Guide to the meaning of organic search and organic traffic for sites

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Let’s get back to basics! Often – even in our insights – we use common formulas but very sectoral, which may be difficult to understand to those who are not familiar with the profession or approaches for the first time SEO issues: this is the case of organic search, an expression that is perhaps less obvious than it may seem. Everything revolves around the adjective “organic,” in short, and so today we will try to explain what the meaning of organic search is, what organic results are on Google and why it is important to increase organic traffic.

Organic search: definition and explanation

Organic search is a formula that refers to search results that are generated by search engines such as Google in response to a specific user query and that are not influenced by advertising or sponsorship.

Organic search includes all results that appear on Google’s SERPs that are not paid: thus, they are pages that algorithms show only because they are relevant to a user’s search terms, considering a number of factors, including the relevance of the content to the search query, the quality of the content, and the reputation of the website.

In practice, therefore, organic research is the area of work of digital marketing towards which the SEO focuses by definition, which studies the tactics and improvements necessary to increase the organic visibility of the pages of a site.

What is organic traffic: meaning, characteristics and usefulness

It is necessary at this point to open a parenthesis on “traffic,” which we could define as the unit of measurement of a website: indeed, any website of any kind has the goal of attracting traffic-and, possibly, quality traffic-because more visitors means increased chances of earning money through sales, clicks or other forms of monetization.

In light of what has been written, it is easy to understand the definition of organic traffic: all visits that arrive on pages of the website, blog or e-commerce by users who have launched queries on Google or other search engines and click precisely on one of the organic results proposed in the SERP. Organic visitors are consequently the people who land on a site immediately after using a search engine, without referral from any other web page.

Organic traffic is therefore free and potentially available to all sites, but its actual value depends on so many variables, including actual position in SERP, structural features of the SERP itself, level of optimization and attractiveness of preview snippets, and so on.

In any case, free and potential huge visibility are some of the reasons why organic traffic is important and organic search a key channel for those who want to launch or relaunch an online business, and SEO is obviously the big player in this process.

Organic traffic also differs from direct traffic, that is, the visits a site gets without intermediation, from users who know the address and enter it directly into the browser bar or select it from favorites, and most importantly it is the opposite of paid traffic-the visits generated by paid ads through Google Ads campaigns and any other kind of external paid signals with which to funnel traffic to the site, which fall in digital marketing to the broader branch of SEM.

Compared to paid traffic, organic traffic does not require an extra budget investment other than that related to SEO (if we use outside agencies or professionals, or even the costs for analytics tools), which remains the preferred way to try to improve the site’s visibility on search engines and, thus, increase organic traffic. In addition, serious SEO focuses holistically on optimizing the site in all its parts, from technical to content, and offers permanent results over time, while ads campaigns have more limited durations and risk not bringing positive effects at the end of the investment period, as we were also saying when analyzing the characteristics of SEA.

The meaning of organic in the digital sphere

As we said, everything revolves around the adjective organic, which could lead us astray in understanding the topic.

At the etymological level, “organic” comes from the Latin “organicum,” which in turn originates from the Greek “organikos,” and refers to something that has a relationship to an organ or has an organized structure. In Italian, “organic” is used to describe something that is structured, that has a function within a larger system, or that is natural and nonsynthetic.

It is precisely the latter meaning that is widespread in the digital sphere, following in the footsteps of the English language, where “organic” has precisely this meaning-for example, what we call “organic farming” in English is called “organic agriculture.” It follows, then, that organic is something that develops without external forcing, planning or artificial intervention.

Coming to the topics of our interest, organic search or organic SEO is thus the set of results that appear naturally, based on the rigorous algorithmic calculations and without the influence of advertisers’ payments, while on the contrary paid search is the expression referring to the system of sponsored ads on Google and beyond.

In other words, when in web and SEO we talk about organic search or organic traffic we refer to results and visitors that have been obtained through non-paid methods, in a “natural” way and without the influence from external factors, such as paid advertising, reflecting the idea of a system in which each element has a specific role and function.

What are the other organic channels on the web

In addition to organic search and organic positioning on Google, in digital marketing there are other important “organic channels,” i.e., avenues through which a website can gain visibility and traffic without resorting to paid advertising and thanks to which it can build a solid and lasting online presence based on the creation of high-quality content that meets the needs and interests of our audience.

An organic channel of great importance is social media: by creating and sharing content on these platforms, we can reach our audience without having to pay for advertising, but against the backdrop of a well-thought-out strategy and constant engagement, which are the basis of an effective social media strategy.

Often underestimated, email marketing can also be an effective organic channel: by building an email list and sending valuable content to our subscribers, we can generate traffic to our site without having to pay for advertising. Of course, we cannot overlook the power of referrals, and thus the value of getting links, mentions or citations to our resources from other websites, blogs or individuals, generating traffic and contributing to the growth of our brand’s reputation and authority.

What the organic search on Google is made of

The distinction between organic and paid traffic is also visible on Google, which in its SERPs distinguishes (by law and not always in an actually obvious way) organic results from paid ones, signaled by the Ad label that identifies the Google Ads system, then completing the results page with all the other features we now know.

If at the beginning it was easy to identify what were the organic results – the classic 10 blue links that appeared after typing a query – today the situation is much more complex and, as revealed by one of our studies, the space actually available for free search is actually eroded by the other functions that appear on the Google page, and that usually bring back to other tools owned Big G.

In any case, the evolutions have not changed the original spirit of the service, and therefore it is still possible to find organic results, which rankings are not bought but rather evaluated by the algorithms based on their ranking factors and, in particular, with respect to criteria such as relevance, quality, utility and correspondence of the content with the request that the user has made through its query.

As the public pages of Mountain View say, organic search is the free section of search results pages, where “you can never buy placements” because Google “always tends to always show content that fully reflects the query expressed by the user”.

Not only organic search: paid search and other features in SERP

If today’s Google SERP seems more chaotic than in the past it is due to the presence of many other features that, following the classification just described, we can still define organic – that is free, not linked to payments but to algorithmic evaluations.

The results of the local pack, the knowledge panels, but also the People Also Ask boxes, featured snippets, carousels with topical articles or images and all other rich multimedia results extend the scope of the search and allow the user to deepen his query in a different way or to have a more targeted response to the search intent hidden behind the request.

Completely opposite are the results of paid search, whose position and appearance in Serps is determined only by the expense incurred by an advertiser on the paid search network of Google (or other search engines). Such sponsored results are of various types, starting with the explicit pay per click ads that appear in the search results pages, usually at the top or bottom.

The main difference between organic research and paid research is therefore the cost: in the first case, you do not pay anything openly (but the SEO activities to improve the positioning can obviously cost time and effort, as well as a real monetary investment)While in paid search you need an expense in Google Ads campaigns – simplifying, in Pay Per Click mode you pay the search engine every time someone clicks on an ad from the ads and visits the website.

There is, however, also to consider the time aspect: the organic results usually last longer than the paid ones that, when the campaign ends, tend to disappear. At the same time, however, with an investment in Ads you can get instant visibility (however fast and ephemeral), while SEO times for organic ranking can be much slower and it also takes months to improve placements.

Why organic search is important

The value of organic research is high because, for many sites, it is the first source of visits and what is called consequently organic traffic, or the traffic coming from the clicks of users who have passed through the search engine thanks to placements obtained without any “obvious” expense (and therefore not from paid ads or other channels such as social networks).

Organic traffic is a completely different kind of traffic than you can get from any paid or social channel, because it attracts people interested in what the page and the site can offer: users voluntarily click on the organic result and prefer it based on their intuition (and what they read in preview snippets or what they know about the brand)and so they are already potentially positively predisposed to interact with content and potentially ready for conversion.

It is also often an indicator of how effective our SEO strategy is: if we are doing a good job of optimizing our content, we should see an increase in organic traffic.

Our task is therefore to “cultivate” this organic traffic and make sure that users who land on the pages find what they expected, without going back disappointed to the search engine pages to click on competitor results.