organic search

What is Organic Search? How SEO Drives Better Results

Jonas Sickler, Digital Marketing Analyst

Key Points

  • According to Google’s Economic Impact Report, organic search is 5X more valuable than Google Ads.
  • Paid search is a good short-term marketing solution, but organic search creates long-term, compounding ROI.
  • Social media helps you build your brand, but organic search is what helps you target high-intent consumers.
  • Organic search doesn’t just drive qualified traffic and conversions, it also improves brand perception.

Terakeet helped a home goods startup in a $29 billion market go from zero to a 3% market share within 5 years. That company went public at a major valuation during that time, and organic search was a major factor.

Clearly, SEO can deliver massive ROI. But, although digital marketing spend has steadily increased over the years, so have your options. As a result, online marketing dollars are split among various activities.

Paid search isn’t just PPC and display ads anymore. It also includes search remarketing, Google Shopping Feeds and sponsored listings on vertical search engines. Additionally, there’s DSP-based display advertising, native ads, video ads, podcast advertising and site retargeting to name a few.

Social media has become pay-to-play, and PR and email are as valuable as ever. And on top of all that, influencer marketing has entered the game.

With all these mediums screaming for attention, it’s easy to put SEO on the back burner due to it’s longer turnaround time. But, that would be a huge mistake because SEO produces a significant, sustainable ROI. Furthermore, organic search remains one of the most powerful revenue streams across virtually every industry. You just have to know how to leverage it.


Organic Search

Organic search refers exclusively to the unpaid results. Organic results are ranked algorithmically as opposed to ads which marketers purchase.

Originally, the term was coined for Google Analytics, indicating the channel of unpaid traffic created by searchers who found the website on Google’s organic listings. It still means that today, but it’s also commonly used interchangeably with SEO as an umbrella term for the entire organic search strategy. This strategy is fundamentally concerned with making sure the right people find your site through relevant, valuable search queries.

And it’s a strategy that has a profound ROI. According to Google’s Economic Impact Report, organic search is 5X more valuable than Google Ads. That’s right, the company that makes roughly 85% of its revenue from paid media says that organic traffic is where the action is!

You’ll read some case studies later about companies that have drastically increased their ROI by prioritizing organic search. How is this possible? Well, when 93% of all web traffic comes from search engines and 70-80% of search engine users only focus on the organic results, the numbers simply add up.

Organic search and ROI

According to a recent commissioned study by Forrester Consulting, SEO drives key business performance metrics. “An SEO strategy applied across marketing functions can improve your brand’s reputation, reduce negative mentions, and improve lifetime customer value.” — 2020 Commissioned Forrester Consulting Study

The study found that customers sourced through organic search were ultimately more loyal and engaged which lead to greater lifetime value. Read the full study here.

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How organic search produces better marketing ROI

When you’re playing Candy Crush on your phone and see an ad featuring men’s running shoes, what are you doing at that moment? It’s not a trick question — you’re playing Candy Crush.

When you’re reading a blog or browsing your social feed and see an ad for a beard grooming kit, what are you doing at that moment? Reading the blog or browsing your social feed.

When you’re looking for work attire and you Google “men’s professional button-up shirts,” what are you doing at that moment? You’re shopping for men’s button-up shirts.

That’s the root of why SEO has an incredible ROI. Of course advertising has benefits. But, most ads annoyingly disrupt user experience. They’re an inconvenience rather than a solution. However, SEO meets the user’s immediate need at the exact moment they’re ready to take action.

Organic search is so valuable, that PetSmart was willing to fork over $3.35 billion to acquire because of their organic presence.

And in 2019, Alex Vetter, CEO and president of, attributes their year-over-year growth of 51% to organic. And those aren’t the only companies investing in SEO. Lands’ End, Etsy, LendingTree, TripAdvisor, and other major brands have all made similar claims during their quarterly earnings calls with investors.

Big-name brands are leveraging SEO to amplify marketing ROI, and so should you.

Organic vs paid search (SEO vs SEM)

The obvious back door into the same high-intent search audience is paid search. Rather than invest in the more valuable long-game, why not just buy your place at the top of the search engine results page (SERP)? So what if paid raises your customer acquisition costs (CAC) and pinches your margins. If you have a limitless budget, the opportunity is the same, right?


In fact, when you compare SEO vs SEM, you find that paid search has severely limited opportunity for several reasons.

  1. Search volume is a constant that you can’t change
  2. Paid CTR is painfully low (usually between 3% – 8%)
  3. CTR for organic position number one averages between 20% – 30%

So, even if you max out your budget, you’ll never achieve the traffic numbers that organic search delivers.

When assessing the value of SEO vs. PPC, it’s important to recognize that paid search is a short-term solution. For example, when you stop putting money into PPC, the ROI stops immediately, too. Conversely, investments in SEO produce a compounding, long-term ROI far into the future.

Think of it like this: with PPC you rent your position; with SEO you own it.Plus, PPC cannot cost-effectively target the top of the funnel due to banner blindness. This is the phenomenon that causes people to skip right over the paid listings because they trust the organic search results more. We live in an ad-saturated world, and many people simply tune out ads, even in the SERPs.

Organic traffic vs social media traffic

How does the ROI of organic traffic stack up to social media? Social networks have fantastic brand-building benefits. But, its relationship to direct revenue has always been tenuous. This is largely due to the first example we brought up: when someone is browsing their social media feed and they see an ad or a post from a brand, what they’re doing at the time is browsing their social feed. They aren’t in a high-intent mindset, and they may not even be interested in the brand.

Also, social media drives far less website traffic. According to one study, organic search delivers 10X the traffic on average, and up to 20X the traffic in specific sectors of the market.

With such a large delta in traffic volume, of course it’s much easier for a brand to achieve high ROI with organic search. In fact, there are more than 30 ways to increase website traffic.

Moreover, social media is built for people, not businesses. Or rather, it’s built to be free for people, not businesses. Businesses provide the revenue stream that keeps the platforms free for its users. So they have a major incentive to make sure businesses pay for direct access to their target audience. For all intents and purposes, social media strategies are paid strategies — and their ROI reflects that.

Case studies

The luxury online retailer with declining traffic

For a year prior to working with Terakeet, an online luxury retailer had been leaking head rankings and top 20 keywords, creating a decline in traffic and revenue for the business. We focused our efforts on improving Google Share of Voice (SoV) by targeting not just the keywords that were slipping for the client, but a broad net of additional keywords.

Using a blend of technical SEO, content strategy and strategic outreach, Terakeet was able to improve Google SoV by 200% within eight months. We also grew top-3 rankings by 1,623 keywords within nine months, which increased organic search traffic by 54%. 

The new online bank in a competitive space:

A new disrupter sought to carve out market share in the highly competitive online and mobile banking space. The new online bank’s formidable and well-established competition made this quite a challenge. We designed an organic search strategy that established trust and authority through high-quality content on the site and targeted publisher/influencer outreach.

Get the inside scoop on link building strategies for banks and financial services.

Within 10 months, the bank was appearing on Google page one for 143% more high-value organic keywords than before. Additionally, the placements secured from our outreach put the brand in front of an incremental 9.8 million people in the target audience. 

This translated to an increase of 448,000 organic visitors per month. Those are the type of numbers that turn an unknown brand into one that’s on everybody’s radar.

The student loan refinancing company facing an opportunity cost

Certain keywords within the student loan and refining space are searched up to 160,000 times a month in the U.S. The average value of a loan refinancing deal is $40,000. Add in a weak organic search performance and you have a major opportunity cost — what a student loan refinancing company faced before they worked with Terakeet.

We focused our organic search strategy on technical and content improvements, tackling site speed first to prevent the company’s relatively slow site from handicapping their search performance. Then we reorganized priority content on the site to better qualify key web pages for priority keywords, optimized existing blog posts and produced new content.

As a result, we increased the number of top 3-ranking keywords by 1,081%, leading to 9.6X organic traffic growth within 18 months!

Terakeet employees sitting on couches

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