Google Research: Even With A #1 Organic Ranking, Paid Ads Provide 50% Incremental Clicks

mouse-click-moneyWhen marketers have scrutinized Google’s research on how organic and paid search results work together — the search giant concluded that nixing the paid ads would result in a 89% drop in clicks — it’s been clear there’s more to the story. What happens if your brand is the top organic result for the keyword? Surely the results would be different than if your organic result was on the second page?

“When we released the first paper, we had a lot of questions coming back, asking more more details around incrementality and under what situations can you expect different numbers?,” said David Chan, Google’s lead researcher for this study.

So, Chan set out to research more subtleties in the interaction between organic results and paid search ads, and today released new results.

Most Of The Time, There Are No Organic Result On Page One

The 89% number makes more sense now that the new results show that paid search ads appear without an accompanying organic search result on the page 81% of the time, on average. Only 9% of the time does a search ad show with an organic result in the top rank. An organic result appears in ranks 2 to 4 5% of the time, and in lower ranks (below 5), about 4% of the time.

Though the researchers didn’t specifically look at branded versus generic terms, Chan said,the ranking is a good proxy, in certain cases, for branded versus generic terms. In other words, the brand’s organic result is likely to appear higher, if it’s a branded term.

Even A #1 Ranking Can Benefit From An Accompanying Ad

Surprisingly, even when advertisers show up in the number one organic search result position, 50% of clicks they get on ads are not replaced by clicks on organic search results when the ads don’t appear.

“It is a very surprising result, and, I think in some ways, it runs counter to what people would think but the data speaks for itself,” said Chan.

The study found that 82% of ad clicks are incremental when the associated organic result is ranked between 2 and 4, and 96% of clicks are incremental when the brand’s organic result was 5 or below.

Chan noted that there was a lot of variability from advertiser to advertiser and term to term, so he encouraged advertisers to do their own experimentation. Additionally, the study focused only on clicks and not conversions, so it’s not clear to what extent the incremental clicks led to a conversion event.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Google: AdWords | Stats | Top News


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  • Mobila

    Google paid search has evolved to include everything from video to
    coupons and a call feature, all in the name of improving advertiser
    results. The advantage for advertisers is a glut of program options and a fresh
    take on how to supercharge those two little lines of text.

  • AJ Perisho

    Great information!
    This is the kind of data that helps make more effective decisions on applying your marketing budget.
    Thanks for sharing :-)

  • SteveW1

     ”Generally speaking, all forms of advertising are really quite rubbish – you cannot measure their efficiency.”      That pretty much is one of the most ridiculous statements I have ever heard…….

    Most forms of advertising are very trackable…..its just that many businesses don’t want to take the measures to track them.  Most PPC campaigns have the most transparent reporting of any form of advertising. 

    The fact is that most small businesses don’t take the time to find out where their new clients come from and make many incorrect assumptions.

  • SteveW1

    It is funny seeing some comments like “PPC doesn’t work”…………really????  That is like hearing people say ” the yellow pages doesn’t work”…………

    Now I realize those are general statements, and the fact is that neither work for every single business, and different verticals have different levels of success.  But when I hear a plumber, florist, Auto Repair, HVAC Contractor, etc say that PPC, or back in the day, YP does not work, that always gives me a chuckle.  Where do these business owners think that many people turn to to find one of these businesses when the need comes up?  What they fail to consider is that just because that particular business places an add on a search engine or in the phone book does not mean that people will automatically call or click on it.  Or even if they do click on it, the site must be good, conversion friendly, and draw the interest of the visitor.  Not only that, but the business must have a good reputation and reviews.  If these elements are not in place, then success is difficult.  It’s not that PPC or YP does not work, it’s just that prospective clients are tuning them out.

  • Commie B

    Steve whilst it is true that most small businesses do not bother or have the expertise to track their advertising, it is not measurement that is the primary problem, efficiency is. As I said elsewhere in this thread, ppc is really rubbish for some products and clients. People or businesses don’t decide to use mongodb, oracle, mysql or sql server because of a ppc ad and it doesn’t matter how many ads the companies that sell the above buy. You might get found with a ppc ad, sure, if the potential client has no idea about your product – but it takes a lot more to win the business for such a product. And if you have a product that is up against those guys, chances that a PPC ad will carry any weight on its own are slim. As part of an overall PR or marketing strategy though, no doubt, it might be of some use.

  • Pat Grady

    When I consider that brand name traffic is often preceded by another visit (lessening the profit “driving” value of the most common “organic and ppc both show” slice, being that it’s often brand traffic), I view the incremental value of non-brand (organic <9%) as the more important focus of this studied topic.

  • Aliosha Kasin

    Doubling of clicks would be a 100% not 50% that as the title states.

  • iRe – Android

    Thanks for the info ;)

  • Commie B

    I guess this about sums it up. Know your market – PPC is just another of the many tools out there to advertise – and in some markets, an irrelevant one.

  • Jean-Michel Fontaine

    Interesting study indeed. Two years ago, we had studied the impact of running Google Ads with our clients’ brands vs. not running Ads. The study is in French, but to summarize it:

    - Our study is based on the analysis of many clients, active in various sectors, such as dating, finance or real estate.

    - When a Google Adwords campaign including the client’s brand is active, the distribution of brand-related traffic is in most cases one-third for the Adwords campaign, and two thirds for the natural traffic.

    - A Google Adwords campaign increases the total traffic from brand-related terms by 25%, on average.
     - Conversions from a Google Adwords campaign are better, since the ads and landing pages of a campaign sponsored links are more easily controlled than the natural search results.

  • Liz Krause

    I don’t see how Google can put out stats about Organic over Paid and consider it on the up and up when they are positioning their Paid ADverts right above Organic with a pale background color that makes people (I’ve even caught myself doing it) think they are clicking an organic result.  

    You can have all the stats but if those stats are based on clicks which are presented in a way that makes the paid and organics look almost identical – it’s fishy and in my opinion scews the report findings.

    I’ve only seen one or two other people make reference to this.  Does anyone else have issue with this?

  • Chris Edwards

    While I agree that they are not dead yet, I also know with many of my clients, the price is not worth what you get out of them in most cases. The phone boo companies charge an arm, leg and your first born to have a decent ad in them. The same amount spent on PPC campaigns will generate many more leads to your website. Depending on what you sell and what your market is totally changes things. For example, I would believe jails would give those arrested a phone book rather than allow them to search Google for a lawyer or bail bond person. So it would make sense for those people to spend the money on advertising in a phonebook. If your primary customer is the elderly, you may want to make sure you invest in phonebooks. It really depends on the market and what you are selling, as stated before. 

  • goodwinfamily

    Thanks for posting this very interesting paper and its predecessor.

    I deconstruct the (rather obscure?) formulas used by authors of the first research paper in these two blog posts: ‘Incremental Clicks Impact of Search Advertising’ ‘Google’s Point Kinematics Model of the Marketplace’

  • Tim Joseph


    This is such a great resource that you are providing and you
    give it away for free. I love seeing websites that understand the value of
    providing a quality resource for free. It’s the old what goes around comes
    around routine.


  • alexander zagoumenov

    Thank you, Pamela! Great article, especially the infographics. Part of me agrees with combining the who wholeheartedly. But the other part of me says that it’s just another push by Google to move companies towards spending more on AdWords. Thanks again!

  • John McGill

    My own experience is somewhat similar to what Google says.  Ads have given me about 50% more clicks, which is the first step in getting conversions.

  • Jim McDonald

    Hmmm. Interesting figures. Having run Search (organic and paid) and CRM at, I will suggest that it would be tremendously insightful to separate out by brand vs non-brand. 

    Additionally, I think a key point here is to consider the user behavior wrapped within the UX that Google presents (especially for brands). 

    Here’s my point – Google forces brand advertisers to bid on their own branded term(s) in paid search by allowing competitive pressures and “noise” to confuse the situation for the user (and the brand). And they do this because (I assume) they contend the user wants options and/or that it adds for a better UX if someone searches for “American Airlines” and several competitor options show up. Right…

    The point I’m making is that if a user searches for a brand name, chances are they are looking specifically for that brand, and encouraging the Paradox of Choice is not necessarily the best UX; but it might be good for business (I may or may not flip-flop on this contention for non-branded).

    In closing, there’s a reason why I used the American Airlines example. If you don’t know that story – read up. Someone should ask their head of online marketing why they don’t want to be the only paid advertiser advertising on their brand name…maybe they don’t want 50% more incremental clicks?…

  • jamesb

    Running AdWords ads for terms where you have a #1 ranking might have some value, but the alternative cost could be very high.  If you have a limited ad budget (who doesn’t) and the search term is not for an absolute critical priority, it does not make any sense to advertise for an exact term where you have a top ranking.

  • Peter Levin

    More branded traffic = more conversions

    If consumers aren’t reaching your brand’s website, then where are they going?  Competitors?  Resellers who also feature competitive products?

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