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Tips for Improving Digital Marketing. Google is only 18% Search. Paid vs Organic Search.
Google is only 18% Search

Paid vs Organic Search – Do I need both?


This is a question I get asked by a lot of clients. Paid vs organic search?

Organic Search SEO

One school of thought suggests that you should invest your resources into Organic Search SEO as a priority. Optimise your website first for the keywords and search phrases that you want to focus on. As we know, effective SEO results take time. Credibility and trust is built up over time. It doesn’t happen overnight. By effective results, I mean at minimum appearing organically on the first page of the search engine results. Ideally in the Top 3 organic search results on that first page.

Whilst this SEO work is in progress and the search engine crawlers are doing their job, it is worthwhile continuing with a Paid Search campaign. The rationale being that with a Paid Search campaign (assuming you meet the Search Engine criteria and have a competitive bid), you are more or less certain of appearing on the search engine display results. Where you appear will be determined by your quality score and competitive bid, along with other factors.

Then, once you start appearing organically on the first page, you can scale back or even discontinue with a Paid Search campaign. The thought being, Why should I pay for Paid Search when I am already appearing organically on the first page.

Paid Search

Well, there is another school of thought that suggests that you need to continue on with a Paid Search campaign as well focusing on the SEO optimisation of the site.

There are a number of reasons for this.

1. Various articles have documented the relatively small area on the first page of Google search results that are now devoted to organic search results. Whilst theses articles caused a lot of debate about the semantics, there was some agreement that the % of area devoted to organic search results on this first page is less than a few years ago (For highly searched and competitive keywords). Google Search is only 18% Search.

Google is only 18% Search

2. The lower you appear on the first page of the organic search results, the click through rate drops dramatically.  For Branded Searches, 80% of Users will click on the Top Organic Search Result, followed by Position #2 6%, Position #3 4%. All the rest cumulatively will account for the remaining 10%. For non branded searches, the Top 3 results account for 61% of clicks. Organic Search Results & Click Through Rates In addition Since 2012, Google has been showing only 7 results rather than 10 on branded search  results. 

3. A significant number of consumers can’t tell the difference between a Paid Search Result and an Organic Search Result. iProspect Research from 2010 puts this number at 58% for Asia Pacific Consumers. iprospect-study-apac-consumer-search-behaviour-and-attitudes-201010

4. The Search Engines are also trying to reduce and eliminate SEO Spam.The War on Free Clicks

In light of the above, it is not surprising that there is a strong argument to supplement Organic search with a Paid Search campaign. Impact on Clicks of Adding Paid Search to Organic Search Campaign

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In addition, some sections of the Search Display area are only available to Paid Search Advertisers. There also is a greater opportunity and likelihood for Ad Extensions to be shown in full with Paid Search.  See examples below for Hyundai, Audi and Ford.

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Ultimately you will need to determine the ROI on your own campaigns and compare Organic Search Results vs Combined Paid Search/Organic Search Results campaigns. Test, retest and test   again.

For high traffic and highly competitive key words, it does appear that a combination of Paid Search with Organic Search is the way to go.

See the Example of Expedia below. The keyword search term is “Discount Flights”. They are appearing as the #1 Organic Search result but Rank # 4 on all Search results on that page. They have determined that it is worth adding a Paid Search campaign for that key word.

As a result, they are #1 on all Search Results on the Page. They hold both the #1 and the #4 spot for all results on that page. If they did not undertake a Paid Search campaign, other companies would take up these Top 3 Paid spots, leaving them at #4 on the list for such a competitive keyword.

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For other companies, adding a Paid Search campaign seems unnecessary. Such as the above examples for Ford, Hyundai and Audi. They already have the # 1 spot for the Organic Search result for their Brand name and they are the only Paid Search Advertiser.

They may argue that they are preventing their competitors buying the # 1 search position for their brand. I would say that they could do this as a stunt in the short term, but it would be seen very quickly for the stunt that it would be. The Search Engines would take a pretty dim view of this.

The Quality score and the Click Through Rate % would be extremely low. I am not typing in “New 4 Wheel Drive” or “Most Fuel Efficient car” as a key phrase. If I am typing in Audi or Hyundai into the Search again, I think it’s fair to say I don’t want a Toyota.

It doesn’t appear to be an issue for companies in the Fast Food Industry. See examples from McDonalds and Salsa’s Fresh Mex Grill who are not running a Paid Search campaign on their brand name.

My suggestion would be to use some of these Paid Search funds to bid on genuinely competitive key words and phrases.

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by Konrad Markham

Tips for Improving Digital Marketing


About Konrad Markham

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