The Incremental lift of Paid Search relative to Organic Search ranking [Opinion]

Just finished reading SearchEngineLands review of Google’s follow-up to last years Search Ads Pause Study. In the original study Google revealed that 89% of paid ad clicks are not replaced by organic clicks when paid activity is paused. The new study strengthens this by telling us that 69% of ad clicks and 81% of impressions occur with no first page organic result present. Now this is an analysis across 390 studies … but I’m still astounded. No doubt the ever-changing search algorithm changes that Google introduces eg the Panda update also makes it hard for websites to manage high organic rankings.

The second set of findings is where the gold is for advertisers. It tells us the incremental clicks top rank ads deliver, relative to the organic ranking of the same advertiser on the first page. For instance an associated top rank ad delivers 50% incremental clicks when organic results are also in top rank. Expectedly this percentage rises when the organic ranks are lower on the page.


So savvy advertisers employing some kind of ranking tool that show them both SEO and SEM positions for important keywords can now understand why they need separate bidding strategies for various sets of keywords. Eg if your organic ranking for an important generic keyword is low, bidding aggressively to move your ads to a top rank will deliver high percentage of incremental clicks and potentially conversions. Depending on the conversion rate and CPA of the resulting conversions, one can evaluate if the higher CPC is justified over time.

Many advertisers would be surprised by the 50% incremental if we are talking brand terms in top organic results. The study does not break down brand and non-branded so we can only speculate. My submission is that organic results will not completely replace the clicks delivered by paid brand ads if the latter are paused. The reasoning is – Paid ads provide more control to craft value-driven messages, expedite users faster down conversion funnel when ad extensions are used effectively and finally years of exposure to AdWords have conditioned users to the extent that their absence results in organic being seen as a reluctant alternative rather than an acceptable choice.

The post on the Google Research blog recommends advertisers perform their own experiments to validate the findings for their business. Quite rightly these experiments are recommended to be carried out in limited geographies which is how I often introduce new innovations that may have a disruptive effect in a large account.

Clearly companies need to get their SEM and SEO specialists working together in concert rather than the SEO agency trying to scab off budget off the SEM agency. If you would like to read the full study it can be found here.


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