Does Participating In Google AdWords Help My Organic Rankings?

Today’s post is about an old question I’ve heard come up a few times lately:  does participating in Google Adwords help my organic rankings? Purists will say Google’s AdWords and natural search results are church and state.  That is true in the sense that “AdWords advertising has no impact on your organic or natural ranking in the search results; the two are completely separate” – Google.   So the straight answer is that there’s no preferential counseling or better rankings given when you buy in to AdWords. However, most marketers will concede that the most robust search programs are those that integrate natural and paid under one cohesive operation; they’re opposite sides of the same coin.

Here is a brief rundown of the ways in which Google AdWords impacts or helps direct clients’ organic search results:

  1. A 2012 Google study concluded that 50% of the ad clicks that occur with a top rank organic result are incremental, compared to 100% of the ad clicks being incremental in the absence of an associated organic result.  From an SEO point of view, this means that, if you match a paid AdWords placement with a #1 organic result, you will keep roughly 50% of your AdWords spend for that keyword through organic clicks.  From a SEM point of view, the benefit of running both together is that the brand would have lost 50% of clicks if they had only the pad ad or #1 organic ranking alone.   This number does go down drastically as you consider #2-4 organic rankings but the intrinsic message is that complementary organic rankings can reduce AdWords spend and, conversely, AdWords spend can pick up incremental traffic when organic rankings are low.
  2. A 2009 NYU study has shown that, when a brand has both an AdWords ad and a high ranking organic result for the same keyword, metrics, like conversion rate, go up for both channels.
  3. A 2007 study by Enquiro shows that there’s a 2.2x lift in aided brand recall when the brand has the top paid and top organic ranking.
  4. Jumping off from these statistics, we know that we can conduct studies of AdWords traffic patterns to determine good natural search keyword targets (e.g. if we see that “Brand X bedding” and “Brand X sheets” are doing well in AdWords, we should adopt those as SEO keyword targets.)
  5. Similarly, we can use Google AdWords ad copy as a test bed for high-conversion language to use on organic landing pages.   It is much easier to A/B test copy via paid rather than organic.
  6. Now that Google has confirmed that organic keyword referrer information is soon to be 100% encrypted (“not available”), one could also say that Adwords is impacting natural search by becoming a good data source for intelligence on that removed data.
  7. Finally, the most obvious way the channels impact one another is by helping a brand control their brand’s visibility and reputation on the Google search result page. Rather than control only the organic or only the paid real estate on the SERPs, why not claim more by running both?  If you have negative PR to combat, why not push it down the page by running a paid ad?   Your brand’s visibility will go up and your competitors’/detractors’ will go down.


In short, while you cannot buy your way into better organic rankings via AdWords, a digital marketing campaign that leverages both channels is more than the sum of the individual parts.

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Showing 6 comments
  • Justin Anderson

    Let me speak from experience. I have had the occasion to pause or stop my Adwords campaigns 3 times in the last 6 years. Each time, the punishment for stopping/pausing has been a precipitous drop in organic search traffic (even if the paid traffic made up an insignificant amount of overall traffic, say < 10%).

    Most recently, I paused an Adwords campaign that was generating less than 5% of traffic on my site. I did this February 1st. By February 14th, organic referrals on the site had decreased by 50 to 60%. I might have thought this a fluke, but the exact same thing has happened twice in the past, and to more than one site.

    So the academic view is that they are separate. The practical view is that you may very well lose tons of organic traffic, even by pausing a marginally important Adwords campaign.

    Just venting. Thanks!

    • Adam Dince

      Wow, that’s really interesting! PMD, have you seen similar things?

  • Joey Altherr

    The truth is that running a paid search campaign usually does help your organic rankings if it’s done correctly.

    The 2 are separate, yes. Just flipping the switch on in Adwords isn’t going to automatically see your rankings go from #4 to #1 in the search results. But, in time it definitely can.

    If you look at correlation studies from Moz or Searchmetrics, you will see that the #1 ranking factor is click-through rate. Just like the formula for AdWords Quality Score, which Google admits. As point #1 in this article explains, Google themselves say that you get an 89% drop on your organic results CTR by turning off your paid ads.

    Check out this scenario:

    You have an organic result ranking #4 for keyword “blue widget”, just above the fold.

    You exact match target [blue widet] with an ad going to the same URL as your organic landing page and bid enough to get it to rank #1.

    Both the ad and organic listing are showing in the search results at the same time.

    You get an incremental increase on your organic result’s CTR from having that ad running and the brand visibility.

    Google’s algorithm sees that high CTR as an indicator of a good result – not even factoring in the presence of the ad, just looking at how high the CTR is compared to the #1-#3 organic results.

    The CTR ranking factor gets applied to your organic result.

    Your organic listing moves up in the search results.

    If you’d like to test this out for yourself, just go into WMT and look at the CTR of some of your organic search queries. Create an ad for one of your keyphrases that are above the fold, and let it run at the top spot for 30 days. Check back in on the CTR of that keyphrase since you’ve had the ad running and compare.

    Not only will that number be higher but you will also usually see that the Average Position (your search ranking for that keyphrase) has increased.

    There’s always the case where your ad copy and meta description are horrible and it won’t help out your CTRs, but if you follow those steps closely and test it out, it will work for you most of the time.

    • Clay Cazier

      Hi Joey, thanks for the comment. I don’t have a working example of the scenario where 1) SEM improves organic ranking’s CTR and 2) organic CTR then improves organic ranking but it makes sense logically, given that we know the two elements are true.

  • Juan

    I am trying to rank for a specific keyword but doing really bad at the moment. However, my landing page is high quality and much better than my competitors. Adwords is giving it 10/10 and CTR, bounce rate and dwell times seem to be under control.

    Could I expect some sort of boost to my organic results for that keyword ?

  • Brandi Honeycutt

    Thank You for the post. My husband and I just started a Veteran Owned Cleaning Service in Tri-Cities TN area and I don’t have too many competitors and most of them have bad PR. I am doing okay in local and I am ranking on pages 4, 5, and 6 for my most important key word searches. We were wondering if it was worth it because we are so new to go ahead and run a Google Ad words campaign. After some reading from people who have had some experience directly, it seems they all have the same answer. It helped their organic search ranking when running their campaign. Thanks again for the the post!

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