Is Your Paid Search Cannibalising Your Organic Search?

Is Your Paid Search Cannibalising Your Organic Search?

In this opinion piece, iProspect Australia’s head of paid media, Dani Downs (pictured below), explains how brands can ensure that they’re getting the most out of their search strategy.

Screen Shot 2018-09-03 at 8.03.21 AM

Paid search is an easy, scalable and affordable means to get in front of people actively seeking topics related to your business, but have you ever wondered whether your paid activity is cannibalising your organic search traffic?

A brief history

Cannibalisation of organic search results has been a topic open for discussion since the dawn of Google AdWords in 2000. However, in more recent years, changes to the Google search engine results page (SERP) layout have brought this topic to the forefront of advertisers’ minds.

In February 2016, Google rocked the world of search with (arguably) the most memorable SEM algorithm update of the past two years:

  • The removal of right-hand column ads;
  • The addition of another paid ad above organic results, now totalling four ads instead of three, and;
  • The addition of paid ads below organic results.

This move towards a ‘mobile-first’ format was cause for concern amongst search marketers who predicted an increase in competition (and effectively CPCs) with fewer ads now visible above the fold. Concern was equally shared by SEO marketers who saw their organic listings pushed further down the SERPs.

Paid v organic search on Google

After the change launched and the dust settled, advertisers were pleased to find Google Ads CPCs hadn’t noticeably shifted. The same couldn’t be said for SEO marketers, who witnessed organic search traffic and click-through rates (CTR) take a sizeable hit.

Since the new format rolled out, paid search has become an even more critical element of search strategy.

Should I bid on keywords I rank well for organically, or does organic have me covered?

Nick Lyengar, director of digital intelligence at Cardinal Path, spoke to this point at the 2016 Google Master Class, stating that the digital analytics consultancy observed a rise in combined organic and paid search CTR when both mediums appeared in the SERPs together, as opposed to one or the other. Where true, the extent varies on a search query basis.

What about my brand name? Am I paying for clicks I would otherwise get for free?

It’s a fair point and one that’s frequently asked.

Bidding on a business’s own name can seem counter-intuitive; however, Lyengar revealed through Cardinal Path’s generous data sets that if a user searches for a company, they won’t necessarily visit that company’s site – and in fact are commonly intercepted by competitors. The minor cost to defend brand keywords is a small price to pay to protect brand search when users are in the sensitive final stages of their conversion journey.

Here are a few reasons to bid on your own brand:

  • Increase your visibility to defend against competitors – position one for organic search often isn’t position one on the SERPs. If competitors are bidding on your brand name, up to four ads can appear above your organic links. These can now be accompanied by maps and other SERP features. The simple truth is users won’t always scroll to find you in the organic results.
  • It’s low cost – quality score for your own name keywords is almost always higher than your competitors, especially if you can trademark your brand name restricting other accounts from using it in ad copy. This means you pay significantly less for your own brand name clicks than what your competitors will.


Industry stats are all well and good, but how do we answer the above questions for a single company? Running a cost efficiency analysis using the ‘Paid & Organic’ report in Google Ads will shed light on where it is profitable to bid (or not bid) for certain searches.

Within the Google Ads interface, advertisers can link Google Search Console – a platform used to monitor organic rankings and performance. Once linked, the Paid & Organic report is ready to use!

Navigate to the report via:

Google Ads > Reports > Predefined Reports > Basic > Paid & Organic

From here you’ll see columns such as:

  • Search term
  • Search result type (ad shown only, organic shown only, both shown)
  • Performance metrics (paid clicks, organic clicks, combined clicks, etc)
  • Segmentation by day of week & other attributes (campaign type, keyword status, etc)

Use this information to answer questions like:

  1. Should I bid on my brand terms?
  2. Are there any organic keywords generating traffic that could be further supported by paid ads?
  3. Are there any keywords performing well on Google Ads that I don’t rank for organically?

An example of an analysis to answer “should I bid on my brand terms” may look like this:

Search result typeOrganic CTRAd CTRTotal CTR
Organic shown only7%7%
Ad shown only12%12%
Both shown5%14%19%


In this table, we see that when both organic and paid are shown in the same search result, total CTR to the website is far higher than either result alone. Taking this one step further an advertiser would also consider the impact on traffic, spend and revenue.

Where to from here

Experiment! Every company’s search landscape is unique and the ever-changing environment means no answer is set in stone. Keep a watchful eye over paid versus organic traffic to get the best bang for buck out of your search strategy.


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