Mastering the conversion funnel: SEO vs. Paid search

Jon Araten
By Jonathan Araten
Head and shoulders photo of Michelle Meyer
Edited by Michelle Meyer
Romi Hector
Fact-check by Romi Hector

Updated July 20, 2023.

Mastering the conversion funnel: SEO vs. Paid search

Key takeaways

  • Mastering the conversion funnel is key to aligning with your product, driving traffic, and revealing new target audiences.
  • Paid search focuses on immediate ROI at the bottom of the funnel, while SEO targets diverse audiences with long-term, evergreen benefits.
  • Established businesses should leverage both strategies, while startups might initially focus more on paid search.
  • A blend of SEO and paid search is typically more beneficial for most businesses.

Conversion funnels are roadmaps—for both you and your clients. Consider that 96% of users aren’t ready to buy when they first discover your brand. However, by leading them down the right path, they can convert. Below, we explore the distinctive roles of SEO and paid search in conversion funnels to help you get the most out of your conversion efforts.

What is a conversion funnel?

A conversion funnel can be understood from three perspectives:

  1. Technical
  2. Content
  3. Client decision-making process

From a technical standpoint, a conversion funnel guides online users from an impression to a conversion, starting with an ad view or engagement. The conversion is the ultimate goal, whether it's a sale or another desired action. This concept applies to both product and service-based companies.

As you move up the funnel, you’re farther away from the actual conversion. At the top, users are aware of your brand or product and the problem it solves. In the middle, users interact with your brand. Finally, they convert at the bottom of the funnel.

From a content perspective, bottom-of-the-funnel content should be closely aligned with the sale you’re trying to make—for example, a product page where users can add items to their cart. This is supported by middle-of-the-funnel content that provides more information leading to the product page. Lastly, top-of-the-funnel content focuses on the problem or target audience, connecting to the product or value proposition. The goal is to guide users from the top of the funnel to the conversion.

» Learn how to perfect each stage of the conversion funnel.

Why you should master the conversion funnel

Graphic of a man standing in front of digital icons and screens

Mastering the conversion funnel is vital for expanding the funnel, driving more traffic, and aligning with your product or value proposition.

Conquering the bottom of the funnel is crucial for any business because it forms the foundation for generating revenue. Understanding what you're selling, how to sell it, and the best approach is essential.

While the top and middle of the funnel help to guide users to the bottom, they also act as a learning curve. You can:

  • Gain insights
  • Discover additional value propositions
  • Identify new target audiences

The roles of paid search and SEO in the conversion funnel

Paid search typically targets bottom-of-the-funnel content because businesses expect an immediate return on investment (ROI). It focuses on driving users to the product page or closely related content. In contrast, businesses usually don't pay for traffic to top- or middle-of-the-funnel content since conversion rates are lower. However, solely focusing on the bottom of the funnel may cause businesses to miss potential customers at different stages of the decision-making process and overlook valuable insights.

If you focus on just one stage of the funnel, you aren't casting a wide enough net. Instead of casting a net, you’re essentially fly fishing.

Paid Search


  • Immediate results
  • Targets specific users
  • Better control


  • Continuous investment



  • Long-term strategy
  • Targets different audiences
  • Evergreen benefits
  • Cost-effective


  • Lacks control
  • No immediate results

» Explore whether brand marketing is still relevant today.

Using paid search and SEO in the conversion funnel

a blue button with a dollar sign on it

Using both paid search and SEO depends on factors like the:

  • Nature of the business
  • Product
  • Product life cycle stage

Established businesses with solid conversion funnels should use both strategies, as they serve different purposes. Paid search is beneficial for time-bound campaigns and testing new approaches. SEO is best for establishing evergreen content and topical authority. Startups or early-stage companies might initially focus on paid search to determine their target audience and which approach works best.

Is it enough to use only SEO?

Theoretically, a business could rely solely on SEO if it has a robust funnel, strong brand recognition, and doesn't require paid traffic or advertising. But this approach is uncommon, and most businesses use both SEO and paid search. A company using only SEO would likely be a well-known brand with a solid value proposition.

» Discover what type of content is still relevant for your site in the age of AI.

Are you the master of your conversion fate?

By understanding the different roles of SEO and paid search in the conversion funnel, you can strategically leverage these strategies to drive targeted traffic, engage users at various stages of the funnel, and maximize conversions. We recommend combining both approaches to create a powerful synergy. This can ensure your brand is visible, your content is relevant, and your conversions are optimized.