Compare Paid and Organic Search Clicks

Everyone knows that search engine optimization and search engine marketing are two different animals. Some companies even have separate teams in charge of SEO and SEM. But if you do, and your two teams don’t communicate, you could be leaving money on the table.

Matt Lawson explains this point well in an article for Search Engine Land. It’s not too unusual that some keywords which perform well for organic search aren’t tapped into for search ads – and likewise, some keywords that get great click-through rates with AdWords ads are nowhere to be seen in stats for organic search clicks. What’s going on here?

It could be that one team is thinking in a slightly different direction. It’s possible that some outside event unknown to either team affected searches. Any one of a number of variables could explain the difference in keyword performance. But the point is, this kind of disparity can indicate a missed opportunity. So how can you tell if this is happening with your search engine campaigns?

You’ll need to do some heavy data crunching. If your company is really big enough for two separate teams, you’re probably targeting millions of keywords. It would take forever to go through every single one and compare statistics. So Lawson recommends focusing on “the high-volume and top converting search queries in each channel.” Once you’ve limited your universe of data to the top performing search queries for the SEO team and the SEM team, you need to look at their performance against each other.

To evaluate the performance of these keywords for SEO and SEM, Lawson recommends a metric he calls “Paid Click Percentage.” To get this number for each of your keywords, “match raw query search terms across paid and organic search results, sum the total clicks, and calculate the paid clicks as a percentage of that total,” Lawson explains.

For example, let’s take the search term “suede jacket.” Say you’re running an AdWords campaign that uses that keyword, and you get 1,000 click-throughs in a month on your ads that utilize that keyword. You also get about 200 click-throughs in the same time frame from searchers who use that term and go to your site from the organic results rather than an ad. Add the two together, and you get 1,200 clicks – which is a little more than 83 percent. 

Using the paid click percentage, you’ll be able to tell at a glance which keywords are performing well in AdWords, but not attracting organic clicks – and vice versa. Ideally, if you have the data in a form that can be manipulated, you should start by filtering for a paid click percentage higher than a certain number. Lawson’s example uses 75 percent as the cutoff.

Now here’s an interesting point worth considering: most searchers still lean a little more toward organic results than ads. What does this mean? If you find that a particular keyword shows up with a high paid click percentage, that means it’s probably nowhere in the organic search results. At the very least, it probably isn’t on the first page; that’s a near-certainty, in fact, if you’re getting no organic clicks on the term. This tells your organic search team that there are terms for which they might consider adding content or otherwise optimizing, so that your website gets a stronger presence for those keywords in the organic results.

This can also work the other way, however. Lawson gave an example in which the term “acme marathon jacket” received hundreds of clicks from organic search, but none from paid search ads. What was going on here? Your first thought might be that the SEM team hadn’t considered targeting that keyword with ads, but it’s potentially more complicated than that. As Lawson notes, “the paid search campaign might be missing the keyword ‘acme marathon jacket,’ the keyword bid might be below the minimum first page bid, or the keyword may have a low quality score.” Whatever the case, the SEM team will need to figure out what’s going on and correct the situation.

Now that you see how crunching the data and getting a meeting of minds between your SEO and SEM teams can help you spot holes in either campaign, it’s time for the next steps. These involve action plans on the parts of both teams to plug those holes, and setting up the next meeting between the two teams. You can’t hold this meeting as a one-time thing, any more than you can do SEO just once and forget about it. You need to get these two teams communicating and working together to get the most out of both your SEO and SEM campaigns. Good luck!

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