How much of your advertising results would you have got anyway?

The other day I wrote: “You can build your Google search results traffic through a long-term investment in SEO and website content, or you can buy the traffic with a Google AdWords advertising campaign.” That was a mistake, because I should have said “and”, not “or”. There’s some very interesting research which shows that although Google AdWords advertisements appear alongside the normal search results, they seem to have little impact on one another.

I guess an analogy would be with magazines, where some readers study all the editorial articles and barely notice the adverts alongside them. Others just flick through the publication and only stop on whatever catches their eye, which is probably more likely to be a brash advert than some considered text. This would particularly apply to people who are actively looking for a specific product to buy.

An academic paper from Google called Incremental Clicks Impact of Search Advertising examines “how the number of organic (normal search results) clicks change when search adverts are present and when search adverts are turned off. This is then used to estimate the fraction of total clicks which can be attributed to search advertising.”

To simplify the conclusion, it turns out that if you put some adverts on a page, the page gets more clicks overall. What’s more, on a search results page where you feature in the results, if you have an advert alongside, you’ll probably get more clicks. One doesn’t cannibalise the other.

There’s more research summarised in the chart below (click to enlarge). First of all, it repeats the finding that 89% of advert clicks are “incremental”, which means they’re in addition to the clicks which would occur without the presence of the advertisements. But then things get more interesting. It turns out that 81% of the adverts showing on a Google results page aren’t associated with any of the natural search results on display, so the adverts are giving the viewer an almost completely different set of options. What’s more, 66% of the clicks on the adverts are for companies or products not in the natural search results.

The most interesting findings of all relate to the question: “is it worth advertising if I already do well in the natural search results?” It appears that if you’re number 1 in the search results, and run an advert alongside, 50% of the people who click on your advert wouldn’t have visited your website without the advert. So let’s say you get 100 visitors from being number 1 in the natural results, and another 40 visitors at £2 each from the advert, your £80 is actually getting you 20 extra website visitors. That may still be very good value.

If you’re halfway down the page, or lower, it almost certainly will be. Here, an astonishing 96% of the people who click on your advert wouldn’t have visited your website without the ad. So the advertising really does generate additional business. The lesson we can take away is not to worry too much about focusing your advertising on the search terms where you perform poorly in the natural earch results. It all works.

Discussion

  1. Dave J.

    I recently had AdWords off for a month (long story). I ran some analysis and depending on assumptions, 18 to 30% of people who would have found my company’s site thru adwords, found it in the end anyway. (By people, I mean the valuable ones who register for a price quote.)

    While a lot of what you presented is based on on-page SERP behavior, in my case, I think these folks may have done multiple searches (or asked others for suggested vendors etc.) until they finally found us.

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