It can be tempting, and in some cases makes good business sense, for some brands to spend on PPC keywords that you’re already ranking for organically, to help protect your position in an ever-diminishing organic SERP space. However, does this mean you are robbing Peter to pay Paul? Are you paying for traffic through PPC that you would mainly be getting organically otherwise without being charged per click? Does having a paid and organic combination mean that you’re getting a bigger chunk of the available traffic or are you essentially competing against yourself for a finite number of visitors and potential customers and paying both for PPC and for organic activity (in time if nothing else) when you could be saving your budget for other areas instead?
A Google study in 2011 indicated, perhaps unsurprisingly, given how the search engine makes a vast proportion of its revenue, that paid ads deliver around 89% MORE traffic than organic would if there were no ads running. However, many businesses do find that cannibalisation can be an issue and they feel like they end up paying twice for driving a similar amount of traffic in some cases.
This blog aims to help you spot where cannibalisation between SEO and PPC is happening and what you can do to optimise either or both strategies to minimise it, potentially freeing up more of your budget to use elsewhere, where it can deliver more impactful results for your business.
Diagnosing cannibalisation between PPC & SEO
It’s common for PPC and SEO to work almost separately for many businesses. Often managed by different people, teams or even different agencies. These two channels are often seen as totally separate and apart from perhaps some overlap in keyword research for initial campaign setup, they are not always part of a joined up strategy.
To start tackling cannibalisation, firstly you need to find out if and where it is happening for your online presence.
This has been made more difficult since Google introduced its “not provided” keyword category into its analytics platform. You can no longer see reliable data relating to specific keywords that bring people to your website organically, but by using Google Search Console (GCS), you can find out which keywords are visible in the SERPs, and see their average ranking position.
Use GSC to find out which keywords your web pages are ranking for organically (within the top three positions ideally) and cross check this against the keywords that you’re running PPC campaigns with. This will give you a place to start testing for cannibalisation.
Testing the value of specific keywords
If PPC is bringing in a good proportion of your traffic and revenue, suddenly pausing several campaigns to test the impact this has on your organic traffic is NOT advised.
A test is needed, but the risk of this test losing your business any revenue needs to be mitigated by ensuring the process is carried out strategically, in a way that gives you robust data, whilst balancing this with speed, to minimise any losses.
The below method involves testing single keywords individually, so isn’t an approach that will work if you suspect significant cannibalisation is happening with a large number of keywords.
- If you rank in position 1-3 organically for a search term (steadily over time – using keywords that fluctuate a lot won’t provide useful data) which is also included in your PPC activity, you can benchmark the organic and paid traffic site-wide (and any resulting conversions and revenue) over the course of seven full days. Choose a week that isn’t of any specific importance seasonally to help make sure your data isn’t skewed by this.
- Next, add that keyword as an exact match negative to your paid search account for another seven days.
- If you want to gain another week of data for both channels again, to make sure it is similar to the first week, try removing the negative keyword from PPC again for another seven days.
- Compare the organic-only traffic during the second week to the organic traffic during the first week (and third, if applicable), which ran alongside PPC. Are there any differences?
- Also compare the conversion rates and revenue/transactions from both channels – does organic CVR increase when PPC is switched off?
This really simple test should flag up if paid is taking a significant portion of your organic visitors and whether the ROAS is making this PPC activity worthwhile for your business. You might find that PPC does take some organic traffic, but it converts at a higher rate and with a good ROAS, so you make more money running paid than you can from organic alone. In which case, great – keep going with both!
Digging further into your paid and organic data
If PPC traffic converts better and is giving you a good ROAS – it makes sense to continue with your paid activity as it’s clearly bringing benefit to your business. Where the organic traffic is converting poorly for that page (based on your site’s average CVR as a whole) you might want to look further into why that might be? Are they landing on the same page as your PPC visitors? If not, what is different about the PPC landing page? Are organic visitors perhaps at a different stage of the buyer journey and looking for something slightly different from you?
If your organic traffic converts better than paid, it’s worth digging into your PPC reports to see if there are times of the day, month or year where paid outperforms organic and you can tweak your campaigns to only appear then.
At the very least, testing the most important keywords for your business in this way will help you better understand the differences between the people visiting from either channel and their likelihood to convert.
What about brand bidding?
Most businesses, especially those with an established web presence or an unusual name, will organically rank in first place if someone searches for your brand. This may not be the case for new businesses or those with a generic industry term as a name, but we’ll assume that your business does. Is it still worth bidding on brand terms?
Yes, if others are bidding on your brand it is worth testing to see how much traffic you can drive that way and how valuable that traffic is to you conversion-wise.
Testing in a similar way, by turning off your brand PPC for a seven day period and comparing results, can help you to see the value of brand bidding for your business. Checking this fairly regularly is essential as your competitors may also fluctuate when they bid on your brand terms.
Don’t underestimate the value of attribution
Ultimately a click from search generally has higher intent than from most other channels. Taking brand keywords out of the equation for a second to think solely about generic keywords – how do you apportion value where you have a dual PPC/SEO listing? Does 1+1=3 or are you paying for conversions you would otherwise get for free?
There’s no easy answer. Not least due to “not provided”. Any attempts to unlock SEO keyword data are, at best, sampled and, at worst, modelled from a variety of disparate datasets. The testing we have covered will help you to get an idea of the bigger picture, but with organic search, the granular keyword data simply isn’t available.
This is where attribution comes in. Consider the overall value of your search presence using your chosen attribution model. What is your search ROI including all costs? How does that change if you pause your dual PPC keywords for a period of time as tested earlier? Does it increase or decrease your ROI? Does it increase or decrease your revenue? What is the incremental cost? These are all questions that should be asked regularly to ensure the best blend of organic vs. paid is used. On the other hand, how effective is your PPC messaging? Perhaps using a more direct/aggressive message will increase CTR, thereby reducing CPC and increasing conversions. What does the blended ROI of search look like in that scenario? Does this vary from month to month or at certain times of the year? What role does seasonality play in the mix?
In short, there is no “optimal blend” in the sense we seek it. There is only optimal performance based on all the factors you have to deal with in any given month.
If you want help with your PPC or organic search strategy, get in touch with us to find out how we can help your business to drive more revenue.
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