“We’re already winning organically, so why should we run paid search?”
During my career as a search marketer I’ve received this question more times than I can count. So I was surprised to find that this topic is not very well covered on blogs and industry sites. There are quite a few pieces on SEM vs SEO, but not much about how and why it can be beneficial to cover your bases in both the paid and organic spaces simultaneously. This is a worthwhile topic that deserves more unpacking than the usual 20 second “control the messaging, more space in the SERPs” answer, so below I’ve summarized five answers to this important FAQ.
1. Paid Search Ads Help Your Business Dominate the Real Estate on the SERP
An ad in the top position, utilizing all possible extensions, can control half the front page:
- Sitelinks can drive users deeper into the site
- Callout extensions help promote additional offers and services such as sales, free shipping, and 24-hour chat support
- Snippets help users categorize your business
- Location targeting allows for location-specific ads and business numbers, as well as the opportunity to include brick and mortar store locations on Google maps
- Ecommerce stores allow businesses to take up even more of the front page with attention-grabbing, carefully curated images via shopping feeds
Combine this with an organic “six pack” result directly below that paid ad and your business can own ALL of the results above the fold. Paid search also allows for 100% control and customization on messaging, the ability to direct users to the most appropriate landing pages, and control over what search queries will trigger an ad to show in the results.
2. More Total Traffic
You may be on top of the organic rankings now, but there’s no way to guarantee that your site will remain on top forever. A strong paid campaign helps your business to hedge its bets, so you’re prepared with a supplemental traffic source for when Google launches a massive algorithm change or a new competitor with an unlimited budget for quality content shows up, pushing your business’s website off the first page of the results page. A Google study from 2012 found that 81% of impressions and 66% of clicks were incremental (i.e., they would not have occurred without the presence of paid search advertising.) More recently (2014), Bing ran a study analyzing the top 3 tax advertisers during tax season, and found that while there was some overlap between paid and organic, advertisers netted 23% of incremental clicks when paid ads showed on their brand terms.
3. Organic-Paid Synergy Can Improve Performance for Both Programs
- Paid keyword data can be extremely valuable to organic optimization in identifying opportunities and gaps
- Paid search campaigns can run tests (e.g. ad message testing, new keywords) which organic teams can learn from. If the tests are successful, the organic team can incorporate the test results into the site’s metadata and content development plan
- Organic teams can highlight emerging search query trends that paid campaigns and reporting wouldn’t necessarily pick up, providing new opportunities to invest in paid search
- Organic search optimizations have been shown to improve quality scores and lower CPCs because the organic optimization makes it easier for the paid crawlers to recognize the relevance of the page for paid traffic
4. Paid Search Can Open Doors Before There’s No Right-To-Win in Organic
Paid search can make sure your site shows up on upper funnel or highly competitive keywords that the business might never be able to show on organically.
5. Paid Search Can Prevent Your Competitors from Eating Your Lunch
Paid search ads help ensure competitors aren’t there in the advertising search results using your hard-won brand equity to promote their product. The Bing study referenced above found that undefended paid ad results allowed competitors to get 30% more clicks; when advertisers bid on their own brand, the amount of traffic going to competitors dropped to just 7%.
Good news – if you’re already optimizing organically and collecting that data, you have a great start for a highly efficient paid campaign. You’ll have access to organic keyword data through the Search Console and your analytics program. Additionally, you can use organic traffic performance to identify likely landing pages for paid traffic, and you can look at the on-site behavior of organic traffic as a directional predictor for how paid traffic might behave. For example, you could review the performance of mobile organic traffic in order to help develop an initial paid mobile strategy. It’s not going to be 100% equivalent performance, but it sure beats whistling in the dark.