Understanding Synergies Between Paid and Organic Search
Peter Panda

A client recently asked Elasticity’s search marketing folks, “What kind of effect, if any, does paid search have on organic visibility?” We had a few ideas, but after sleuthing through some research, we decided to present our findings on the blog.

The short answer to a great question:

Overall, there is a synergistic effect between organic search and paid search. Paid search clicks are incremental and advantageous, even to a prosperous organic search campaign. Moreover, organic search has a beneficial impact on paid search campaigns.


Blue lego in a sea of orange legos

In 2011, Google released a study called “Search Ads Pause” estimating nearly 90 percent of ad clicks are incremental to what organic search results deliver. Some may find this the least bit surprising, but Google dug deeper in search of the answer to these questions: How often is an ad impression accompanied by an organic result AND does organic rank affect these findings?

To address the most obvious outcome first, for ad impressions with no associated organic results, 100 percent of ad clicks are incremental. Essentially, your ad is responsible for driving 100 percent incremental traffic to your website if said ad is not accompanied by an organic result.

More curiously, Google found that for associated top ranked organic listings, 50 percent of ad clicks are incremental. For results with organic rankings in 2-4, 82 percent of ad clicks are incremental. For results with organic rankings of 5 or higher, 96 percent of ad clicks are incremental.

Impact of Ranking of Organic Search

Source: Impact of Ranking of Organic Search Results on the Incrementality of Search Ads

Bottom line: If you’re not ranked in top organic spots for valuable keywords, you should be investing in paid search because they can account for up to 96 percent incremental site traffic.


Combining paid and organic search

When the impact of paid search on organic rankings was tested by Brad Geddes (a well-known Internet marketing speaker, consultant and author), the results demonstrated that total revenue generated by combining the two together yielded a profit that’s more than 27 percent higher than organic rankings alone.

Geddes says that the impact of paid search on organic rankings is said to be indirect and manifests itself in two main ways.

By running paid search, you will get extra traffic in a shorter amount of time and the data generated may help you improve factors that influence your organic rankings. By focusing your optimization efforts on high volume and higher converting phrases, you can boost your rankings, sales and inquiries.

Running paid search can also raise the visibility of your brand and your site. If the extra visitors you get like what they see, they are likely to link to your site, and this will improve your organic ranking.



Test tubes

According to a study conducted by digital agency Razorfish, “Organic search plays an important navigational role in the consumer behavioral patterns while paid search is known to close the deal to a conversion as promotional messaging trigger the close. Again, just mere investment in paid search is not enough, but aggressive ranking in both channels is key to positive impact on client revenue.”

Paid search keywords can serve up a page much more relevant to the search intent of the query. Plus, paid search teaches you what generates leads and sells product at a keyword level. Acquisition traffic data from organic keywords is hard to come by these days.


Colorful Parrots

Razorfish also noted that paid and organic work well together because:

  • Consumers convert after multiple types of searches and clicks in their research phase.
  • Organic search ranks well for brand terms, but paid can fill the gap on non-brand coverage.
  • Paid messaging can be managed, tested and optimized. And promotional language helps to close the consumer to the desired action.
  • You can ensure an optimal experience by driving consumers deep into a designated landing page that relates to the intent of the search query through paid ads.
  • The more coverage you have, the less room there is for competitors to steal traffic and revenue.


Organic impacts paid search

A study undertaken by a couple of NYU Stern professors revealed that organic search engine results can have an impact on whether or not a paid listing is clicked. The research indicated that if your business has a paid and organic result appearing at the same time, you have a better chance of your paid result getting clicked than if the organic result had not appeared.

Professors Anindya Ghose and Sha Yang found that:

“The positive association between paid and organic listings increase advertisers’ profits by at least 6.15 percent when compared to profits in the absence of either of them.”

The professors also found that:

  • Click-through rates, conversion rates and total revenues are higher when both paid and organic listings are present simultaneously than when only paid search ads are present.
  • The combined click-through rates are 5.1 percent higher when paid and organic listings are present simultaneously than when only the organic listing is present.
  • The combined conversion rate increases 11.7 percent when paid and organic listings are present simultaneously as opposed to when organic listings alone are present.
  • Paid search advertising drives up to 54 percent of total revenue growth.


Science kid

Paid search has a big effect on organic visibility and vice versa. The effects are not exclusive to incremental ad clicks, but they can increase profits in a shorter amount of time, increase the relevance of key messages, control a larger percentage share of the first page search landscape and more.

Have questions? We thought you might. Ask away in the comments below!

Peter Panda

Pioneering social media panda bear Tagawa “Peter” Panda was born on a Chinese game reserve in 1969. He emigrated to the United States in 1987 speaking no English, with only the fur on his back and $97 stored in a Jansport fanny-pack wrapped around his waist.

In 2003 while searching for food on the campus of Washington University, he discovered a computer lab where he would ultimately teach himself web development, graphic design, and immerse himself into the growing digital media evolution that was erupting at the time.

With his trademark surly demeanor developed during beatings on his boat ride from China to the U.S., as well as having a penchant for eating vast quantities of bamboo, and enjoying Scotch and cigars, Peter is broadly recognized for coining the phrase “social media” in 2004. He joined Elasticity in late 2009 as the agency’s director of social media strategy and wildlife relations. Friend him on Facebook here.

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