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The Relationship Between Paid Search Ads and Organic SEO

Posted by drew on July 6, 2014, 6 p.m.

It has been said many times before that “advertising on Google does not in any way affect the ranking of a website in natural search results.” [1] Google has been explicit about PPC and organic search being entirely separate parts of the company that do not influence one another. However, to say that the two are entirely unrelated is misleading.
 
Paid ads and natural search listings exist on the same page, inherently connecting them to each other every time a user searches something. As Larry Kim noted in his blog post last week, “Clicks on the search results page are basically a zero sum game.” By this, he meant that an increase in the clickthrough rate for one snippet necessarily means that other listings on that page (both ads and organic listings) must experience a drop in CTR.
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Let’s look at some of the ways PPC and SEO are related, both for the user and for someone managing both a PPC account and an SEO campaign for a single site.
 

How Paid Ads and SEO Influence Each Other’s Traffic

 
Several weeks ago, Google published the results of a study concerning brand awareness. The title of the release was “Search Ads Lift Brand Awareness.” The release seemed to say that investing in paid advertisements would lead to greater brand awareness, though this conclusion is debatable, given that only the top paid search spot was tested.
 
An increase in brand awareness could lead to more branded organic searches, which are generally easy to rank for in organic search. Some SEOs have taken issue with the lack of specificity on the title of the report, claiming that it is really just a campaign to drive more webmasters into using paid ads (thereby increasing Google’s profits).
 
Even more recently, Google announced they would be removing author images from the snippets of pages that had been marked up with rel=”author” structured data. They claimed this was to declutter the results page and improve user experience, and that it wouldn’t decrease CTR for those snippets.
 
This is hard to believe, given the numerous studies that detail how author images attract attention and increase CTR. Many claim this removal is actually to reduce CTR on organic search results, increasing clicks on paid ads (remember the zero sum game?). So clearly paid ads and organic search listings are related in that they can take and give traffic to one another.
 

How Webmasters can use Paid Search and SEO Together

 
While Google’s “not provided” approach to search queries is well established, this same behavior has made less progress in the paid realm. Google announced months ago that they would be removing search query information:
 
Today, we are extending our efforts to keep search secure by removing the query from the referrer on ad clicks originating from SSL searches on Google.com.”
 
However, this does not include information in the Adwords search query report, which gives account owners a direct view into the things users are searching in order to trigger ads. Account managers can also view the popularity of the various keywords they are targeting.These insights are incredibly valuable for both Adwords accounts and for SEO targeting.
 
It is also no secret that the Adwords Keyword Tool is valuable when deciding what keywords to target with a paid account or onsite SEO optimization. These keyword groups might not be the same if, for instance, you want to pay more to target high competition keywords, but want to target long-tail, low traffic keywords with your SEO.
 
PPC campaigns are also the perfect place to set up experiments and A/B tests for different landing pages. This is useful if you are considering a site redesign and want to test the effectiveness of various kinds of pages.

It is possible to isolate all variables (like ad copy, keyword targeting, Max CPC bid, etc.) and send the traffic to two different pages. After enough traffic has visited both pages, you can see exactly how one page converts compared to the other.

Conclusion

 
It was once thought that having a good CTR or conversion rate in your paid campaigns would tell Google you were a reputable site, and then your organic rank would start to improve. This is most definitely not the case. However, it would be inaccurate to say that search ads and organic listings are in completely different worlds.

As we’ve seen, the performance of paid ads can have an impact on the performance of organic listings and vice versa. Also, a marketing team would do well to integrate their paid search and SEO efforts to best take advantage of the knowledge that Adwords can bring to the organic realm. Contact Fusionbox, a Denver SEO firm, to get started with a paid search and SEO strategy.