Pay per click offers one strong advantage over organic: you can buy your way into the top listing. For many companies, this is the only way they’ll ever see the number 1 Google position for highly competitive keywords.
For other companies, pay per click is often used as a temporary measure, or a testing platform to see just how attractive certain keywords are before they start focusing their organic SEO efforts on certain keywords. In most cases the idea is that once you’re able to claim top organic rankings for your keywords, you then no longer need to pay for them.
But can pay per click still be beneficial even after you’re topping the Google rankings?
As in so many things, the answer is “it depends.”
When you’re the #1 organic ranking, you still aren’t #1
One thing you always have to keep in mind is what the search engine results page looks like for your keywords. Let’s take a look at this search phrase for “CNC Machining Southern California”
We can see here that the number one organic position is Pendarvis Manufacturing. They’ve clearly done their homework to climb up to the coveted top ranking. But… users still will see three paid listings above them.
We know that users click on ads, and the higher your position the better. So there are actually a chunk of people looking for CNC Machining Southern California who will never even glance at that first organic listing. While Pendarvis is no doubt claiming the majority (or plurality) of traffic from that search phrase, it’s very possible that they could claim yet more if they had a paid ad in addition to their organic listing.
At Ecreative we manage pay per click as well as organic SEO accounts, and for many of our clients we see great gains in traffic and conversions by maintaining paid ads in addition to top organic listings. After all, if our ad isn’t appearing up there on the top, it’s not like those people are going to move down to the organic listing — they’ll just click whatever ad does appear on the top.
The only way to claim that traffic is to be there.
Don’t pay for ads if you don’t have to
On the other hand, not every search phrase has paid ads associated with them. In that case paying for ads is good only if you aren’t already topping the SERP rankings. Let’s take our Gronnor test site that we built to demonstrate The Grizzly Equation.
When we search for this (made-up) word, our test site is the first result — not just the first organic result, but actually the first result. There are no ads competing for user attention.
In most situations like this that we see with actual clients, if we pay for an ad for this keyword we do generate traffic from the ad, but then our organic traffic drops by exactly that amount. So by paying for an ad you’re just spending money to get the clicks that you’d otherwise get for free.
In situations like this you usually don’t want to pay for ads for keywords for which you’re already achieving a top organic rankings.
Click distribution and Google ads
We’ve discussed click distribution of Google ads in the past, and we know that statistically somewhere between 40% – 50% of users are going to click on the first organic result. That’s why we work so hard to reach that first result.
But that’s also why being number 1 isn’t the end of the battle. After all, if you’re the number one-ranked result, you’re still missing out on at least half of the search traffic. But the more positions you claim — both organic and pay per click — the larger the share of that search traffic you can direct to your site.
The only way to know is to test
Ultimately, the only way to know if it’s worth paying for keywords that you already rank well organically is to test your Google Adwords campaigns.
Spend a couple months with your ad campaign on pause and measure your organic traffic from the keyword. Then turn your ads back on — see how much traffic your ad draws, and what happens to your organic traffic.
If you get 3,000 extra clicks from ads, but your organic click-throughs drop by 3,000 it’s clearly not worth it. But often you’ll find that you see your ad click-throughs have minimal, or even zero, impact on your organic traffic. In that case it’s just a matter of optimizing your pay per click campaign to maximize your traffic and conversions from both channels.