a specific service are high. So while it seems good that you’re getting in front of more people, you’re actually burning through ad spend and possibly taking budget away from other pieces of your SEO strategy.

How do PPC and SEO work together?

Allen: Not every area of your website is going to be working at once. There are different parts of the website that don’t work organically. That’s when you can look at the data and use pay-per-click campaigns to supplement those areas. It’s a constant symbiotic relationship we have with PPC and SEO. We’re always looking at the numbers, always looking at the data to see what’s performing, how we can supplement the areas of SEO that are not working, and how we can reduce cost by turning off some of the ads for the areas of SEO that are working.

Burkey: Truly, the key is communication. One side can say, “Hey, we’re not ranking for these keywords. Is there some kind of paid campaign we can put behind it while we’re working on our SEO?” And from the other side, we can see that certain keywords may be performing well that we hadn’t thought to try and compete for through website content, so we can work together to try and get more of those keywords onto existing or new webpages.

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Speaker 1 (00:03):

Welcome to I’ve Heard That, the podcast from Hurrdat Marketing that discusses digital marketing trends, tips, and more.

Meghan (00:11):

Hi everyone. It’s Meghan. And I have Allie and Ross here today to answer, “Are these search results organic?” So tell me about yourself, Ross.

Ross (00:21):

Hi, I’m Ross. I’m the SEO director at Hurrdat. I oversee the SEO teams and local search teams.

Meghan (00:27):

Awesome. And Allie, welcome.

Allie (00:30):

Thank you. I’m Allie. I am the director of paid search at Hurrdat, and basically anything you put ad spend behind is what I’m overseeing.

Meghan (00:41):

Nice, nice. So for a lot of searchers, it’s pretty fluid. You type in a question and you get a result, but sometimes businesses are paying for them to their answer, their brand, whatever, to be at the top, paid search. And sometimes, well, I guess SEO is an investment, so they’re paying for it as well. But break it down. What’s organic and what’s paid? How do we know the difference?

Ross (01:07):

So traditionally, organic links used to be the 10 blue links that you see in the search engines. But obviously over time, the search engine result pages have evolved, and there’s been numerous features added. So like in the olden days, it used to be ads down the side and then 10 blue links in the middle. And it was very simple. You could see which ones were ad and you could see which ones were organic.

Ross (01:32):

But as I mentioned, over time, things have changed drastically. And there’s many new features in there, like local Map Packs, image carousels, video carousels, even down to people also ask questions, and FAQs, things like that, that are really taking up the real estate. So the traditional 10 blue links have been reduced. Usually now it’s probably about eight. But with that said, a lot of the organic things are now becoming a little bit more prevalent. So the features that we’ve mentioned, the FAQs that people also ask are generated from the organic side of things.

Meghan (02:09):

Yeah, so it sucks if you’re a 9 or 10. See ya.

Ross (02:12):

Yes. Yes. So you’re relegated to page two.

Meghan (02:14):

Well, it makes sense because Google is making space for you to pay them. So tell me about your areas.

Allie (02:20):

Yeah, so basically the first, probably three or four, depends on how many extensions, whatnot, and advertiser we have, but the first three or four basically entries are ads. And they’re denoted by a little tiny ad things. You’d see it, but they want to try to hide it as much as they can. And then they’re also at the bottom of the page. They can show up in a Map Pack if you’re using location extensions. And then Google also has results on like YouTube and then the Display Network. So kind of everywhere.

Meghan (02:57):

My God, they’re everywhere. They follow you around. You go to a website and then you’re stalked for a good 30 days.

Allie (03:03):

Yeah. Google will find you well.

Meghan (03:06):

And that’s because you’re clicking on an ad first. So that’s how they’re dropping that cookie, right? So explain to me, when should you put ad spend behind something versus investing on your site? Do I compete for those blue links? Do I get that click-through an ad?

Ross (03:26):

It’s more of a symbiotic relationship. Obviously paying for things is expensive and you can’t sustain that over a long period of time, usually because some of the keywords that you’re paying for are direct extremely expensive. So the way that we should approach it is SEO is the long play and pay-per-click is kind of the shorter game. Obviously SEO takes time. It can take several months for the SEO to actually work its way through the system, and to Google to evaluate pages and then rank them where you’d want them to be ranked. So whilst you’re waiting for that to happen, that’s when you can really utilize the paid aspect and get your brand and your links in front of people while you’re waiting for that organic to work.

Meghan (04:12):

Yeah. And for you Allie, how do you decide where to place those ads, so it is the right time to run a paid ads campaign? Where do you start? Is it search, is it display?

Allie (04:23):

Yeah, it really depends on the advertiser’s goals, where you think their audience will be. And really honestly too, a lot of CPCs. You only pay for when someone clicks on your ad. But sometimes, a lot of times, like in a service industry, those are really expensive clicks. So you just want to be really, really smart about how you’re investing in that. Like Ross said, it plays into your SEO. It can be a supplement to your SEO as well. So it really depends on your goals, your budget of course. Display is usually cheaper. So that’s something to keep in mind too. But of course you can’t ever take away that the benefit you get from reaching someone that is actively searching for what you have to offer.

Meghan (05:12):

Yeah, right now, I need this. I mean, I got shut out of my garage, like a spring or something broke, and I was like, “Can I get in? Who’s first, who’s first? Got to call right now.” So, I mean, that makes sense, being there in the moment, which would take a lifetime with a Vesio.

Ross (05:27):

Exactly. And as I said, now with the different features on the page, it’s very difficult for those organic links to be seen in a quick moment like that. So if somebody is playing the long game and really researching things, that’s the perfect moment for organic search. But if somebody needs something instantly, that’s when pay-per-click can really be an advantageous for the advertiser, because somebody needs something really quickly, they’re going to click it the first thing that they see. And 9 times out of 10, the first thing they see is going to be an ad.

Meghan (05:54):

Yeah. Well, I mean, and the algorithms are super different. So, explain to me how that works for both of you because you have less controls, right?

Ross (06:03):

Yes. Yeah. So, we are really at the mercy of the algorithms and what Google thinks and how Google assesses the pages. Yes, over time, we’ve picked up little hints and tricks and experiences, and we know what works, what ranks, and how to get pages rank better.

Ross (06:18):

But then at the end of the day, Google changes their algorithm 600 times a year, if not more. So we’re always playing catch up when it comes to the algorithms. But with that said, we’re part of a big wide community that is constantly communicating with each other. So we can see, as soon as an algorithm update has happened, we’re on top of it. We are working together with other SEOs to figure out what the change was and how we can then optimize for that.

Ross (06:48):

So, it’s definitely something that’s more difficult when it comes to organic, because there are so many different factors that are involved. And I think that’s why it costs so much for the advertisers is because you kind of get in that shortcut, you get in that, you pay more money, you’re going to be seen higher. Whereas organic is very much kind of the long play game. It takes time and effort and resources to get those web pages ranked in the traffic position.

Meghan (07:18):

Sure, sure. But you can have bottomless pockets and still not get to the top. So what’s your algorithm looking at?

Allie (07:24):

Basically with Google ads, it all comes down to your quality score. And Google assigns that based on three factors. So it is your expected click-through rate, your ad relevancy, and then your landing page experience.

Meghan (07:43):

So what do those mean?

Allie (07:44):

You really need to know those.

Meghan (07:46):

I’m just going to grill, break it down. I mean, those things are super broad. That makes sense on paper. Cool, I need to have a lot of money. I need to be advertising for people that are looking for my stuff. And let’s drive them to the right place. But obviously, as we know with SEO, there’s a ton of little factors that both algorithms are looking at. And how did they play together? Specifically, like maybe the landing page. A lot of times landing pages can be on your site or they could be specific landing page designed for your campaign. But yeah, what needs to be on there? How do you get a good quality score?

Allie (08:27):

So for your landing page specifically, it’s usually, first of all, best practice is to not have it link back to your website. And the reason being is you want to capture the conversion at that time. You don’t want them to abandon it. So you have the user, you have them on your site, [crosstalk 00:08:46]-

Meghan (08:45):

You just pay for them.

Allie (08:46):

Right, exactly. You don’t want any popups. You want the landing page to be relevant to whatever query is that the searcher searched in first place. Those are just a couple of things.

Allie (09:00):

I mean, there’s a lot of like, no flashing motion or what… I mean, Google has all these different-

Meghan (09:09):

They got a [inaudible 00:09:09].

Allie (09:09):

Right, they do. But really, I would say the top things are just relevant to the searcher. No popups. And like I said, just best practice. Don’t want to link back to your site because once you have them, you want to lock them in.

Meghan (09:22):

Yeah. Well, I mean, don’t let them go down the rabbit hole of your site. That makes sense. I mean, we just talked a couple of weeks ago about user experience and how to design when they get to your site. So I mean, if all things are working together, maybe they’re not lost for forever, but that makes sense. You just paid maybe a lot for that click.

Allie (09:39):

Right. It’s just harder to track them then that way.

Meghan (09:42):

Yeah, definitely. Well, that’s another whole point that there’s a lot of controls that you have over your campaigns and a lot of analytics that you give back. So what do you do with all that?

Allie (09:54):

Yeah, that’s a two-pronged question. In terms of, when I’m looking at an account and how I’m looking at optimizing, again, it kind of depends on their goal. But some levers that I’m usually pulling are ad copy tests, different optimizing bids, maybe optimizing your landing page. Maybe you’re finding that it’s not converting. Like you’re getting a lot of clicks, people are getting through, but no one’s converting on your actual site. That’s another big one.

Allie (10:28):

Gosh, one thing I feel like where a lot of advertisers fall short is they’re not using all of the available ad extensions. So you want to take up as much real estate as you can, if you are going to pay for that click. So for example, like SiteLink extensions, which link back to like a different place on your site, which I know kind of goes against what I just said. But they’re not clicking on your ad. They’re clicking on basically just a different link from your site.

Meghan (11:01):

Well, it makes sense if it’s super relevant. If they’re like, “Hey, I typed in running shoes, but I’m actually looking for women’s trail running shoes, or something.” It’s like, okay, cool. Then I know where I’m going when I click this site link.

Allie (11:11):

Exactly. Location extensions, call extensions. Just any extension you can use, I really encourage advertisers to do, because again, that knocks your competition out of that first three pack [crosstalk 00:11:26].

Meghan (11:25):

Well, even visually, it means that they have to scroll down further. They have to like get past the real estate that you take up. It looks lean.

Allie (11:32):

It just looks better. It looks better.

Meghan (11:34):

I agree. What about Display Network? What about YouTube? How did those work? What are best practices for those?

Allie (11:46):

If we’re talking like in just a Google search campaign, if you’re opting into the Display Network, basically your ads can still show across those different websites. So on like a YouTube or anywhere on Google’s Display Network, which they don’t disclose to you exactly what sites are on their Display Network. But it makes up about 70% of all websites on the internet. So that’s a pretty big chunk of websites.

Meghan (12:17):

Everywhere, Google is following you.

Allie (12:21):

Right. So I would say for sure, opt into those. You may find that it brings down your click-through rate. So it’s something to watch, but it’s free exposure essentially, or cheaper exposure.

Meghan (12:33):

It’s like a little billboard on someone else’s site. So you can pick relevancy, right, if I recall. Like you can say, like, “I think my ads relevant to people that are looking at sports-related websites.” And then your ad can show on their Display Network where…

Allie (12:48):

You can have a search ad. You can have an image ad. Of course, in YouTube, if you want a video ad. So it really like, again, I know I just keep saying this, but it depends on their goals and what they’re looking to do.

Meghan (13:00):

It’s important for own business owners to know what options they have. I mean, as we’re marketers, we’re strategically planning where we’re going to spend their dollars, if it’s on their website and search and social. And then where those ads go, can make a big difference. If it’s just for exposure, great. If it’s supposed to be for that, in the moment click now, then it’s not going to be on the Display Network, just floating around aimlessly.

Allie (13:28):

Right. Exactly.

Meghan (13:29):

Awesome. That makes a lot of sense, Allie. So you’ve invested in your site and how does that kind of work together with this, with your paid search campaign once your SEO starts to kick in?

Ross (13:39):

Yeah. So, the way that we can work together with PPC and SEO is, obviously not every area of your website is going to be working at once. If it is, then great, that’s a wonderful place to be, and I wish you the best of luck. But that doesn’t happen very often.

Ross (13:52):

So there’s oftentimes different parts of the website that don’t work organically. And that’s when you can then look at the data and then use pay-per-click campaigns to supplement those areas, whilst you go ahead and optimize those areas that are not working.

Ross (14:04):

So it’s a constant symbiotic relationship that we have with PPC and SEO, is always looking at the numbers, always looking at the data to see what’s performing, what’s not, and how we can then supplement the areas of SEO that are not working, and how we can reduce costs by turning off some of the ads for the areas of SEO that is working, so that we’re trying to just keep that wheel moving and not spending too many dollars on things that are already working organically. And we’re not spending enough on those areas where organic isn’t quite hitting the mark just yet.

Meghan (14:34):

Yeah, optimizing your budget. Of course, giving our clients the biggest bang for their budget. That makes sense.

Allie (14:38):

Yeah. I think as long as like you’re in communication, like, “Hey, we’re not ranking for these keywords. Is there some kind of paid campaign we can put behind it in the meantime, while we’re working on our SEO?”

Ross (14:51):

Exactly. Yep.

Meghan (14:52):

Do you guys have any examples of things where this is really worked well? Like are there industries that we think lean very heavy on paid for a bit until search kicks in or vice versa?

Ross (15:04):

I think for most industries, most websites, especially if it’s a brand new one, it’s going to take kind of three to six months before you really see performance in an SEO, in an organic sense. So most websites would benefit from some kind of paid campaign at the beginning. And then as I said, once the SEO starts to kick in and you’re getting those organic results, that’s when you can really take a step back and look at the big picture and then try and fill in some of those gaps where organic might not be working as well as it could be, and then target those paid campaigns for those areas, while you go back and then optimize those areas to actually start performing. And it’s never, ever continual cycle.

Allie (15:42):

It’s never done.

Ross (15:43):

It’s never done. Yeah. Google always wants your dollar.

Meghan (15:47):

I think that’s like what we’ve seen the major shift towards too, as they start taking away organic placements, as they start taking away placement in Google Maps for the GMB listing, that it’s because they’re selling it. They’re like, “Oh, we like this real estate. This is our prime real estate and we’re going to sell it.” So, I mean, I guess that’s where you’re seeing the shift, and why investing in SEO is so important still even, because you’re competing for less spots now or you’re going to pay.

Ross (16:11):

And that makes it even more important to really focus and look at what’s happening because you could end up competing against yourself, and that’s not something you want to do. You don’t want to be paying for a click when you can clearly see that your organic link is there working.

Ross (16:22):

So you always have to be monitoring and being observant of how your website is performing and how the pay-per-click side of things is performing, because very easily, because there are so many different facets now to the paid side of things that are not necessarily that visible. You don’t know that that’s an ad. In the local pack, you can have an ad and then you want your two organic listings next to it. And then that’s not good because usually the ads are going to be the top one. So that’s the one that’s going to get clicked. Great, you’re getting the traffic, but you’re paying for that traffic when the next two links are yours as well.

Meghan (16:55):

I’ve seen that before. I’m like, wait, are there two listings? And it’s like for the same business, but we know one’s the ad, one’s the organic GMB listing.

Ross (17:03):

And we all know, we’ve all done searches, and we don’t look for that ad button. We’re not, “Oh, that’s an ad. So I’m not going to click on it.” You just look for the first one in the list that matches what you’re looking for, and you hit that link.

Meghan (17:12):

And even if you did know it was ad, it’s not like you care. It’s not your money.

Ross (17:17):

Yeah. We, as consumers are not paying for that ad. So it’s definitely important to be vigilant about how your website is performing in the SERPs, because you can end up really paying for a link that you could’ve gotten organically.

Meghan (17:30):

If you have a large enough budget, talk about some of our enterprise clients. Does it make sense to bid on your own name, so you’re taking up as much real estate? So that’s best practice, usually I would say, for someone who has not a limited budget, but not an endless budget. It’s just utilizing the budget you have. But enterprise clients kind of explain how we approach that.

Allie (17:53):

In terms of bidding for basically your branded terms, if you are a pretty big company, I would say you don’t need to do that. It’s just, you’re wasting your money. That’s like one of those situations where you do kind of cringe when you see a paid ad and then their organic listing right underneath. And you’re like, oh.

Meghan (18:15):

I think I’ve just seen it as a tactic maybe to block out competitors. They’re like, “Hey, you’re not going to take the top slot.

Allie (18:21):

Right. And usually you only have to do that for a week, two weeks, a month. And then you drive your competitor’s CPCs up so high that they’re like, “Forget it, it’s not worth it.” So, yeah, and that’s a competitive tactic too, that sometimes we do for some of our smaller businesses. Just, “Hey-“

Meghan (18:41):

“Hey, get off my brand name.”

Allie (18:42):

Right. Well, no, we do opposite. We’re like, “Bid on your competitors, get yourself out there.” Because a lot of times for the bigger companies, like I said, they aren’t bidding on their brand terms. And so you can kind of buy yourself some extra clicks that way.

Meghan (19:00):

Yeah. That’s a super opportunity, steal some of that market share. You’re like, “You’re looking for my friend? Here I am.”

Allie (19:06):


Meghan (19:06):

Nice. Cool, guys. Well, anything else you want to add?

Ross (19:12):

So Allie, when I’ve looked at a pair of sneakers that I’m interested in, why do I see their ad every single time I go back to the web?

Allie (19:20):

Because I said, Google will find you.

Allie (19:24):

Yeah, those are remarketing ads. I’m thinking we have all been haunted by those. It’s funny. I feel like when I’m explaining my job, that’s everybody’s first question. Like, “Oh, you’re not responsible for those ads that are following me everywhere.”

Allie (19:41):

But yeah, basically it’s just a tag that you put on your site. So when somebody visits, you essentially get to collect that information, and then you follow people around with retargeting, remarketing ads.

Meghan (19:56):

And they go away after a certain…

Allie (19:56):

Yeah, you set it for a certain amount of time. Usually it’s 30 days.

Meghan (20:00):

Until they come back to your site and get it again.

Allie (20:02):

Right. [crosstalk 00:20:03].

Meghan (20:03):

Just buy the sneakers already, Ross.

Ross (20:07):

I already have a problem with sneakers. Don’t encourage me anymore.

Meghan (20:12):

What about YouTube? So tell me a little bit more about how and when it makes sense to advertise on YouTube. What do I need to…

Allie (20:20):

I mean, I think first you need an engaging video asset. So that’s first and foremost. Probably want to keep it about 15 seconds.

Meghan (20:34):

Yeah. I know when I’m on YouTube, well, because I’m trying to get something done, and usually I’m like, “How do I fix this?” I’m not watching that. I’m like countdown three, two, skip. So 15 seconds is a long haul if you’re watching the full ad.

Allie (20:54):

So, if you’re targeting on YouTube, it’s similar to like how you would target on Google’s Display Network. So it can be topic if you’ve expressed interest in something, and if you’re actively searching for like a specific product or service. It can be demographic. I mean all kinds of different levers to control there.

Meghan (21:16):

Yeah, lots of controls.

Allie (21:17):

I mean, you could do a remarketing campaign on YouTube as well. So kind of the same leverage you can pull on Google Search and Google Display are the same targeting options you have on YouTube.

Meghan (21:30):

Awesome. Awesome. Is it more expensive? How does it compare to some of the budget requirements for search or display?

Allie (21:38):

I mean, YouTube is pretty cheap, but people don’t typically… I mean your conversion rate is much lower.

Meghan (21:45):

Because they’re there to watch the video, not to click on your… I mean, maybe you bunny trail down that ad, but…

Allie (21:51):

Typically you’re, you’re paying more for like a cost for review. So it’s pretty cheap. But yeah, people don’t usually take action. But you can collect their information if they viewed your ad and then follow them around that way.

Meghan (22:10):

Just stalk them some more. I like it. Awesome guys. Well, it’s been awesome to talk with you both. I think it makes a lot more sense about where these two pieces fit in, but instead of thinking of them separately, they definitely do work together. And I think that’s a great point, that they can supplement each other until the SEO kicks in. Or they can be used to achieve a specific goal because of the controls that we have over a paid campaign. Awesome. Thank you for joining me today. I appreciate it.

Ross (22:40):

Very welcome. Thank you.

Allie (22:40):

Thank you.

Speaker 1 (22:43):

I’ve Heard That is a part of the Hurrdat Media Network. For more information, follow Hurrdat on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram, or visit hurrdatmarketing.com.

Speaker 5 (22:52):

A Hurrdat Media production.


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