So, you have a killer website, your organic search results are great but your MD wants more traffic. You don't have the time or resources to expand your website and you've already put in more than enough time into developing your social presence... what do you do?

You speak to your web marketing people and they tell you that by far the quickest way to improve site traffic is PPC (pay per click) marketing, specifically Google AdWords.

At first glance this seems like a great idea, the numbers look great, you have the budget, so lets go with it! well... I agree, in fact I'd probably recommend the same strategy - but proceed with your eyes open!

Does advertising on Google effect my organic search rank?

I have been asked this more times than I'd care to remember. Anecdotally I've heard clients tell me it boosted their position and others tell me they see a decline in organic traffic. So what's going on?

Well let's dispel one myth right away - Having Google AdWords does NOT boost your organic listings at all. Apart from the odd conspiracy theorist out there, no-one really believes this any more. Moreover Google have reiterated this numerous times. In fact Google go even further - They actively reject any support requests regarding natural results if requested via AdWords support channels. According to Matt Cutts this is "to remove any suggestion of favouritism or impropriety" and will push you back through the same support channels as everyone else.

But I saw a drop in organic CTR as soon as I began my AdWords campaign!

An extremely detailed study in 2014 discovered that there was roughly a 30% drop in click through rate (CTR) for sites with a position one organic listing once Ads are introduced. This may seem quite an alarming statistic - but importantly it doesn't track through the organic positions. Positions 2-5 have a negligible difference in organic CTR, in fact position 6-10 actually see a slight increase in CTR if Ads are also running (from 2.24% without to 2.29% with Ads)

So the reality is those lucky enough to own position one for a given search phrase will indeed see a drop in CTR and therefore a drop in overall organic traffic for those phrases.

So if I have a top position phrase I definitely shouldn't advertise for the same phrase in AdWords?

Well, as is the way with these things, there is never a simple answer!

So you have a great organic position AND you also have an Adwords ad for the same phrase. What is the net result? There have been numerous studies into this and the results may surprise you...

A 2012 Google study concluded that 50% of the ad clicks that occur with a top rank organic result are incremental, compared to 100% of the ad clicks being incremental in the absence of an associated organic result. 

In other words, From an SEO point of view, this means that, if you match a paid AdWords placement with a position 1 organic result you will keep roughly 50% of your AdWords spend for that keyword through organic clicks.  

From a Search Marketing point of view, the benefit of running both together is that the brand would have lost 50% of clicks if they had only the paid ad or #1 organic ranking alone. This number does go down drastically as you consider position 2 - 4 organic rankings but the intrinsic message is that complementary organic rankings can reduce AdWords spend and, conversely, AdWords spend can pick up incremental traffic when organic rankings are low.

In 2009, New York University carried out a study that showed that, when a brand has both an AdWords ad and a high ranking organic result for the same keyword, conversion rates go up for BOTH channels.

It's not just conversion rates that improve - A study in 2007 demonstrated how there is a 2.2X lift in aided brand recall when the brand has both the top paid and top organic ranking.

So it's a good thing then?

Well obviously from the data there are pros and cons but on the whole, yes, it's a good thing.

Before embarking on an AdWords campaign I would always recommend doing some fairly extensive keyword analysis. Both of your own website and of the market itself. Even if you don't decide to follow on from good natural results there are, no doubt, thousands of key phrases in the long tail for your industry that you are poorly placed for in the natural listings. This is key to a well planned PPC campaign. 

Are there any other benefits of running AdWords alongside organic listings?

Actually there are several extremely good reasons.

  • Adwords provide a number of reports from which you can glean some very useful data. If your saw that your competition was performing well in AdWords for certain phrases you can use this data to help you develop more fully formed strategies for your natural SEO campaigns.
  • Google can take weeks or months to update your organic listings meaning that doing any meaningful A/B testing for SERPS can take a long time to get the data needed to get your page titles and descriptions perfect. Whereas you can instantly test ad copy from within AdWords - So we can use Google AdWords ad copy as a testbed for high-conversion language to use on organic landing pages.
  • In 2011 Google began to encrypt its search activity. Since then the number of "not provided" keywords in Analytics reports has increased. In 2013 Google announced that they would begin encrypting ALL traffic leading to a drastic decrease in keyword intelligence from analytics reports. The percentage is already very high (almost 90%) but Google's aim is 100%. At which point we loose all our visitor keyword data. So for those of you who are advertising on AdWords for the same phrases as in organic - Adwords is becoming a vital data source for intelligence on that removed data.

In Conclusion

The most obvious way these channels impact one another is by helping a brand control their brand’s visibility and reputation on the Google search result page. Rather than control only the organic listings or only the paid listings in the search results, why not claim more by running both together? Your brand’s visibility will go up and your competitors will go down.

Whilst you cannot buy your way into better organic rankings via Google AdWords, a search marketing campaign that leverages both channels is more than the sum of its parts.