Paid vs Organic Marketing; Is there really a difference?

The debate over paid vs organic marketing has for a long time been centered around search engine marketing; for years, SEO gurus all over the internet investigated and monitored Google’s endless algorithm updates; aiming to get your website guaranteed search traffic, to plug you into the matrix of the human hive mind.

At first,  it was a question of spamming keywords into your site and buying fake backlinks – but 20 years later, these conventional SEO strategies are detectable and actually counterproductive to your reputation. A real organic SEO strategy requires actual creating content of value to your audience – and using PR and high reputation sites to get it out there – as Google has generated more revenues from conventional companies and increased its PPC business, the internet has become pay to play.

SEO – what has formerly been thought of as organic marketing, has become a long term strategy. Most marketers use some combination of the two depending on the company’s priorities -but focusing exclusively on organic, especially in the genesis of a company, is no longer an option


For startups, this debate relates more to budget than the timing of various returns; the vast majority of startup founders I talk to are looking for some kind of free growth hacking strategy that will get the hundreds if not thousands of customers without spending a time.

Do these golden goose strategies exit? Yes. In fact, we have several clients who have used channels like influencers or ambassadors without spending much money in paid marketing. But the reality is, what you don’t spend “per click” you spend in time, expertise, and technology. 3 Quick examples:

1. Cold Email for B2C (ex: a dating app)

Cold email is an increasingly difficult avenue for B2C – deliverability is regulated by numerous advanced machine learning spam filters. We recently marketed a high end dating service to business executives in New York – with great (and virtually free results) – but what we did, required a dozen years of cumulative testing and expertise. And although each signup was free, you can bet your bottom dollar that we charged that client exactly the value we were providing.

There are always gatekeepers in marketing; anything that works will cost money. You objective as a strategist should be to qunatify those channels and make smart decisions as to how they can grow your business and generate ROI.

2. Tons of Traffic

We had a client that was getting tons of traffic organically to her site; the company was centered around business. Initially we couldn’t find the tracking – due to outdated technology – but we eventually found out this traffic was no miracle. The founder was a published author in numerous high profile online publications and had purchased backlinks (paid articles) – another case of traffic not being free.

3. Ambassador Programs/Influencer

Many consider influencer marketing a paid channel, given the influencers are often paid per post. But in many cases, especially with so-called “micro-influencers” its based on a referral model, where you pay nothing up-front. It’s not hard to get people to post – but its very hard to get them to post what you want. Ultimately, any company we a free referral program is going to need to hire a semi or full time resource to get true returns.

We will go into 1-3 in depth in later modules and break down how we would implement and “score” each channel in practice.

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