Here at AUDIENCEX (and likely every agency that offers paid search) we often hear the concern from clients that paid search campaigns that bid on branded keywords are in effect “cannibalizing” clicks. Meaning, why should they pay for traffic that would otherwise occur “organically”?
This is not a new concern. It has been apparent since the first days of PPC and SEO. However, in the last several years, major Google updates to their SEO algorithm, search results pages, new product features, and especially the overarching shift to mobile – have forced marketers and brands to take a closer look at the relationship between paid and organic traffic. The idea that a brand shouldn’t bid on SEO-ranking keywords is one that should finally be put to rest.
Here’s why it’s important to run paid search in conjunction with SEO:
- SEM does not conflict with SEO. Quite the opposite: per Google, brands can get a 50% lift in website visits when running paid search for the same keywords that are showing organically. Also, Google has found that this traffic does not get replaced if the paid campaigns are removed – quite simply, paid media spend creates brand awareness and brand search volume. In a cross-device, cross-platform world, marketers can see the benefits of paid search by looking at assisted conversions and conversion paths within their analytics. Users bounce back and forth between paid search, direct visits, organic visits, and social visits, with each influencing the other.
- SEO listings are highly volatile, while paid ads are more stable. As traffic naturally migrates to mobile, organic listings get pushed further down the search engine results page (SERP). With a recent SERP update, Google removed ads on the right rail, meaning they show more ads on top of the page – and the bottom of the page, effectively squeezing the area where organic listings can show. Further, Google continues to favor their own products – the knowledge graph, maps, local listings, shopping carousel ads, etc, further pushing “regular” organic listings down the page.
- The task of maintaining high level SEO listings is becoming increasingly more difficult. Every Google algorithm update rewards sites that are properly optimized for mobile, and now that mobile accounts for more searches than desktop, sites that are not continually optimized for mobile SEO will continue to falter. Further, techniques and tactics that used to help “juice” a site for top level ranking – keyword layering, user generated content, link building, et al – become more obsolete with each new Google update.
- Running paid search for ranking keywords can allow brands to double their presence on search results pages. If there are 10 listings on a SERP, a paid ad and organic listing together will account for 20% of the real estate on that page. Several studies have shown this increases the likelihood of a conversion as users view additional visibility as a sign of trustworthiness. Again, per Google, brands running paid search ads experience an average 80% lift in “top-of-mind awareness”.
- Another intriguing development is this trend: users are finding it increasingly difficult to identify organic vs paid ads on the SERPs. According to a Search Engine Watch study of several search results polls, 55% of users can’t distinguish between paid or organic listings, up from 50% only six months previous. This despite the fact that paid ads have an “Ad” banner next to the display url. This confusion is likely due to Google’s updated page layout, as mentioned earlier. Also of note is that younger users can more easily distinguish the ads, but intentional or not, the more mobile friendly layout is muddying the SERP waters.
The world of search is ever-evolving. Google (and let’s not forget bing) is in a constant state of testing, measuring, and iterating. When you employ 10,000 engineers you need something for them to do.
The SERP will continue to change – artificial intelligence will be the next main instrument of change – but paid search, remember, is Google’s flagship product and the main driver of their $75B year in 2015. It’s not going away anytime soon.