SEO and Paid Search | Joined at the Hip

Author Sam Russell
by Sam Russell

Many digital advertising agencies are focused on SEO and Paid Search (PPC), but not enough of them are looking at these two tactics together.

We analyzed our entire client portfolio to determine how these tactics go hand-in-hand, and also how results from SEO initiatives can differ from Paid Search campaign results. The data observed came from Google Ads, Google Analytics, and Google Search Console, and is from the first half of 2020.

2020 Paid Search and SEO Data Trends:

  • Conversion Rates are often very different between the two tactics
  • Click-Through Rate (CTR) is higher for Google Ads
  • There is more potential click share for SEO results
  • AOV is similar between SEO and Paid Search
  • Lead gen audiences are behaving similarly to eCommerce audiences

Conversion Rate Differences

While comparing PPC and SEO data, the first thing that jumped out to us was the large difference in conversion rate performance. It is worth noting that we are measuring conversion rate in two different ways:

1). For eCommerce clients, we are measuring conversion rate as the number of sessions that resulted in a transaction.

2). For lead-generation clients, we are measuring conversion rate as the number of visits that resulted in a goal completion (lead form, phone call, or some other action on the site)

In almost every case, the conversion rate was higher from Google Ads traffic compared to Google Organic traffic. The range varied dramatically. Some sites were showing Google Ads being 7% higher than the Organic traffic, while others were 100% better. When you think of these trends at a high level, it makes sense; we control the traffic from PPC much easier than we control the SEO traffic. At OuterBox, we tend to go after hyper-targeted keywords within our PPC campaigns, reaching audiences lower in the funnel and closer to making a purchase or becoming a lead.

On the SEO side, even with our targeted list of keywords and fully-optimized content, Google still has the ability to rank your site for terms that aren't as relevant for your business. Also, SEO keyword lists often go after high-volume terms, which may contain research-based terms for those still at the top of the funnel. Because of those differences, our Paid Search traffic is going to have the upper hand from a conversion rate standpoint, as we have confirmed in recent months.

If we only look at lower-funnel keywords for Google Organic, the conversion rates are similar to what we see on the PPC side. The strategy we like to employ for our clients is this: focus on traffic and conversions for SEO, while using PPC dollars to reach people most likely to convert. Sure, there is always a time and a place for Display, Video, Social, and other reach-based tactics, but for a limited budget, we always focus on delivering the best ROI. More often than not, that includes laser-focused keyword lists and top-notch ad copy.


Google Ads Drive Higher CTRs

In all but one case, PPC delivered a better click-through rate than the Organic traffic, as well.

Just like with conversion rate, CTR had a wide range of increases, with CTR being anywhere from 5% higher than Organic listings to 400% higher. Looking at the data a bit closer, we realize it's not simply SEO vs PPC, but it's position vs. position. As has always been true within the search engines, the highest content on the page is going to get the lion's share of the clicks. Given that Paid Search ads show above Organic results, as well as on the right side of the page, PPC has an advantage in terms of click potential. When you include the fact that Google Shopping ads contain a picture and the price of an item, those ads act as a click-magnet to those who are looking to purchase at the time of the search.

paid search ctr


SEO Has Higher Click Potential

Despite having a much lower CTR, Organic Search more than makes up for it in site traffic. One thing to note is that not every search result is going to have ads. Some terms are against the advertising terms and conditions, while others are simply not searched enough for Google to serve ads. In those situations, Organic Search results are the only option for searchers to click. Another important fact is that from the PPC perspective, the most amount of text ads a person can see on any given page in Google is seven. A maximum of four ads can show at the top, and three can show at the bottom. In the middle of the ads, a user might see ten organic results, a structured snippet result, a map of nearby businesses, and a slew of other organic search results just waiting to solve a problem, answer a question, or sell a product/service. Because of those reasons, SEO has a much higher click potential, and often drives more traffic than the Paid Search counterpart (especially for low-spending accounts).


Average Order Value (AOV) Is Similar

On the eCommerce side, AOV is pretty consistent across all search channels. Just like with Conversion Rates, when you compared lower-funnel SEO terms with our meticulously-chosen keyword list in the Google Ads campaign, you are going to see a similar average order value. This is due to the fact that regardless of where in the search engine results page (SERP) a person is clicking, their search intent revolves around purchasing a certain product or engaging with a particular business.

Where we begin to see slight differences is in the keyword modifiers. If the keyword we are targeting is a term like "buy a new couch," but the user actually searches for "where can I buy a new couch for under $200?", the PPC performance may be impacted by driving lower-spending traffic to the site. This is even more prevalent when a Google Ad and and SEO result are showing on the same page. If the top Organic ranking for your site features a $200 couch on the landing page, but the Google Shopping ad or Text ad go to the $150 couch, the AOV will be impacted based on the options they had in the Google SERP. Proper Google Ads Management can help to boost your AOV in big ways.


Lead Gen vs. eCommerce

Another significant piece of data that we have observed is how similar the trends mentioned above are within eCommerce and lead generation clients. Whether a searcher is looking to buy a new laptop or call a local Saas company to help their small business, CTRs and conversion rates seem to be higher in Paid Search campaigns. Likewise, Organic listings have more click potential, regardless of industry. For click share, the gap is sometimes much wider for industries that are banned or much more regulated, such as with CBD oil or pharmaceuticals, with these industries seeing even more click opportunities in Organic Search.

What do we do with this data?

At OuterBox, our #1 goal is to drive more business for our clients. Whether they are a multi-billion dollar corporation selling products through their website, or a brand new mom-and-pop boutique looking to drive awareness, we leverage the tactics that will drive the highest possible ROI. In most cases, the best solution is often a combination of Paid Search and SEO strategies. For each client, we look at the analytics data, identify trends, and then use 16 years of digital marketing expertise to help drive value. Whether that is more sales, more leads, or more traffic, the marketing mix is different for every client, and often evolves each and every month.

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