Search Engines: To Grow Organically or Not?

Woman on Laptop

Whether you were viewing a fashion blog, technology support forum or online store; there is almost one thing that was certain.

You entered the page using a search engine.

Seen as the oracles of the Web, search engines provide searchers a list of websites that they deem as most relevant to the keyword or phrases entered (Zhao & Tse, 2012).

So how exactly did we get to where we are now?

Person typing on laptop (Photo by Benjamin Dada on Unsplash)

The Past

The first tool used for searching on the Internet was “Archie”. Created in 1990, the tool downloaded directory listings of all the files located on sites that were public and anonymous.

These sites were known as File Transfer Protocol (FTP) sites. The program would form a searchable database of all these files. Due to the constraint of not being able to index the content of these sites, the tool was replaced by new search programs such Veronica, Jughead and Jump Station (Seymour, Frantsvog & Kumar, 2011).

These programs experienced limitations where searchers were only able to search for titles and headings in webpages. In response to this, WebCrawler was created and became the first search engine to provide full text search which meant that it was able to index every word on a web page.  (,2018

Webcrawler Search Page

However, with these premature search engines having many limitations, marketers began using hacking practices and leverage keyword stuffing and spammy links to rank higher in search results.

Enter BackRub.

Before becoming Google, this program was different from all of its predecessors. Its main proposition was to use backlinks as a measurement for authority in search engines. If web pages mentioned another webpage, BackRub would count this practice as a “vouch” and reward them by improving their presence on search engines (Alexander, 2017). 

This gave life to Google and PageRank.

Check this infographic that summarises the entire history and evolution of search engines. 

The Turning Point

And this was where Google saw an opportunity.

It wanted to provide an algorithm that rewarded quality, relevant content to connect users with what they really want to find. The PageRank algorithm ranked web links by the link’s popularity and relevance.

Why was this so important?

For the first time, search engines began to focus on providing quality results to the users and enforced guidelines for content producers around quality. It gave birth to what we now know as search engine optimisation (SEO) which refers to utilising appropriate use of keywords to generate organic rankings for webpages. Marketers and other relevant content producers now had to respond to this change in landscape for how they were to receive organic traffic.

The Twist

Just as SEO skills were being learnt, Google launched Adwords. 

The tool is based on the mechanics of pay-per-click (PPC), where advertisers are required to pay a fee to Google each time one of their ads is clicked.

This was the beginning of search engine inequality.

The Basics of SEO and PPC: How It Works

As you may have realised, there are two main types of ways going about operating on search engines:

  1. organically through search engine optimisation
  2. sponsored through pay per click campaigns

Essentially, when someone searches using a keyword on a search engine, they are presented with two different types of lists of search results — a list of organic results and a list of sponsored results. An example can be seen below:

Search Results for Womens Bomber Jackets

Search Engine Optimisation 

Stated previously, search engine optimisation involves the process of “altering websites” (Visser & Weidemann, 2014). This altering is undertaken by “data observation and marketing research to identify the most suitable keyword for a website” (Kritzinger & Weideman, 2015).

By carefully choosing keywords, the ultimate aim of SEO is to increase a website’s ranking with search engines to subsequently increase traffic to the website and for e-commerce business, generate sales revenue.

To find out more about how SEO works, check out this step by step guide compiled by one of the most notable online marketers. When carried out correctly, there many benefits of SEO as discussed by Titan Growth.

SEO Expert Brand presents us a neat summary of ways SEO can benefit a small business!

Benefits Of SEO For Your Business

Similar to SEO, pay-per-click campaigns place emphasis on keyword relevance which means researching appropriate keywords and phrases is crucial. As the name suggests, the advertiser is charged each time an Internet user clicks on the respective advertisement.

Pay Per Click 

In contrast to SEO, engines such as Google would rank PPC results in order of bid prices. According to Brick Marketing (2018), bid prices are contingent on keyword popularity and competition from other advertisers, meaning that the more popular the targeted keywords, the higher the PPC bid needs to be to secure space on search engine pages.

How PPC Works


With Google reporting ad revenues totalling more than $62 billion in 2014 (Marvin, 2015), there is no reason not to believe the benefits for businesses and content creators to start implementing Google Adwords.

For more fun facts, check out the infographic Google put together to commemorate AdWords’ 15th birthday!

In fact, Google heavily advocates their online course on Adwords which is FREE and accessible to anyone with a Google account.

Academy for Ads

Which is better?

Now that it has been established PPC is quite effective, you’re probably beginning to wonder if it is better than the organic natural SEO.

In evaluating the impact of both SEO and PPC on the profits of an e-commerce business, Malaga (2007) found that PPC  campaigns failed to produce favourable return on investments, thus concluding SEO efforts are a “more cost effective search engine marketing mechanism”.

These findings are reinforced by Kritzinger and Weideman’s (2015) comparison in website traffic generated by SEO and PPC campaigns. The results reveal that traffic volume during the SEO period had bypassed the highest level achieved during the PPC period after only three months of running on SEO.

Extending upon this, they discovered that the main disadvantage of PPC is that expenditure has to be consistent for results to appear as the moment a PPC budget is cut, traffic drops to zero immediately. Thus, it was concluded that “an investment in SEO rather than a PPC campaign appears to produce better results at a lower cost, after a given period of time”.

In a separate study in 2017, the authors found that SEO produces a much lower cost per acquisition (CPA) across all three websites that were tested which makes it the more cost-effective choice of strategy. Whilst recommending that most of a company’s budget should be spent on SEO, Kritzinger and Weideman (2015) suggested that pay-per-click campaigns could be the better options in certain cases such as when immediate results are needed.

Check out this quick infographic by SABASeo that summarises the differences between SEO and PPC!

SEO vs. PPC Comparison

So with the findings conducted by Kritzinger and Weideman, this means that businesses and content creators who cannot afford to run PPC campaigns and Google Adwords are still at an advantage. Right…?

Not the case unfortunately.

According to Visser and Weideman’s (2014) study on the impact of website usability on SEO, there was clear finding that website usability was a major factor in improving search engine page results. 

Such empirical evidence is reinforced by Zhang and Cabage (2017) who found that the site structure and user experience (UX) design has a direct correlation with building and social sharing which increases site traffic and SEO leads.

This sounds feasible for small organisations to achieve right?

Yes, but they are still at a disadvantage against the big organisations who have access to the tools that are available through paid options – as exemplified by InVision below. 

Who owns the search engine landscape?

Whilst the findings reveal that SEO is more cost-effective than PPC and gives smaller business and content sites the opportunity for compete against those that are sufficiently funded, there is one thing that goes against this.

It is that money talks.

Despite SEO presenting itself as the gateway for smaller businesses to compete on search engine, there has been so many paid SEO tools  out there that has given businesses with bigger budgets to further strengthen their search engine artillery.

The search engine become an industry in itself with these SEO and PPC tools programmed by companies being more commercialised than ever.

Just have a look at two of the leading search engine marketing companies below and their efforts to promote such exclusive tools.

The Winners 

It feels as though the companies specialising in search engine marketing are the ones winning and having the final laugh. Whether you’re a small or big organisation, you’re more than likely going to be using their tools and as a result feeding them with money.

As for us normal individuals, we’re also big winners. Thanks to these SEO and PPC services, as information seekers, we are exposed to nothing but quality content. And what’s even better is that the journey to content like this is literally effortless.

Culturally, communities will strive towards becoming information societies that promotes the value of learning and liberal thinking. As a whole, society will continue growing the intellectual minds without any compromise. 

Final Word

As the internet continues its advancement in the coming years, it is crucial to quickly adapt certain tools for specific objectives.

However, the bottom line is that regardless of the fancy tools that hold the potential to generate significant website traffic, quality content still remains PARAMOUNT.

Ignoring the many developments and genesis of the search engine, what has remained constant is the quality of content.

That being said, quality is something that should be focused heavily upon. Put simply, all these fancy SEO and PPC tools are just supplements used to enhance the quality of content that’s already been established.

And if my word might not seem credible, feel free to check out one of the leading online marketer’s take on the importance of content in search engine performance!

Smartphone Showing Google Site (Photo by Edho Pratama on Unsplash)

Reference List

Ahrefs. (2018, October 6). Try out this two‐step #ContentMarketing strategy: [Twitter post]. Retrieved from

Alexander, A. (2017). The First Google Logo No One Knew About. Retrieved September 29, 2018, from

Brick Marketing. (2018). What is a PPC Bid? Retrieved September 30, 2018, from

Dai, A. (2017). 13 Must-Have UX Tools for Designers, Retrieved October 6, 2018, from

Dada,  B. (2017). Black entrepreneur [Image]. Unsplash. Retrieved from

Eliason, A. (2016). Why Adwords Is Important To Your Online Success, Retrieved October 3, 2018, from

Gavrilas, R. (2018). The History of Search (1990-2014) – Infographic, Retrieved October 1, 2018 from

Kritzinger, T. & Weideman, M. (2015). Comparative case study on website traffic generated by search engine optimisation and a pay-per-click campaign, versus marketing expenditure, South African Journal of Information Management, 17(1),1 — 12

Kritzinger, T. & Weideman, M. (2017). Parallel search engine optimisation and pay-per-click campaigns: A comparison of cost per acquisition, South African Journal of Information Management, 19(1), 1 — 11

Langlois, B. (2018). Top 10 SEO Tools Worth the Price, Retrieved October 7, 2018, from

Marvin, G. (2015). Google AdWords Turns 15: A Look Back At The Origins Of A $60 Billion Business. Retrieved October 1, 2018, from

Malaga, R. (2007). The Value of search Engine Optimisation: An Action research Project at a New E-commerce site, Journal of Electronic Commerce in Organizations, 5(3), 69—76

Monsoonfish. (2017). 10 Great User Experience Tips, Retrieved October 6, 2018, from

Patel, N, (2017). SEO Made Simple: A Step-by-Step Guide. Retrieved October 2, 2018, from

Patel, N. (2017). Why SEO Is Actually All About Content Marketing, Retrieved October 8, 2018, from

Pratama, E. (2016). Google analytics phone [Image]. Unsplash. Retrieved from

SabaSEO. (2016). SEO Vs PPC [Infographic], Retrieved October 4, 2018, from

Seymour, T., Frantsvong, D. & Kumar, S. (2011). History of Search Engines,  International Journal of Management & Information Systems, 15(4), 47—56

Stern, T. (2015). The Evolution Of SEO Trends Over 25 Years. Retrieved September 28, 2018, from

Thian, M. (2017). Woman on computer [Image]. Unsplash. Retrieved from

Titan Growth. (2017). Top 5 Benefits of SEO. Retrieved October 3, 2018, from

Visser, E.B., & Weideman, M. (2014). Fusing website usability and search engine optimisation, South African Journal of Information Management, 16(1),1 — 10

WhoIsHostingThis? (2018). The History of Web Search Engines: What Came Before Google? Retrieved September 27, 2018, from

Wordstream. (2018). 29 PPC Tools You Need to Try This Year, Retrieved October 8, 2018, from

Zhang, S. & Cabage, N. (2017). Search Engine Optimization: Comparison of Link Building and Social Sharing, Journal of Computer Information Systems, 57(2), 148-159

Zhao, W. & Tse, E. (2012). Competition in Search Engine Market, Journal of Business Strategies, 28(2), 123-130

Daniel Tran
About Daniel Tran 3 Articles
Marketing student looking to expand his digital knowledge through the study of Digital Cultures. Startup generalist with a passion for scaling them from scratch. Feel free to check my startup at

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