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Organic Marketing vs. Paid Marketing: What’s the Difference?

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Organic Marketing vs. Paid Marketing: What's the Difference?

The difference between organic marketing and paid marketing is that organic marketing focuses on attracting traffic for free while paid marketing involves paying for traffic.

Both have their uses, and one isn’t inherently better than the other.

In this guide, you’ll learn why that is and how to create an organic marketing strategy:

Basics of organic and paid marketing

Let’s start with the fundamentals: What exactly are organic marketing and paid marketing?

Organic marketing

Organic marketing is the process of attracting traffic to a website without using paid advertising. It commonly involves creating and distributing valuable content to attract an audience—otherwise known as content marketing.

Examples

Paid marketing

Paid marketing is the process of attracting traffic from paid advertising. It commonly involves buying clicks from platforms like Google, Facebook, and Twitter, sponsored posts, and banner ads.

Examples

Organic vs. paid marketing: Which is better?

Neither organic nor paid marketing is better than the other. They’re both legitimate marketing strategies that can be used for different purposes. However, they’re most effective when they’re used together.

For example, at Ahrefs, we use both organic and paid marketing.

Content marketing is a huge part of our customer acquisition strategy—we primarily create content designed to rank high on search engines. These pieces of content—both video and text—are also distributed via other organic channels: email and social media.

To further promote our content, we also use paid marketing. For most of our content, we run ads on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Quora to give it a further boost in reach.

Facebook ad of Ahrefs' blog article about SEO tips

As you can see, both are essential aspects of our marketing strategy. We don’t discriminate against one in favor of the other.

How to create an organic marketing strategy

Now that you know the difference between paid and organic marketing, let’s talk about how to create an organic marketing strategy for your business.

1. Choose an audience

A wedding photography studio creates content about its expertise—the technicalities of wedding photography—and ends up attracting other wedding photographers. But wedding photographers don’t need wedding photography services and, thus, buy nothing from the studio.

So the studio’s content efforts attracted a lot of attention but got no real customers.

If the studio had actively clarified who it wanted to attract—engaged couples—the studio would have created content that couples wanted to read. For example, not “how to use diffused light” but “how to find a wedding photographer.”

So the first step to creating an organic marketing strategy is to be clear about who you want to consume your content.

If you’ve done your market research and created customer personas, then you’re already ahead. You know who you’re trying to reach.

For example, if you’re a wedding photography studio in Singapore, your potential target customers can be:

Millennial couples (ages 25 to 35) in Singapore who are getting married.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a target customer statement yet. You can always create one. Use the guide below to create one to kickstart your organic marketing.

Recommended reading: How to Create Detailed Buyer Personas for Your Business [Free Persona Template]

2. Choose a goal

Yes, you need content to kickstart your organic marketing. But why are you creating content (or doing organic marketing) in the first place?

Broadly speaking, there are four goals:

  1. Increase brand awareness and introduce your brand to more people
  2. Create interest and desire by teaching potential customers more about their problems and how your product or service helps to solve said problems
  3. Nurture your potential customers’ interest by further educating them about your product or service and why it’s the best solution for them (thereby persuading them to buy)
  4. Retain customers and build brand loyalty by teaching them how to get the most out of your product or service

Depending on your specific goal, the type of content you create will be different. For example, if you’re trying to convince your customers that you’re the best fit for their problems, you may want to create a comparison page.

Excerpt of Ahrefs' comparison page

Alternatively, if you’re trying to build a loyal customer base, then you may be looking at creating a course to teach customers how to get the most out of your product.

Ahrefs Academy's "How to use Ahrefs" course

Note that these four goals are not exclusive goals. No matter your content strategy, you’ll need to eventually create content for each of these goals.

After all, there’s no point in having a brand that’s well known but has no customers. Likewise, there’s no point in attracting tons of customers if you lose them all.

But depending on the stage of your business and the number of available resources you have, you may have to focus on one of them over the others (at least for the time being).

If you already have existing content, then this is where a content audit can come in handy. It’ll take stock of all the content you currently have and help you figure out what you’re missing.

Recommended reading: How to Do a Content Audit in 2022

3. Choose a platform

While organic marketing relies heavily on content, it doesn’t mean it’s all about blog posts. There are tons of other places for you to publish on, such as these:

  • YouTube
  • Social media (Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok, Pinterest, etc)
  • Email
  • Podcasts
  • Communities and forums (Reddit, Discord, Slack, Quora, etc)
  • Other people’s websites (e.g., guest posts)
  • Slideshare

Now, this doesn’t mean you should publish content on all of them.

While these channels make sense and have worked for different companies, it will be almost impossible to do everything in the beginning—especially if you’re just starting out.

So how do you decide which is the right platform to publish your content on?

At Ahrefs, we believe you should begin with one or two channels, and it should be based on your answers to two questions:

  1. Which channels solve your “whys”?
  2. How and where do your customers consume information online?

Let’s start with the first question.

In the previous step, you’ve answered the “why” question. From there, you would have already set one or a few goals. You should pick the channel(s) that’ll help you achieve the goal(s).

For example, if you’ve decided that a pressing problem is your lack of brand awareness, then you might want to consider publishing guest posts on large, authoritative blogs or appearing as a guest on podcasts.

If you have multiple goals that need achieving, then choose one channel that addresses all your goals or multiple complementary channels.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet for the most popular owned channels:

Cheat sheet (table form) to help determine which stages of the marketing funnel popular owned channels serve

Looking at these channels, you should answer the next question: How and where do your customers consume information online?

Your research should have told you this. But if you’re unsure, it’s always a good idea to reach out to your customers directly and ask.

Don’t get paralyzed by indecision. If you’re really stuck and not sure which platform to publish on, I’ll suggest either blogging or video marketing. In most industries, people will almost certainly be looking for information via Google or YouTube. So either channel is a good starting point.

But if you want to ensure this is accurate, you can always use a keyword research tool like Ahrefs to see if people are searching for topics related to your business.

For example, if we enter keywords related to SEO into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, we see thousands of searches per month:

Keywords Explorer overview for SEO-related keywords; notably, there are thousands of searches every month

This confirms that blogging is a good channel.

4. Choose a format

For some channels, this is relatively straightforward. If you’re creating content for YouTube, then videos are the only type of content you can create.

But for other platforms, there are options. Take Instagram, for example. If IG is your chosen channel, then you can publish:

  • Photos
  • Quote images
  • Memes
  • Illustrations
  • Short videos
  • Stories
  • And more

It all boils down to what your customers want to see. That’s why step one is so important. When you know who you’re targeting, you can research and talk to them. When you talk to them, you can figure out the type of content they enjoy consuming. From there, it’s really just delivering more of what they want to them.

Don’t be afraid to experiment too. If you’ve always been posting photos, then try posting short videos once in a while. As much as content marketing is about consistency, it’s also about variety.

Final thoughts

Let’s reiterate: Neither paid nor organic marketing is better than the other. Each is simply more suited to different goals.

However, the best businesses don’t discriminate. Rather, they combine them for maximum effectiveness.

Did I miss out on anything? Let me know on Twitter.




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Google Documents Leaked & SEOs Are Making Some Wild Assumptions

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Google Documents Leaked & SEOs Are Making Some Wild Assumptions

You’ve probably heard about the recent Google documents leak. It’s on every major site and all over social media.

Where did the docs come from?

My understanding is that a bot called yoshi-code-bot leaked docs related to the Content API Warehouse on Github on March 13th, 2024. It may have appeared earlier in some other repos, but this is the one that was first discovered.

They were discovered by an anonymous ex-Googler who shared the info with Erfan Azimi who shared it with Rand Fishkin who shared it with Mike King. The docs were removed on May 7th.

I appreciate all involved for sharing their findings with the community.

Google’s response

There was some debate if the documents were real or not, but they mention a lot of internal systems and link to internal documentation and it definitely appears to be real.

A Google spokesperson released the following statement to Search Engine Land:

We would caution against making inaccurate assumptions about Search based on out-of-context, outdated, or incomplete information. We’ve shared extensive information about how Search works and the types of factors that our systems weigh, while also working to protect the integrity of our results from manipulation.

SEOs interpret things based on their own experiences and bias

Many SEOs are saying that the ranking factors leaked. I haven’t seen any code or weights, just what appear to be descriptions and storage info. Unless one of the descriptions says the item is used for ranking, I think it’s dangerous for SEOs that all of these are used in ranking.

Having some features or information stored does not mean they’re used in ranking. For our search engine, Yep.com, we have all kinds of things stored that might be used for crawling, indexing, ranking, personalization, testing, or feedback. We even have things stored that we aren’t doing things with yet.

What is more likely is that SEOs are making assumptions that favor their own opinions and biases.

It’s the same for me. I may not have full context or knowledge and may have inherent biases that influence my interpretation, but I try to be as fair as I can be. If I’m wrong, it means that I will learn something new and that’s a good thing! SEOs can, and do, interpret things differently.

Gael Breton said it well:

I’ve been around long enough to see many SEO myths created over the years and I can point you to who started many of them and what they misunderstood. We’ll likely see a lot of new myths from this leak that we’ll be dealing with for the next decade or longer.

Let’s look at a few things that in my opinion are being misinterpreted or where conclusions are being drawn where they shouldn’t be.

SiteAuthority

As much as I want to be able to say Google has a Site Authority score that they use for ranking that’s like DR, that part specifically is about compressed quality metrics and talks about quality.

I believe DR is more an effect that happens as you have a lot of pages with strong PageRank, not that it’s necessarily something Google uses. Lots of pages with higher PageRank that internally link to each other means you’re more likely to create stronger pages.

  • Do I believe that PageRank could be part of what Google calls quality? Yes.
  • Do I think that’s all of it? No.
  • Could Site Authority be something similar to DR? Maybe. It fits in the bigger picture.
  • Can I prove that or even that it’s used in rankings? No, not from this.

From some of the Google testimony to the US Department of Justice, we found out that quality is often measured with an Information Satisfaction (IS) score from the raters. This isn’t directly used in rankings, but is used for feedback, testing, and fine-tuning models.

We know the quality raters have the concept of E-E-A-T, but again that’s not exactly what Google uses. They use signals that align to E-E-A-T.

Some of the E-E-A-T signals that Google has mentioned are:

  • PageRank
  • Mentions on authoritative sites
  • Site queries. This could be “site:http://ahrefs.com E-E-A-T” or searches like “ahrefs E-E-A-T”

So could some kind of PageRank scores extrapolated to the domain level and called Site Authority be used by Google and be part of what makes up the quality signals? I’d say it’s plausible, but this leak doesn’t prove it.

I can recall 3 patents from Google I’ve seen about quality scores. One of them aligns with the signals above for site queries.

I should point out that just because something is patented, doesn’t mean it is used. The patent around site queries was written in part by Navneet Panda. Want to guess who the Panda algorithm that related to quality was named after? I’d say there’s a good chance this is being used.

The others were around n-gram usage and seemed to be to calculate a quality score for a new website and another mentioned time on site.

Sandbox

I think this has been misinterpreted as well. The document has a field called hostAge and refers to a sandbox, but it specifically says it’s used “to sandbox fresh spam in serving time.”

To me, that doesn’t confirm the existence of a sandbox in the way that SEOs see it where new sites can’t rank. To me, it reads like a spam protection measure.

Clicks

Are clicks used in rankings? Well, yes, and no.

We know Google uses clicks for things like personalization, timely events, testing, feedback, etc. We know they have models upon models trained on the click data including navBoost. But is that directly accessing the click data and being used in rankings? Nothing I saw confirms that.

The problem is SEOs are interpreting this as CTR is a ranking factor. Navboost is made to predict which pages and features will be clicked. It’s also used to cut down on the number of returned results which we learned from the DOJ trial.

As far as I know, there is nothing to confirm that it takes into account the click data of individual pages to re-order the results or that if you get more people to click on your individual results, that your rankings would go up.

That should be easy enough to prove if it was the case. It’s been tried many times. I tried it years ago using the Tor network. My friend Russ Jones (may he rest in peace) tried using residential proxies.

I’ve never seen a successful version of this and people have been buying and trading clicks on various sites for years. I’m not trying to discourage you or anything. Test it yourself, and if it works, publish the study.

Rand Fishkin’s tests for searching and clicking a result at conferences years ago showed that Google used click data for trending events, and they would boost whatever result was being clicked. After the experiments, the results went right back to normal. It’s not the same as using them for the normal rankings.

Authors

We know Google matches authors with entities in the knowledge graph and that they use them in Google news.

There seems to be a decent amount of author info in these documents, but nothing about them confirms that they’re used in rankings as some SEOs are speculating.

Was Google lying to us?

What I do disagree with whole-heartedly is SEOs being angry with the Google Search Advocates and calling them liars. They’re nice people who are just doing their job.

If they told us something wrong, it’s likely because they don’t know, they were misinformed, or they’ve been instructed to obfuscate something to prevent abuse. They don’t deserve the hate that the SEO community is giving them right now. We’re lucky that they share information with us at all.

If you think something they said is wrong, go and run a test to prove it. Or if there’s a test you want me to run, let me know. Just being mentioned in the docs is not proof that a thing is used in rankings.

Final Thoughts

While I may agree or I may disagree with the interpretations of other SEOs, I respect all who are willing to share their analysis. It’s not easy to put yourself or your thoughts out there for public scrutiny.

I also want to reiterate that unless these fields specifically say they are used in rankings, that the information could just as easily be used for something else. We definitely don’t need any posts about Google’s 14,000 ranking factors.

If you want my thoughts on a particular thing, message me on X or LinkedIn.



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Do Higher Content Scores Mean Higher Google Rankings? Our Data Says It’s Unlikely.

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Do Higher Content Scores Mean Higher Google Rankings? Our Data Says It's Unlikely.

I studied the correlation between rankings and content scores from four popular content optimization tools: Clearscope, Surfer, MarketMuse, and Frase. The result? Weak correlations all around.

This suggests (correlation does not necessarily imply causation!) that obsessing over your content score is unlikely to lead to significantly higher Google rankings.

Does that mean content optimization scores are pointless?

No. You just need to know how best to use them and understand their flaws.

Most tools’ content scores are based on keywords. If top-ranking pages mention keywords your page doesn’t, your score will be low. If it does, your score will be high.

While this has its obvious flaws (having more keyword mentions doesn’t always mean better topic coverage), content scores can at least give some indication of how comprehensively you’re covering the topic. This is something Google is looking for.

Google says that comprehensively covering the topic is a sign of quality contentGoogle says that comprehensively covering the topic is a sign of quality content

If your page’s score is significantly lower than the scores of competing pages, you’re probably missing important subtopics that searchers care about. Filling these “content gaps” might help improve your rankings.

However, there’s nuance to this. If competing pages score in the 80-85 range while your page scores 79, it likely isn’t worth worrying about. But if it’s 95 vs. 20 then yeah, you should probably try to cover the topic better.

Key takeaway

Don’t obsess over content scores. Use them as a barometer for topic coverage. If your score is significantly lower than competitors, you’re probably missing important subtopics and might rank higher by filling those “content gaps.”

There are at least two downsides you should be aware of when it comes to content scores.

They’re easy to cheat

Content scores tend to be largely based on how many times you use the recommended set of keywords. In some tools, you can literally copy-paste the entire list, draft nothing else, and get an almost perfect score.

Scoring 98 on MarketMuse after shoehorning all the suggested keywords without any semblance of a draftScoring 98 on MarketMuse after shoehorning all the suggested keywords without any semblance of a draft

This is something we aim to solve with our upcoming content optimization tool: Content Master.

I can’t reveal too much about this yet, but it has a big USP compared to most existing content optimization tools: its content score is based on topic coverage—not just keywords.

For example, it tells us that our SEO strategy template should better cover subtopics like keyword research, on-page SEO, and measuring and tracking SEO success.

Preview of our upcoming Content Master toolPreview of our upcoming Content Master tool

But, unlike other content optimization tools, lazily copying and pasting related keywords into the document won’t necessarily increase our content score. It’s smart enough to understand that keyword coverage and topic coverage are different things.

Sidenote.

This tool is still in production so the final release may look a little different.

They encourage copycat content

Content scores tell you how well you’re covering the topic based on what’s already out there. If you cover all important keywords and subtopics from the top-ranking pages and create the ultimate copycat content, you’ll score full marks.

This is a problem because quality content should bring something new to the table, not just rehash existing information. Google literally says this in their helpful content guidelines.

Google says quality content goes beyond obvious information. It needs to bring something new to the tableGoogle says quality content goes beyond obvious information. It needs to bring something new to the table

In fact, Google even filed a patent some years back to identify ‘information gain’: a measurement of the new information provided by a given article, over and above the information present in other articles on the same topic.

You can’t rely on content optimization tools or scores to create something unique. Making something that stands out from the rest of the search results will require experience, experimentation, or effort—something only humans can have/do.

Enrich common knowledge with new information and experiences in your contentEnrich common knowledge with new information and experiences in your content

Big thanks to my colleagues Si Quan and Calvinn who did the heavy lifting for this study. Nerd notes below. 😉

  • For the study, we selected 20 random keywords and pulled the top 20 ranking pages.
  • We pulled the SERPs before the March 2024 update was rolled out.
  • Some of the tools had issues pulling the top 20 pages, which we suspect was due to SERP features.
  • Clearscope didn’t give numerical scores; they opted for grades. We used ChatGPT to convert those grades into numbers.
  • Despite their increasing prominence in the SERPs, most of the tools had trouble analyzing Reddit, Quora, and YouTube. They typically gave a zero or no score for these results. If they gave no scores, we excluded them from the analysis.
  • The reason why we calculated both Spearman and Kendall correlations (and took the average) is because according to Calvinn (our Data Scientist), Spearman correlations are more sensitive and therefore more prone to being swayed by small sample size and outliers. On the other hand, the Kendall rank correlation coefficient only takes order into account. So, it is more robust for small sample sizes and less sensitive to outliers.

Final thoughts

Improving your content score is unlikely to hurt Google rankings. After all, although the correlation between scores and rankings is weak, it’s still positive. Just don’t obsess and spend hours trying to get a perfect score; scoring in the same ballpark as top-ranking pages is enough.

You also need to be aware of their downsides, most notably that they can’t help you craft unique content. That requires human creativity and effort.

Any questions or comments? Ping me on X or LinkedIn.



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Unlocking Brand Growth: Strategies for B2B and E-commerce Marketers

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Unlocking Brand Growth: Strategies for B2B and E-commerce Marketers

In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, scaling a brand effectively requires more than just an innovative product or service. For B2B and e-commerce marketers, understanding the intricacies of growth strategies across different stages of business development is crucial.  

A recent analysis of 71 brands offers valuable insights into the optimal strategies for startups, scaleups, mature brands, and majority offline businesses. Here’s what we learned. 

Startup Stage: Building the Foundation 

Key Strategy: Startups focus on impressions-driven channels like Paid Social to establish their audience base. This approach is essential for gaining visibility and creating a strong initial footprint in the market. 

Case Study: Pooch & Mutt exemplified this strategy by leveraging Paid Social to achieve significant year-on-year revenue gains while also improving acquisition costs. This foundational step is crucial for setting the stage for future growth and stability. 

Scaleup Stage: Accelerating Conversion 

Key Strategy: For scaleups, having already established an audience, the focus shifts to conversion activities. Increasing spend in impressions-led media helps continue generating demand while maintaining a balance with acquisition costs. 

Case Study: The Essence Vault successfully applied this approach, scaling their Meta presence while minimizing cost increases. This stage emphasizes the importance of efficient spending to maximize conversion rates and sustain growth momentum. 

Mature Stage: Expanding Horizons 

Key Strategy: Mature brands invest in higher funnel activities to avoid market saturation and explore international expansion opportunities. This strategic pivot ensures sustained growth and market diversification. 

Case Study: Represent scaled their efforts on TikTok, enhancing growth and improving Meta efficiency. By expanding their presence in the US, they exemplified how mature brands can navigate saturation and seek new markets for continued success. 

Majority Offline Brands: Embracing Digital Channels 

Key Strategy: Majority offline brands primarily invest in click-based channels like Performance Max. However, the analysis reveals significant opportunities in Paid Social, suggesting a balanced approach for optimal results. 

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