Google Research: Yes, You Still Need To Keep Buying Search Ads

Though most marketers likely think of their SEO activities and their paid search advertising as complementary, you’ve probably wondered, at one time or another, what would happen if you paused your CPC ads entirely or just cut them back dramatically.

Google’s research folks covered this topic back in July of last year, when it concluded that paid search ads give you an 89% incremental lift in site visitors — incremental to the traffic you would normally get from your organic listings. Yes, it’s self-serving, in that Google has every incentive to encourage folks to spend on paid listings (they don’t earn from organic listings, after all), but it’s still interesting to consider.

The company has just released an update to that original study, having expanded their research to include more advertisers and more testing scenarios.

What’s stayed the same, almost, is the incremental lift that paid search ads bring. This time, the researchers found that incremental ad clicks went down by 85% if campaigns were paused entirely. Yes, organic results went up — but not nearly enough to make up for the loss from the paid ads. (The 4% difference from the previous study was attributed to the additional advertisers included and potential seasonal factors.)

If spending was decreased (though the researchers didn’t say by how much), incremental clicks went down by 80%.

Google also looked at the opposite side of the coin. What if spending is started up from a dead stop? The researchers found a 79% increase in incremental clicks. And if spending was increased from a non-zero starting point, the advertisers Google studied saw an average 78% lift.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Google: AdWords


About The Author: is Executive Features Editor at Search Engine Land and Marketing Land. She’s a well-respected authority on digital marketing, having reported and written on the subject since 1998.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • Chris Bernard

    Test the vertical. Our agency has found that this is the case in only about 20% of industries; specifically service or highly competitive industries. Also, from our client data, we have found that in almost ALL cases we can literally just keep the account “active” with a max spend of a couple of bucks a month without seeing degradation in organic rankings. It would appear that the “amount” of spending doesn’t impact the rankings but just that the account is “active.”

  • tedives

    The study, and the followup, are, in my opinion, misleading to the casual observer and tend to overstate the benefits of paid search.

    Most marketers would likely assume that “incremental clicks” must mean “incremental over organic clicks”. But a close reading of the definition of the term “Incremental Ad Clicks” the study and its follow up have concocted shows that is uses, oddly, the *paid search clicks* as the comparison base.

    In the example on page 2 of the original study they posit a scenario of 66.7% “incremental” clicks, but if you instead used the organic clicks as the base instead of the paid ones, the result would be only 200/500 = 40% “incremental” clicks.

    I think advertisers, when they read “incremental”, would assume it means “the increment over what would have happened had I not advertised at all – to start with”, not “the increment over what happened when I advertised.”

    Just read the example in the study and think about it.

  • Vesica

    “Incremental lift” in traffic does not mean better quality or paying visitors. In the world of ecommerce driven by SaaS for the B2B model, the results of online advertising cannot be measured accurately. In fact, selling advertising on the basis of quantity alone is no different from mailing a flyer to 100,000 people in a postcode!

  • OlafPijl

    Good point, Vesica and Tedives! However, in my experience SEA often leads to higher-quality visitors in comparison to SEO. More pageviews/visit, longer TOS, etc.

    I’m quite surprised with the amount of visitors coming from SEA, in comparison to SEO. My accounts usually generate a lot more traffic from SEO then from SEA. This makes me wonder about the SEA campaign they’ve used. How generic is it? How important is the brand? How much of an influance is the seasonality they mentioned in the report?

    Although I agree that SEO usually benefits from SEA (more on-page exposure, consumer trust, etc.), this report seems to present their results a bit biased.

  • Sean

    I’ve read this a few times now and it would appear that this study is suggesting that if you buy ads you will get more clicks. I thought that was a given; if you turn on a tap water comes out.

    What it doesn’t say anything about is the quality of those clicks; does that increase your sales in relation to the cost of getting those clicks?

  • Brad Geddes

    @tedives When the first study was published a few months ago – it was right before Tim Mayer (who is much smarter at math than myself) and I were doing a session on combining SEO & PPC. One of his points was that the denominator in Google’s study was incorrect.

    Overall, there is still a net positive on being in SEO & PPC; its just the incremental click number was lower and less dramatic. I think the same thing is happening again with this study.

Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide