Well, in a word, "no." Here's why companies need to invest in both organic optimization and search engine advertising:
1. Lies, damn lies, and statistics. Stating that 75% of search clicks are on the organic results rather than ads isn't untrue, but it is misleading. That's the rough figure for all searches. But not all searches are commercial in nature. Someone searching for "who invented photography?" is far less likely to click on a paid ad than some searching for "Canon PowerShot SD1100." Put another way, searchers with an intent to buy are far more likely to click on an ad than those just conducting research for term papers or whatever—and those are precisely the searchers whose clicks are worth paying for.
2. SEO isn't free. Getting a high organic rank for a popular, competitive key phrase takes (sometimes many) hours of work by someone skilled in SEO. The resulting clicks may be "free," but getting—and keeping—that high spot in organic rankings costs real money. SEM is just the opposite; the labor cost of adding a single new keyphrase to an SEM campaign is negligible, but there is a cost for each resulting click. What you get with a paid ad is immediate gratification and more direct control of which spot your ad appears in. Depending on factors like the the difficulty of SEO-ing for a particular phrase and the per-click cost, PPC clicks can sometimes be less expensive than those "free" organic visits.
3. SEM = more keywords per page. It's generally impractical to SEO a single page for more than 2-4 variations of a particular key phrase. Search marketing lets you point many more keywords to a single landing page. While the landing page should of course be relevant for all the keywords used in ad group that points to it, and keywords should be grouped carefully, a productive campaign can still have 30 or more keywords pointing to a single landing page.
4. Results while you watch, not while you wait. Getting results with SEO takes time. Particularly for relatively small or new websites that don't have a lot of backlinks pointing to them, it can take three weeks or more for changes to be fully re-indexed by the search engines and changes in search result positions to be noticeable. In contrast, SEM lets you get your message onto the first page of search engines almost instanteously.
5. Attract buyers, not just browsers. As noted in point #1 above, not all searchers are in the market to buy something, at least not immediately. Of course, if someone is searching on a phrase relevant to your product or service, you want to get their attention regardless of what point they are at in thier buying cycle—but with different content. The careful use of SEO and SEM together lets you steer those just starting their research to thought-leadership articles and white paper downloads, while guiding those further along in the process to a webinar, product trial, or how-to-buy page.
6. You can SEM keywords you can't SEO. Some search phrases (usually for competitive reasons) can simply be extremely difficult to naturally optimize for. SEM enables your site to show up highly in searches for virtually any phrase.
7. You can SEM content you can't SEO. Just as some phrases are hard to organically optimize for, so are some types of content. SEO is best for relatively stable content, such as blog posts and product/service description pages. SEM is ideal for content that doesn't lend itself well to organic search optimization, such as microsites (that likely have limited content and few backlinks), time-sensitive offers and dynamic content.
Strategically using SEO and SEM together enables web marketers to efficiently attract visitors at all stages of the buying cycle to appropriate content, and minimize lost opportunities.
Contact Mike Bannan: firstname.lastname@example.org