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It’s the age-old question: if you’re ranked organically for a particular search term, is targeting that same term with PPC a waste of money?

New research from Google suggests that it’s not.

The original study that Google released back in 2011 was a bit shocking.  Within real advertiser accounts, Google observed that when PPC ads were paused for certain search terms, only 15% of those PPC clicks were recovered by the advertiser’s organic listing. 85% of those PPC clicks were lost.

That’s a significant observation.

However, Google didn’t account for organic rankings in this study, which left the door open for plenty of skepticism about the numbers.  Naturally, if an advertiser were bidding on a search term for which it isn’t ranked organically, it would be impossible to make up for the clicks lost through PPC with organic results.

Recently, though, Google released an update.  Their team re-analyzed a subset of results, which included data for search queries where both PPC ads and top organic results existed.

Interestingly, they saw that “50% of the ad clicks that occur with a top rank organic result are incremental.”  That means when a PPC ad was paused for a key phrase that also had a #1 organic ranking, 50% of those clicks were still lost.  And, not surprisingly, that percentage grows as organic rankings drop.  82% of ad clicks are incremental when the organic listing is ranked #2 – #4.  And, 96% are incremental for organic rankings at #5 or higher.

To help you visualize all these percentages, you can find Google’s infographic here.

There are certainly many practical details to keep in mind before acting on this information.  For one thing, Google’s sample size here is very small.  Could results vary by industry?  Do they vary for branded versus non-branded search terms?  Do they vary by how well known and established a brand is?  Budget is another concern.  Are there sufficient funds available to support both an organic and a PPC strategy?

It’s definitely worth testing.  Testing is the only way to know if you’re leaving valuable clicks on the table.  Take a handful of terms that are at the top of both organic and paid search results, run them together, measure results, and then pause the PPC ads (and measure again).  Are you getting a worthwhile volume of incremental clicks from running PPC?  If so, are they converting as well as organic?  Are they worth the incremental cost?

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