Does PPC Spend Affect Natural Search Results?

An associate in Northern Arizona pinged me about an odd effect she was seeing in one of her client’s online marketing campaigns. They turned off their PPC campaign for a while and saw a quick and dramatic drop – 50-60% – in traffic from NATURAL search. Not from PPC, which obviously plummeted to zero, but from natural search results. “What gives?” she wanted to know.

Although Google denies any connection between PPC spend and natural search ranking (and I believe them), there is another, less obvious connection between the two: There is ample evidence that searchers are more likely to click a NATURAL search result if there is also a PPC ad on the same page. In their 2007 Search Synergy Report, iCrossing found that clicks increased by more than 90% and actions by 45% when SEO and paid search were combined.

So if you’ve stopped PPC, your leads from natural search ranking could well drop just from that effect.

What’s the takeaway? Maintain an optimized and efficient PPC campaign, maintain your ongoing SEO efforts, including keeping content current on the site and building in-bound links, and focus on site improvements that will turn visitors into customers.


  1. Chris Sietsema on 27 May 2010 at 10:56 am

    Good points, Ed. Thanks for posting this. I got this question from a client just this morning. The comparison I normally give is that if you are driving down the road and you see a bus stop ad AND an outdoor ad for a specific product/service, you are more likely to notice that brand. The same is likely true when a company has a natural result and a paid result on the same SERP. One other positive affect that PPC campaigns have on natural results is that they allow the advertiser to own more real estate on the SERP. Thus, there is less of an opportunity to click on other options. SEO Book has some (kind of outdated but) good stuff on click share too –

    • Ed on 27 May 2010 at 11:03 am

      You hit the nail on the head, Chris. The more your brand is seen by a prospective customer, the greater the likelihood that they’ll pick you. Thanks for the link to the SEO Book article – those guys always have smart stuff to say.

  2. mike corak on 27 May 2010 at 11:01 am

    Interesting post Ed and right on. It’s funny, we had a number of those studies at iCrossing even prior to 2007 showing that there was definitely a relationship between PPC and SEO listings working in combination to produce more overall visits. From my experience, I typically suggest clients test this phenomenon on high-value keyword phrases, and adjust their activities accordingly. Brand phrases are especially tempting to remove PPC spend from, but unless you dominate the top 5 listings on the SERP in natural, it can be a mistake.

    • Ed on 27 May 2010 at 11:15 am

      Thanks for the insight from an iCrossing vet, Mike. What I found interesting about the iCrossing report is that it doesn’t specifically discuss the importance of your natural listings and PPC ads appearing on the same SERP. The takeaway is that doing both SEO and PPC improves the results over doing only one or the other, even if you’re not hitting first page for natural listings.

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