SEO Basics: What the Heck are “Organic” Search Results?

SEO Basics is the eCreative IM blog column written for SEO beginners just learning the basics of search engine optimization. You can find all our SEO Basics articles by browsing the SEO Basics Archive or find the specific tips you’re looking for in our SEO Tips & Guides page.

In the world of search engine optimization, we make a big deal out of organic search results — and we often do so without bothering to explain just what “organic” means in this context. This can lead to some questions:

What are organic search results? Does it have something to do with pesticides? With hormones? Granola? Supporting local farmers? Hippies?

The term Organic Search Results just refers to search engine results that are not ads — you did not pay the search engine for that ranking.

If you go to Google or Yahoo or your search engine of choice, and search for just about any term, odds are good that you’re going to get some adds. These are usually displayed over on the right side of the screen and the top couple of results. The search engines are usually pretty good about clearly indicating which ones are ads.

Organic search results are the results that are not ads. The results that actually come from the search engine’s algorithm to determine what site has content that is most relevant to a search.

Why we like organic search engine results

The biggest and most obvious advantage of organic search engine results is that we don’t have to pay money for them! Certainly we have to do some work and build a relevant site that follows good search engine optimization strategies, but we aren’t paying money every time someone clicks on that link. In fact, we aren’t paying money any time someone clicks on that link.

Organic search engine results are free traffic.

Another advantage of organic search results is that many web users are inherently suspicious of ads in their search engine results. They think that the organic results, or “real” results, are more likely to be what they’re really looking for (to be relevant) or less likely to be some kind of a scam.

So there is actually a segment of potential customers out there who will never click on a Google ad, no matter how much you paid for it. The only way to get these customers to your site is through organic search results.

The downside of organic search engine results

If you can rank well in organic search engine results for the keyword phrases that are meaningful to your business, then there is no downside to organic search engine results. It’s nothing but upside and traffic and customers flooding into your site.

The downside of organic search results is that you cannot guarantee that your site will rank high enough to attract any traffic. If your website ranks number 372 in Google’s search engine results for your keyword phrase, you aren’t going to be getting anyone clicking through to your site from that search. While we can optimize a site to make it very likely to rank well, for competitive keyword phrases this can be a lot of work.

The advantage of pay per click ad campaigns is that you can guarantee your ad will appear on the front page of search results overnight. Organic search results are only helpful if you actually rank well in the search engine results page “organically.”