How Paid Search Can Impact SEO

SEO and PPC are both great ways of generating traffic and therefore revenue from search engines, but is PPC worth it if you’re ranking for the keywords you’re bidding on? It may surprise you, but the data suggests that having both will generate more traffic than you would get purely from ranking in position 1 organically. The theory behind this is known as paid search incrementality.

What Is Paid Search Incrementality?

This theory has been around since 2009 and can be quickly summed up as “1+1=3” and has been documented and published many times over, but not only by search engine experts but also by universities.

The theory goes that if you focus on SEO or PPC by themselves they will each provide one visitor to your site, but if done concurrently then instead of two visitors, you end up with three. This is because together they drive incremental growth.

Paid Search Incrementality In Practice

This is something that we have experienced ourselves with clients, but there are also plenty of examples of this that we’ve read about online during our research and learning.

What we have seen in the past are clients that are running PPC alongside SEO. For this example let’s say it is a client that is seeing 50% of their traffic from search engines, 25% being organic and the other 25% being from their PPC campaigns.

There are various reasons why PPC activity may be stopped, whether that be a lack of budget for it or a desire to move that budget elsewhere. In cases where the keywords included within the PPC account are all ranking highly in search organically, this can seem like a logical approach, but that isn’t really the case.

Let’s take this example, if the site is ranking highly for all of the keywords in the PPC account then you would expect to see the organic traffic increase, which from our experience it will, but only to approximately 35-40%, meaning that roughly 10-15% of the total site traffic is lost by removing PPC from your marketing activity.

PPC to improve SEO

So What Does This Tell Us?

Well for starters this does show the PPC cannibalises a portion of organic traffic for keywords where the site ranks near the top, but given the additional traffic on top of that that can be generated by PPC activity, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is also worth considering that you take up significantly more real estate on a SERP if you have a high ranking organic position and a PPC ad at the top.

It also shows that paid search incrementality is more than just a theory, as combining both SEO and PPC means that the two are able to generate more traffic for your site when working in conjunction.

This is likely due to that increased real estate on SERPs, as it means that your site can potentially appear at the top twice! Once at the top of the PPC ads and once at the top of the organic results. The benefit of this is that it means that when looking at a SERP there is less chance that they will look past you to your competitors, especially if both results are optimised for a strong CTR.

But this doesn’t stop at traffic, from what we have seen previously with our clients following their PPC activity being paused this also then leads to a drop in sales or enquiries, which demonstrates that sometimes organic results alone are not able to take the full load of Google searches. This will in part be due to the point we have highlighted above about SERP real estate, but it is also worth factoring in that your competitors are also likely to be bidding on similar terms through their own PPC activity, so even if you rank position one organically your competitor could still be appearing above you if they are bidding on that keyword.


So in summary PPC and SEO can combine to create something greater than the sum of their parts and having both running in conjunction will help to generate more traffic for your site. If you are already ranking strongly for your primary keywords but are looking to generate more from these, as well as other keywords, then PPC is definitely something to consider in order to do that.

If you are interested in either SEO or PPC, or both if you want to get more from them! Then get in touch with us today and we would be happy to discuss a strategy with you and how best to approach both of these marketing channels.

Written byGareth Torrance

Hello there. I'm Gareth, the Search Engine Marketing Lead at Brave. With almost a decade of experience in PPC and SEO, I've seen everything from Pandas and Penguins to the horrible time that was Mobilegeddon. As a Google Ads Certified Google Specialist, I have lived through almost every major shift in the industry! And that makes me feel old.

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