Mobile Hamburger Menu Mobile Close Menu

Organic, Paid, and Direct Search: A Quick Overview

To bring in conversions, a website needs traffic. After all, if users don’t visit your site, what’s the point of even having one?

But not all traffic is the same. There are three main types of traffic that you can analyze and optimize: organic, paid, and direct.

In this post, I’ll give you a basic understanding of what each is to help you figure out where to focus your digital strategy.

Jump to:

What is organic search?

Organic (or natural) search users come to you organically, or naturally. This traffic doesn’t cost you per user or per click.

Organic search works by serving users different websites on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). For example, your website, blog posts, articles, and landing pages may be displayed there, even though you didn’t pay to promote them.

To get organic users, you must have high-quality, indexable content on your site. The content should meet both on-page and technical search engine optimization (SEO) requirements to give it the best chance at showing high on search engine results pages (SERPs).

In organic search results, you have little control over how your content is displayed or where it takes a user and results can take anywhere from 6-12 months to start making a difference. Even if you have the best, most optimized content, there’s no guarantee that it will show up how, when, or where you want it to. But, when it does, you can see huge benefits without high ad costs.

What is paid search?

Paid search, such as pay-per-click (PPC), is traffic you get from paid advertisements. Although these users may come in through SERPs, they get to your site by clicking an ad that you have promoted on a search engine, such as Google.

Unlike organic search, paid search results can be tailored to specific URLs and include other customizations that alter the appearance and content of the ad.

Generally, paid results will show up as you expect, when and where you expect them to. Since you pay for them, you have more control over how they behave.

Paid search costs change based on things like keyword competition, ad quality, your bidding strategy, and more. Depending on what you try to target, PPC ads can get expensive, but they can also bring in results more quickly than SEO.

What is direct search?

Direct search, or direct traffic, is most often the result of a user typing your web address directly into a browser or using a bookmark to get to your site.

This is the hardest traffic for you to control. Direct traffic is made up of users who already know about your website and who have visited it before. These could be returning customers, competitors, or people who are doing research.

This traffic can be influenced by the other types of search. For example, a user could discover your site through an organic or paid ad and then return to it later by typing in your URL. 

It can also be a result of other advertising or marketing strategies, such as radio, TV, or print ads.

Direct traffic can be attributed to specific marketing campaigns, too. Say you ran an ad campaign and promoted a specific URL ( As long as you had Analytics set up, you could view traffic to that URL and gauge the success of your campaign.

Organic, paid, and direct traffic

Ideally, you should aim to bring in traffic from multiple channels. In fact, PPC and organic can work together to enhance the benefits you get from each one.  

Before you commit to doing one or the other, take some time to think about what will work best for your business, budget, and content marketing strategy.