Digital marketers often wonder what exactly the relationship between paid search and organic search is. Or is there a relationship at all?
The question springs from a common observation, which is this: the sudden spike in organic traffic almost immediately following paid search efforts. Does it mean that the search engine rewards, so to speak, the Google Ads user by increasing the organic traffic to their pages? If not, what is the explanation for the sudden increase in traffic? Let’s find out!
Can Paid Search Increase Organic Traffic?
The question assumes a direct relationship between paid ads and organic SERP, since that’s the way marketers usually put it. However, there is no linear relationship between the two. In fact, Google itself has made it clear:
“A PPC ad solution like Google Ads doesn’t have the same results as SEO and won’t improve your organic search rankings. Instead, Google Ads helps you display your ads to potential customers at the exact moment they’re searching for a business like yours.”
Again: “Google’s first responsibility is to provide users with the most relevant Search results. If businesses were able to use paid SEO methods for higher rankings in search results, users wouldn’t be getting the information they’re looking for.”
For further clarity, here’s what Google’s John Mueller said in response to a question that flagged an apparent relationship between paid ads and search, “The ranking within the ads, the ranking within search are completely separate systems, and there’s essentially no real connection there.”
Mueller went on to add that the search team at Google “work[s] really hard to differentiate ads and search. So much so that even when… large advertisers go to their ad manager or account manager, and they have like this small search question… we push back on that, we don’t give any answers at all when it comes to questions from clients or partners.”
That should rest the matter unless one is bent on vilifying the corporation on the grounds of some perverted capitalistic caprice. This is not to say that Google is always reliable. However, for Google to trifle with SEO ranking and invite a major legal fallout would be stupid.
All that being said, there are instances where paid and organic SERP do intersect. Now that’s a completely different thing from saying that paid search is directly related to organic search. Let’s delve a bit deeper into where and how the “intersection” transpires.
Scenario A: Paid Ads May Increase Searchers’ Bias
Google’s own research has shown that searchers who see an ad first are more likely to click on a corresponding organic result. Consider the following illustration. Here is the SERP for the search query “email service providers.”
As you can see, there are two results for just one email service provider, namely Mailchimp. It first appears as an ad, followed by an organic result just below the listing.
Seeing two mentions in such a short space naturally biases the searcher, leading them to click on the organic result – which is more likely than when the results appear separately.
Scenario B: Previous Exposure May Affect Organic Traffic
Previous exposure to a brand through Google Ads may increase the likelihood of a searcher clicking an organic result. A higher click-through rate leads to higher engagement, which leads to better ranking. Note again: the effect of Google Ads is positive but indirect.
Of course, this doesn’t need to always be the case. If and when a searcher happens to view a particular brand more often than the next, the overlap is discernible. In fact, in the previous scenario as well, Mailchimp’s brand value considerably influenced the number of times it showed up on SERP 1 and 2.
Scenario C: The Overlap Is Often Query-Dependent
By “query-dependent”, we mean certain search queries that may cause paid and organic to overlap in certain instances. For example, if a user searches for “study table for kids,” here’s how the SERP looks.
SERP 1 and SERP 2 show paid listings for the search query, followed by organic listings way below the fold. In all probability, the first two paid results will account for the majority of clicks, which will not ultimately confine the CTR to the paid segment but rather tilt the CTR curve for the whole SERP, leading to more organic clicks.
Once again, the effect was indirect. The overlap was strictly dependent on the type of search query. If there should be a spike in organic traffic now, it cannot be linearly traced to the appearance of ads.
Scenario D: Paid Ads May Lead to Cross-Channel Coverage
Sometimes, viewing experience leads to cross-channel sharing. If someone visits a website through a paid ad and the website offers a positive UX, the user might want to share it across different marketing channels.
In such cases, the organic CTR will increase – not because of paid ads as such, but because of the quality of the website.
Looking at these four scenarios, we may safely conclude that paid ads may indirectly lead to a spike in organic traffic. The word “indirectly” is very important. If needed, do revisit the above scenarios, and you will recognize the rather winded path from paid ads to organic traffic.
What Then Is The Purpose of Google Ads?
The most fundamental purpose of using Google Ads is to increase visibility. If you are not an established brand, you need to invest in creating awareness in your niche and making your relevance known in the eyes of your target demographic.
“Google Ads is a product that you can use to promote your business, help sell products or services, raise awareness, and increase traffic to your website,” states Google. Note the order in which the uses are set forth.
It’s not that marketers are unaware of this. What, then, could be the reason behind the confusion? Excluding any form of ideological preconception, here are two possible explanations:
1. Google Algorithm Updates May Upset The Needle
Fluctuations in organic traffic relative to running (or not running) Google Ads may, at times, be due to Google algorithm updates. Google Search is virtually a Heraclitean flux: it changes all the time. In 2021 alone, Google made over 5,000 changes to Search. As always, the goal is to reduce irrelevant search results.
“Over the last seven years, our internal metrics based on quality rater data show we’ve decreased the number of irrelevant results by over 50%,” informed Danny Sullivan.
2. Misreading Google Analytics May Distort Results
To be certain, Google Analytics is not for greenhorns. It is quite complex and demands considerable expertise. False reading of Analytics will lead to false inferences. Indeed, one of the common errors is to not filter paid ads traffic and organic traffic.
Secondly, inexperienced handlers are often not aware of how Google Ads and Analytics measure and report data, leading to data discrepancies between the two platforms.
The Answer to The Riddle
So what’s the answer to the riddle? There is no connection between Google Ads and organic SEO ranking, but there may, from time to time, be overlaps between the two.
Going forward, the question ought to be not so much about choosing one over the other but how best to complement Google Ads and SEO to achieve your business goals. Depending on your immediate objective, you may go for PPC advertising if you need to reach potential customers quickly; or you may invest in SEO for establishing your online presence in the future.