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Are organic customers better than paid customers in digital marketing?

This is a common question business owners think about, especially when they’re evaluating marketing budgets and their allocation for respective channels. Choosing to spend your marketing budget on SEO vs paid media might be a difficult question to answer, without examining the merits of each category of customers. Both types of customers, i.e. organic and paid can be valuable for a business, depending on the specific goals of the marketing campaign and the target audience.

What are organic customers? 

Organic customers, also known as "organic traffic”, are users who find your website or content through a search engine or social media platform by clicking on links, keywords, or other elements which lead them to your website, without an ad. 

Are organic customers really free?

This category of customers or users is often considered more valuable than paid customers [if they convert] because they have found your business through their own search. This could be through search engines such as Google, Bing, Brave, DuckDuckGo, and others or social media platforms wherein they have discovered your handle, video streaming platforms such as Youtube, TikTok, etc. A critical and often overlooked point is that no organic traffic is ever free of cost. Although a lot of organic traffic can be considered as high intent, the finer point is to evaluate whether they found you through generic keywords or branded keywords. 

If you’re receiving site traffic through branded keywords, it indicates that your top-of-the-funnel or brand awareness is high, depending on the amount of traffic you see. Therefore, one cannot disregard the importance of branding and upper funnel activities which help anchor a brand in the customer’s mind. However, since a lot of customers have actively sought the business out, they are assumed to have a higher intent –this intent can be to be engaged and have a higher lifetime value as they find your product or service on their own. And if the user has found the website through generic keywords, it’s through an ongoing set of SEO efforts through which people are discovering your site. 

What are paid media customers?

Paid customers, or acquired customers, are users who arrive at your site as a result of paid ads from platforms such as Google AdWords, Google Shopping Ads, Facebook Ads, Instagram Ads, Native Ads or even SMS and email campaigns for acquisition. These customers can also be valuable, as they are more likely to convert into paying customers, especially if the ads are targeted, can communicate your USP or differentiating factor cogently, and contains all the right elements to convince a customer to buy the first time around. This is often not the case, and we typically understand that the user acquisition journey itself is never linear. 

As such for a customer to make a purchase decision, he/she will consider many factors, depending on the cost of trying the brand. For industries such as DTC brands selling low-cost items such as coffee, or low-value daily-use items customers are comfortable with switching and trying new products out. Similarly, for categories such as apparel, skincare, and low-cost jewellery –where the perceived risk is low,  you may find a lot of customers can be acquired inexpensively but retaining might be more difficult. 

Correspondingly, if you’re able to land your customer on a page which argues for the brand and product, and gives them enough reasons to come back–the product meets the promise– you can find retention to be easier.