Part of what I do at MSI is gather data for folks who are trying to make decisions about their online marketing spend. One thing that prospects have asked about recently is the effects of combining paid and organic search.

Greg Jarboe gave a presentaion in 2003 in which he mentioned the "second opinion effect." He saw a 3 times conversion increase for a site with top rankings in paid and organic.

As I could uncover no studies on the subject I asked for more anecdotal evidence from my cabrones here at MSI. This post is not intended as the FINAL WORD, and I'd love to hear your stories on combining organic and paid and I'll dig in more here at MSI too.

Thanks again to Adam and Tansy for their help!

Adam Schultz: Interactive Marketing Manager/Research and Development Team

I constantly hear from clients about how excited they are to pull their paid listings once the organic rankings start to come in. I have heard from many people what a bad idea that is but no one has ever explained to me exactly why.

A couple of months ago, one of my clients, a software company of whom I was managing their SEO and PPC accounts, saw a drastic drop in their paid Google click throughs on a huge term for them that had been performing predictably for at least 3 months prior. They called in a panic wondering what had happened because all they saw was the drop in their AdWords account on click throughs.

The first thing I noticed was that they had a new organic ranking at # 3 for the term and their paid listing ad dropped from #1 to #2. Then I noticed that their traffic for that page had gone up dramatically. Apparently, now that they were in both positions, users were choosing to click more frequently on the organic listing.

The client was very excited and wanted to immediately go ahead and turn off the paid listing for that term. I convinced them not to. I had some questions that needed answering and this was a perfect opportunity.

The first thing I did was slightly raise the bid so they would hold the 2nd or 3rd position as it was tougher to stay there now that their click throughs had dropped on the paid listing. Before the organic listing came up, their paid listing has a conversion rate of about 3%. After a week, now that they had the organic listing, the conversion rate on their combined traffic on that term was up to 8%. I was flabbergasted. This was awesome.

I gave it 2 weeks to insure this trend continued. Then I turned off the PPC for this term. Not only did their traffic for the term slow down even from the organic listing but the conversion rate dropped to 4%.

After 2 weeks of a steady trend I turned on the PPC again and they went right back up to the previous traffic and kept a 7%-8% conversion rate for another month. With this in hand the client decided that the benefit greatly outweighed the cost and kept their PPC ads running right next to earned organic placements. In fact, the client decided after that to keep tabs on their organic terms to make sure that they had corresponding PPC ads right next to them.

I know that this is just one instance but it, in one case, proves what I already hypothesized but previously never had a chance to prove. PPC top listings + Organic top listings will not only cause a greater net effect than the sum of the two individually.

Tansy OBryant: Senior Sales Engineer

In the beginning, I encourage clients to bid on everything they are optimizing for, just because SEO takes a while to take hold and Paid Search is a great way to smooth the performance curve. Basically I structure the paid search campaign to match the SEO campaign. By 120 days the SEO campaign is generating 1000 unique terms from 100 targeted terms and of course the conversions follow the more specific keywords.

Whenever we opt to shut off the pay per click its matching SEO terms suffers as well. So I have made it a practice to bid on keywords I am well ranked for AND that convert.

I use paid search to fill in the holes and keep my client visible for keywords which are not yet organically ranked. With those stand alone keywords conversion rates are always much lower.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

March 21, 2006

Garrett French is the co-founder of Ontolo, Inc., and co-creator of the Ontolo Link Building Toolset, which uses your target keywords to find and grade link prospects. The Link Building Toolset reduces link prospecting and qualification time, letting you focus on the most important part of link building: relationships.

Search Engine Guide > Garrett French > The Effects of Combining Paid and Organic Search