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Understanding the intersection of organic search results and paid search advertising
We have often been asked by our search engine optimisation (SEO) clients on whether there would be any improvement in their ranking on natural search results ifthey did Pay Per Click (PPC) search advertising as well.
Our response is that we have not seen large correlations in the case of clients for whom we manage both paid and organic search marketing campaigns. Intuitively, it is also not in a search engine’s interest to help a site move up higher in organic search results as it can potentially reduce the budget a company allocates for paid marketing efforts and thereby, directly impact its revenues.
This is not to say that these two forms of search marketing are completely disparate with performance in one having no bearing on the other. Setting aside all “conspiracy theories” pertaining to manipulation of natural search results to drive paid advertising revenues, let’s consider some scenarios that highlight the intersection between the two and how one can influence the other.
How paid search advertising may affect your natural search results
Search marketers have typically used their learning from what is happening with PPC results to fine-tune their SEO strategy, especially with the keywords that need to be focused on, what content needs to be created, etc.
Occasionally, you might see some uptick in the organic traffic shown by your analytics while you are running a PPC campaign. This may be the reason behind the question I alluded to at the beginning of the article. Rather than any artificial boost given by the search engine, the increased organic traffic may be due to an increase in brand searches or influence of personalisation/ past search history in the organic search results.
For example, let’s say a user has clicked through a PPC ad, browsed the destination site and exited. Subsequently, the user does a brand search as he remembers company name – even if not in its entirety- but not the exact domain name, sees the name in organic search results and clicks through once more to the site. Similarly, we know that sites we have visited in the past tends to get shown to us higher in search results, especially when we are “logged in”. This increases the probability of more click-throughs from organic search results and a rise in organic traffic that could owe itself to paid advertising.
How natural search results affects paid search advertising
Let’s say that you are running a paid search campaign targeting both the search network (‘intent-based advertising’) and the content/placement network (passive, contextual advertising). One fine day, you notice that the number of leads you were generating has dropped sharply. Nothing much has changed with the results from the search network, but you find the results from the content network has inexplicably fallen-off a cliff. If you are like most of us, the tendency is to focus on key parameters like bids and budgets, ad creative and landing page to figure out if something has gone awry.
On a project that we managed, here’s what actually went wrong. In the immediate aftermath of the well-publicised (and much dreaded) Penguin algorithm update, a large number of websites were hit by a huge drop in search engine traffic. This included some fairly well-known mainstream media websites/ portals which one wouldn’t expect to be affected by either content quality issues or “shady” SEO practices. Consequently, there was a direct impact on the number of impressions that our clients’ ads were getting and as a result, the number of leads generated for them.
Google tests thousands of changes to its search algorithm in a year with a percentage of results changing rankings on a daily basis. Any advertiser targeting the content/placement/display network needs to be wary of significant changes to organic search results that could potentially throw their paid campaign off-the-rails.
PPC professionals need to keep themselves abreast of happenings in the world of SEO/ organic search, in order to be able to respond faster and more effectively. For example, if trends indicate that organic search results for a particular type of query are giving greater weightage to a particular type of site, determine how you can have your ads on those websites. If you see a lot of YouTube videos ranking high on search results, consider getting YouTube into the advertising mix.
Similarly, you might see a high proportion of job sites showing up (rather surprisingly) for online marketing services-related queries, work out how you can get your ads in there even though they may not seem to be the most appropriate channels for targeting at first.
In conclusion, here are some key takeaways for search marketers:
- Don’t view SEO and PPC as two water-tight compartments. Use insights from PPC campaigns to fine-tune your SEO strategy ie. what keywords are better converting, what keywords to build content on, etc.
- Monitor what’s happening in the world of natural search results and how rankings are getting affected. In particular, regularly check the websites/ type of websites that are ranking for the queries/ topics that will be of interest to your target audience.
- Be aware of the risk of over-reliance on the contextual network.
- Accept that even paid search advertising may not be entirely within immediate control (it is generally accepted – and rightly so- that paid campaigns offer greater control and predictability than organic search traffic).
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