Google Study Finds Organic Search Results Contribute Little To Paid-Search Clicks

A Google study that set out to demonstrate the impact of organic search ranking on results for paid-search ads found that on average, 81% of ad impressions and 66% of ad clicks occur even in the absence of organic results on the first page of query results.

The research found that ad clicks rise when the rank is lower. About 82% of the ad clicks are incremental when the associated organic search result is between ranks in the No. 2 through No. 4 spots, and 96% of the ad clicks are incremental when the advertiser’s organic result ranks lower than the No. 4 spot.

For ad clicks associated with organic results that rank in No. 2-No. 5 spots, on average, 82% of the ad clicks are incremental. And for ad clicks with an associated organic result in rank lower than No. 5, on average, 96% of the ad clicks are incremental.

Google's research examines how the ranking of an advertiser's organic listings on the search results page affects ad clicks incrementally, through what the search engine calls an Incremental Ad Clicks (IAC) model. It demonstrates a limited opportunity for clicks from organic search.

A study released by Google earlier this year analyzes several hundred paused search ads, revealing how organic clicks -- such as clicks from organic results on the search results page -- did not substitute the majority of clicks from ads on a page when the ad campaigns were turned off. Those findings revealed that 89% of the ad clicks were incremental, on average, and that 89% of the visits to the advertiser's site from ad clicks would not have occurred without the ad campaign.

Although search engine optimization experts may dispute the results, the findings suggest that organic results do not influence clicks on paid-search ads, as some might expect. When analyzing the distribution of ad position and how each varies with respect to organic rank, it turns out that the average ad position is lowest when there are no associated organic results and highest when there are organic search results in the top rank.

The research, explained in detail, also found that the ad position declines when moved from organic rank No. 1 to lower. Given that ad click-through rates rise with ad position, ad click-through rates in position No. 1 were higher than ad click-through rates in lower positions


4 comments about "Google Study Finds Organic Search Results Contribute Little To Paid-Search Clicks".
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  1. Chris Nielsen from Domain Incubation, March 28, 2012 at 3:26 p.m.

    Thanks! I just fired our SEO team. There is no reason to pay them to get worthless organic placements that add nothing to the effectiveness of our PPC campaigns.

  2. Gary milner from The Simpler Way, March 28, 2012 at 9:44 p.m.

    It doesnt surprise me that the clicks are incremental, it doesnt change the reality that 70% of traffic is from SEO and any company on limited resource is going to optimize to where the volume is. If a company is running a direct modelit then makes sense to cover your own brand to catch the sales, on non brand the conversion measurement in a multichannel world is tough.

  3. James Connell from Path Interactive, March 29, 2012 at 10:17 a.m.

    It's an interesting study. Unfortunately, the findings aren't applicable to any individual company since the study didn't account for brand vs. non-brand keywords. This is especially important when they mention the correlation of organic rank to ad position. By mixing brand & non-brand, they're mixing apples and oranges. I was happy to see the authors acknowledge this in their conclusions.

  4. Chris Nunes from Adocracy, March 29, 2012 at 12:10 p.m.

    Doesn't this study actually imply that the underlying search technology is broken? Organic search results - the intended target of a user entering one or more keywords in a search query - should be the relevant returns. While the study indicates that up to 96% of clicks wouldnt have happened without PPC, it makes no mention of conversion rates or users' satisfaction with the resulting information lying under those click-throughs. After all, I'm sure we've all seen AdWords traffic that cost us PPC but that didn't result in subscriptions/transactions/completions because possibly the searcher didn't find what they were looking for (my personal best conversion rate through AdWords traffic is around 10%). I'd like to see performance results on what Google calls the "long click" where searchers don't return to the search results page because they've found what they're looking for. If THAT is much higher through PPC, then that's an interesting result.

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