Pay per click (PPC) advertising and organic search engine optimization (SEO) are complementary search marketing strategies. But does that mean Google ranks you higher organically just because you use Adwords?
A myth that persists in the world of search marketing is that Google plays favorites. That is, if you use Google’s paid platform, Google Ads, the system will reward your participation by improving your organic rankings.
Google expressly states this is not the case:
“Advertising on Google has no impact on your organic or natural ranking in the search results; the two are completely separate.”
That is Google’s official stance and there is no reason to doubt it. If they favored businesses that did PPC in organic results, it would skew those results and interfere with the algorithm’s ability to provide the most relevant content to searchers. The core of Google’s value is delivering the most relevant results in organic rankings, so it’s unlikely they’d game the system and jeopardize their ability to provide the best possible user experience.
And yet the myth persists. Why? Because it’s common to see data like this:
The red line shows the point we turned on PPC and social media paid advertising. After months of essentially flat organic rankings, suddenly a huge jump – and right on cue with use of paid ads.
So what gives? Is Google lying? Why does paid search often increase organic keyword rankings and traffic?
Traffic Begets More Traffic
Again, there is no data that suggests a direct link between activating paid search ads and an increase in organic ranking for a particular term.
But that does not mean that running paid ads doesn’t increase your overall organic rankings and traffic. It clearly does.
Think of your overall traffic like a snowball rolling down a mountainside. As it gains momentum, it grows in size.
When you get more traffic, more engagement, and more brand awareness, it has a cumulative effect on your website traffic. This happens in a number of ways.
Take a look at this SERP (search engine results page):
There is one plastic surgeon who is showing up in three places. The top one is his PPC ad, the second his organic listing from Google My Business, and the third his SEO website position.
Consider a prospective patient doing this search. She sees one practice three times. The assumption? This guy must be good. He must be the best. I better check him out.
This is a matter of simple human psychology. When we see a brand show up 2 to 3 times more often than a competitor, it comes across as being better.
Because the PPC ad is at the top, it increases the chances of a click-through and engagement on the organic listing.
The Google algorithm uses Rankbrain, which is an artificial intelligence program designed to understand how humans interact with digital content.
Rankbrain looks at a multitude of metrics like click-through rates, time on site, bounce rates, and social media likes to determine if people seem to find content useful or interesting. The better your engagement metrics, the better your rankings will be.
Paid advertising is a great way to get initial exposure for your brand and get people engaging with your content.
You might get a lead to come to your website through a paid ad where they sign-up for your email newsletter. Now you have them engaging with your content, spending time on your website. This improves your user metrics, helping your organic rankings.
Likewise, Google personalizes results. If this person visits your website multiple times then does a new search related to your content, you’ll rank higher for their search.
This also works with social media traffic. You could run a paid Twitter campaign with the goal of getting more followers. The followers you gain now start seeing your organic tweets and visit your website through them. Rankbrain sees this traffic as positive engagement and starts ranking your website better across the board.
Paid and organic search work together to increase your brand awareness, which ultimately creates valuable brand related searches.
For example, it’s common for someone to do a search, click on a paid ad, then get distracted and leave your site without converting.
But something important happens. You expose them to your brand. They know your name now. You’ve gained a certain amount of trust. This creates a bias when they do future searches. They see you in an organic listing and they’re much more likely to click through and convert.
Or they may remember your brand name and do a search on it directly. This is organic traffic you will dominate.
Similarly, a lead might do an informational search and click on an organic listing for your blog article. They read the article, gain some knowledge, but then move on because they’re not really ready to buy.
But now you can use the PPC tactic of retargeting ads like this:
This ad appears on Google and Facebook as they surf the web. It’s a reminder of your brand and value offering. When this prospect decides it’s time to act, you have an advantage. Again, they’re likely to search for you directly by brand name, increasing your organic traffic results.
PPC and SEO are complementary tactics. PPC is one of the best ways to refine your keyword targets to discover what converts.
The best strategy to use both because when you have them working together you’ll gain the most overall traffic.
One strategy for new brands is to invest heavily in paid ads initially so you gain brand exposure and build your retargeting lists. Later, as your brand gains its own momentum, you can invest more in content marketing tactics.
Google’s statement is misleading. PPC and SEO are by no means “completely separate”, even though it’s technically true that just because you pay Google on PPC you don’t get a favored status that ranks you higher organically.
Instead, this happens because you’re engaging with more people, driving more traffic, and gaining more exposure for your brand.
No digital marketing tactic works in a vacuum. From your social media voice to your website design, everything overlaps. This is why we have the marketing “360°” approach. By offering a multi-channel marketing service, we can bring all these tactics together to support your overall strategy.
Today, with so many complex tactics at play, it’s the only way to approach digital marketing. The more you separate the execution of tactics like PPC and SEO, the weaker each one is.