Paid vs. Organic Search: Understanding the Dynamics

David Roth on
  • Categories: Channel: SEO
  • “Why are we buying our brand keyword when we already rank #1 in the organic results?” “Why are we paying for traffic if we’re already getting it for free?” It turns out that the question isn’t whether or not you should be buying your brand keywords. The question is how much should you be willing to pay for that ad, and what should it say.

    For search marketers like me (and probably you), the question of how to balance the paid/organic dynamic has been around for years. So why is there such an amazing dearth of good information on this topic? Why isn’t there any kind of industry-accepted framework with which to address the age-old question?

    I believe that the reason is that the conversation around the interaction between paid and organic search has historically been sorely lacking any good data. As a result, we get stuck talking about opinions and assumptions, and we typically don’t come to any meaningful conclusions. I am grateful that at this point in my career, I am surrounded by savvy marketers who understand how search results pages (SERPs) work. They understand that the SERP is a complex landscape, that each link has its own clickthrough rate (CTR), and that any link’s CTR is affected by the other links with which it shares the SERP. This is the path to meaningful dialogue on the subject, so I encourage everyone to get intimately familiar with the data around the paid/organic dynamic.

    So how do we look at the data in a way that can help us understand this phenomenon? First let’s get a few ground rules straight:

    One thing we need to also acknowledge is the fact that the many variables affecting paid and organic search traffic—search volume, page layout, keyword bids and rankings—prevent us from doing any rigorous scientific testing around the paid/organic dynamic. It’s simply impossible to isolate all the variables necessary to completely understand what’s going on. However, there are some terrific ways that you can at least gather some meaningful data that can be interpreted and analyzed, and from which we can actually draw very useful and actionable conclusions.

    Next, let’s agree on a few basic principles:

    Now, consider the following approaches to gather the data required to quantify cannibalization and lift:


    About The Author

    David Roth
    Dave Roth founded Emergent Digital in order to use digital marketing to make the world a better place. B-Corps, nonprofits, social enterprises, green technologies and educators now benefit from the same strategies that drive billions in profit to the Fortune 500. Roth recently served as Vice President, Marketing at Move, Inc.’s realtor.com. There, he oversaw paid and organic Search, Affiliate, Mobile and Social Marketing for the Company. Prior to his arrival at Move, Dave was Sr. Director of Search and Affiliate Marketing at Yahoo!, Inc.