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Updated – Google Research: Even With A #1 Organic Ranking, Paid Ads Provide 50% Incremental Clicks

by on April 17, 2012

mouse-click-moneyWhen marketers have scrutinized Google’s research on how organic and paid search results work together — the search giant concluded that nixing the paid ads would result in a 89% drop in clicks — it’s been clear there’s more to the story. What happens if your brand is the top organic result for the keyword? Surely the results would be different than if your organic result was on the second page?

“When we released the first paper, we had a lot of questions coming back, asking more more details around incrementality and under what situations can you expect different numbers?,” said David Chan, Google’s lead researcher for this study.

So, Chan set out to research more subtleties in the interaction between organic results and paid search ads, and today released new results.

Most Of The Time, There Are No Organic Result On Page One

The 89% number makes more sense now that the new results show that paid search ads appear without an accompanying organic search result on the page 81% of the time, on average. Only 9% of the time does a search ad show with an organic result in the top rank. An organic result appears in ranks 2 to 4 5% of the time, and in lower ranks (below 5), about 4% of the time.

Though the researchers didn’t specifically look at branded versus generic terms, Chan said,the ranking is a good proxy, in certain cases, for branded versus generic terms. In other words, the brand’s organic result is likely to appear higher, if it’s a branded term.

Even A #1 Ranking Can Benefit From An Accompanying Ad

Surprisingly, even when advertisers show up in the number one organic search result position, 50% of clicks they get on ads are not replaced by clicks on organic search results when the ads don’t appear.

“It is a very surprising result, and, I think in some ways, it runs counter to what people would think but the data speaks for itself,” said Chan.

The study found that 82% of ad clicks are incremental when the associated organic result is ranked between 2 and 4, and 96% of clicks are incremental when the brand’s organic result was 5 or below.

Chan noted that there was a lot of variability from advertiser to advertiser and term to term, so he encouraged advertisers to do their own experimentation. Additionally, the study focused only on clicks and not conversions, so it’s not clear to what extent the incremental clicks led to a conversion event.

Related Topics: Google: AdWords | Stats | Top News

About The Author: is a contributing editor for Search Engine Land and Executive Features Editor at Marketing Land. She’s a well-respected authority on digital marketing, having reported and written on the subject since 1998, including a stint as managing editor of ClickZ. She’s also worked to help monetize independent publishers’ sites at Federated Media Publishing. She blogs about media and marketing at The River and about cooking, gardening and parenthood at Free Range. She can be found on Twitter as @pamelaparker.


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